Since 2017, cage-diving operators have been noticing a serious decline in great white shark sightings in South Africa.
Great white sharks, which are considered an apex predator in the ocean, can reach sizes of more than six metres and have more than 300 serrated teeth. These giant sea creatures can travel at speeds of more than 50 kilometres per hour, and can sense minute movement from prey from 250 metres away. This made them one of the most terrifying creatures in the oceans, however, experts have revealed that something has been killing them off along the coast of South Africa.
In 2018, only 50 great whites were spotted in the ocean by cage divers, and shockingly in 2019 there were none. South Africa relies on great white sharks for its tourism industry and, as a result of the decline in the numbers of great whites, the Government called an emergency meeting regarding their disappearance.
A statement from South Africa’s Department for Environment, Forestry and Fisheries was released that stated, "This day is significant because it serves as an annual reminder of how South Africa is blessed with a wide variety of fisheries resources, but also that we have to sustainably manage and adequately protect the ecosystems that harbour these finite resources. It is therefore appropriate that today we launch the report from our expert panel, led by Dr Sven Kerwath of the Fisheries Branch of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, to review South Africa’s National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks.
"This review was prompted by a number of concerns in the public domain over the management of these iconic ocean creatures. The first has been the disappearance of great white sharks from our seas in recent times. This has had a devastating impact on the shark diving industry and caused immense disappointment to the hundreds of tourists who visit our shores to see this great predator."
The first explanation of the disappearance of the great whites was that illegal hunting and human activity was responsible, however, scientists now believe there is another explanation for the decline. Recent studies from a team of nine experts reveals the suspicion that killer whales, or orcas – which were first spotted off of South Africa in 2015 – are responsible for the disappearance of the great whites.
These scientists revealed that they "found some evidence for a causative link between the appearances of a pod of orcas that had specialised on preying on white sharks".
It was reported that, back in 2017, the remains of five great whites were discovered near the Gansbaai area which were consistent with orca attacks. One of the team members, marine biologist Alison Kock, claimed that when orcas appear, sharks tend to die. She added "Each and every time that this happened, there was an immediate drop and gap in white sharks sighting."
However, Kock explained that even though they might have a theory on what is causing the disappearance, there are still much research that needs to be done and that they, at this point "still don’t have all the answers".