One of the most famous and feared sharks in today's oceans... The Great White Shark. The movie Jaws, many fear mongering 'documentaries' on Shark Week and TV and decades of misleading headlines and stories in the media, are just some of the main reasons that the great white has such a bad reputation and global misunderstanding. We recently teamed up with South African great white and shark expert Chris Fallows (as seen on TV) of Apex Shark Expeditions, to talk about great whites, other sharks and find out some more truths behind the ever impressive and beautiful species. Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias).
**KEY: SAI = Shark Aid International. CF = Chris Fallows.
CF: That there are a lot of them and that their population is growing because of protection. This simply is not true. Our data, collected daily over the past 18 years does not support this. Added to this is the fact that in South Africa we still have the worlds largest Great White Shark killing organisation, the KZN Sharks Board which kills between 11-60 great whites each year. There are dedicated shark long lining permits given out by the South African government and there is sport fishing for great whites, the fact that it is termed "Protected" is a farce. The only thing that keeps them alive, for example in South Africa, is eco tourism and a few dedicated individuals and organisations.
CF: Thank you. I would describe the great white as a evolutionary masterpiece that is magnificent in every way. Added to this is the fact that the longer you spend with them the more you appreciate each ones unique personality and just what a privilege it is to have them in our oceans.
SAI: What can people do in their own communities and local areas to increase awareness for sharks?
CF: Start eco-tourism projects that take tourists out to see or dive with the sharks. There are so many shark enthusiasts out there that even small less spectacular species still attract lots of tourists. In this way local people derive an income from the sharks, add to a tourists list of opportunities in an area and most importantly attach a value and appreciation to keeping the sharks alive.
SAI: South africa is one of, if not the main home for great whites and they are mostly well respected and admired in South Africa. What makes south African waters so special for white sharks?
CF: Many South Africans who have seen great whites or done research into them have an appreciation of them. It is almost always those who have never bothered to get out there and see the sharks for themselves who do not value their presence along our coast. In terms of what makes the coast so special is that it is home to an incredible cross section of shark and prey species with both tropical, temperate and cool water environments been found on our coast. This makes it an area that sustains huge volumes of bait fish and in turn a massive seal population. This coupled with the previously ample supply of smaller shark species means that the great white has both it's preferred winter and summer prey available along long stretches of our coast and the perfect environment for them to live in.
SAI: Alex, Shark Aid International's founder and director has been to South Africa and dove with great white sharks. It was a life changing experience for him and many others that do it. Why is cage diving a great way to promote sharks and show the public the truth behind the majestic animals?
CF: Quite simply it is only through exposure to something that we develop an interest or passion in it. When people see a great white shark in the flesh, especially if it is done in a way that showcases the beauty and majesty of these animals then there are few who do not go home wanting to see it again and make an effort to help promote it's conservation.
SAI: More and more people seem to be getting in the ocean each year, thus "more shark attacks are happening" around the world. This is a common myth that needs some attention. What can you say about modern day shark and human interaction?
CF: It will always happen that there are rare interactions that result in attacks. The only way to prevent it is either to stay out of the water or kill all of the sharks. Neither of these things are a good option, especially the latter. With better understanding of the predatory sharks habits people can do a huge amount to cut down the already very small risk that they take when they enter the ocean. With less than 10 fatal shark attacks globally each year and more than 100 million sharks being killed by humans it is a very clear case of who should be fearing who.
SAI: What can other countries and regions take from south african shark management to better protect the global shark population?
CF: Very sadly I do not think South Africa is a shining example anymore. Whilst the sharks are protected here on paper there is zero enforcement of laws and it is only eco tourism operators who have a vested interest in the sharks as well as a handful of scientists and even smaller number of government officials who are actually trying to keep sharks alive. South Africa still has an active shark long lining fishery for both pelagic as well as demersal sharks and has as mentioned the largest great white culling program on the planet. This is not a good example. I would say the best way to protect sharks is to empower people to make a living out of them through eco tourism and if fishing for sharks is to be allowed, to do the research first and see what stocks are like rather than believe what fishermen tell those who issue the permits.
SAI: Along with great whites, what other species of shark inhabit south african waters?
CF: More than 120 other species! Making our coast amongst the most shark rich in terms of diversity in the world.
SAI: Can you share one of your most fond and favourite experiences in the water with great white sharks?
CF: I guess my most amazing experience was watching a minimum of 28 different great whites and perhaps as many as 40 feeding on a 11m long whale carcass in 2000. It was simply incredible watching their social structure break down and huge 15ft sharks lying next to each other, pecs overlapping as they gorged themselves on the fat and energy rich blubber, WOW that really was phenomenal!
SAI: Where can people go to find our more about what you do?
CF: Check out www.apexpredators.com or subscribe to my wife Monique's Free newsletter on this site that gives each months highlights with the various sharks, species and locations that we work at. It is a great way for people to live vicariously through the amazing lives we have with these and other remarkable marine creatures and hopefully get motivated to join us or another eco tourism company where they can see live sharks for themselves.