Where are the Missing Great White Sharks?

Paul Pinkerton
Great White Shark
Great White Shark

Where are all the Great White sharks in South Africa? It’s a question that’s been preoccupying locals and shark spotters worldwide.

Swimmers and surfers are probably relieved. But experts and fans of the finned phenomenon are concerned. Aside from a Great White sighting last year, the area around Cape Town is deserted when it comes to these iconic predators.

False Bay on the Cape Peninsula’s south side is one place where the white shark’s absence is keenly felt. Dr Sara Andreotti from the University of Stellenbosch has spent a reported 7 years counting the ancient creatures, said to have lived on the planet for millions of times that!

She told BBC News it was “terrible to see how that is happening under our watch.” For Dr Andreotti, the Great White is one of the planet’s most famous sharks… but also the most mysterious. This makes identifying the reason behind their abrupt exit difficult.

“Great White sharks are shrinking in numbers. This one, attacks the bait in blue water of Guadeloupe Islands, Mexico. The magnificent Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). An endangered species that is becoming more rare to see in the wild.”
“Great White sharks are shrinking in numbers. This one, attacks the bait in blue water of Guadeloupe Islands, Mexico. The magnificent Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). An endangered species that is becoming more rare to see in the wild.”

The most attention-grabbing idea behind the fishy disappearance is like something out of a ‘Jaws’ movie. A couple of Orcas, killer whales named Port and Starboard, hoved into view back in 2015. Not for nothing was ‘Orca’ (1977) filmed as a challenger to the Great White’s movie monster crown.

It’s believed in some quarters that the bigger species has given Great White sharks the willies. As Sarah Waries – CEO of Shark Spotter – puts it to the BBC, “the sharks just are aware that they are no longer the apex predator anymore.”

Newsweek covers grisly evidence discovered in 2017, where 5 Great Whites turned up dead. Apparently they “had been bitten in the area between their pectoral fins.” On an extra gory note, “Their livers were also missing.”

Footage of whales chasing sharks is mentioned by Newsweek. So it appears to be a done deal. Has Jaws simply fled to friendlier seas?

Not according to Dr Andreotti. Quoted by the Mail & Guardian, she reckoned “saying two orcas will make the entire population disappear overnight… is a hell of a stretch”.

Joining her is Chris Fallows of Apex Shark Expeditions. He thinks the current situation is being “laid to the sword” by external forces of the human kind.

Fishermen using long lines appear to have removed most of the prey a Great White loves best – namely, the smooth-hound and soupfin sharks. Yes, this animal is a cannibal!

The little mammals may be safe from Great Whites, but are in serious danger from hungry diners. As Fallows and others point out, the smooth-hounds end up going to fish and chip shops in Australia. Here, they become part of the popular food known as “flake”.

As the Mail & Guardian report: “The department of environment, forestry and fisheries has admitted both species are overfished.”

Are sharks losing out to people’s appetites? Some challenge the idea. The Mail & Guardian wrote that a special panel was convened in May last year by Barbara Creecy, the Environment Minister.

Great White Shark
Great White Shark

Aiming to get to the bottom of the murky matter and save the area’s sharks, their findings have divided opinion. By highlighting cases such as one in California – where Whites high-tailed it when Orcas made an island territory their feeding ground – they point the finger at Port and Starboard the whales.

Nothing seems certain enough for a definitive explanation. Do Great Whites rely on fresh supplies of smooth-hound and soupfin? Even that’s in doubt, according to the government-organized panel. Sharks apparently eat a range of unfortunate creatures – their smaller counterparts are just a couple of morsels in the food chain.

Whatever the reason behind the Great White vacating Cape Town, one thing is clear. Tourism has been hit hard. Companies who get visitors up close and personal with the toothsome terror are struggling without their star attractions.

The ecotourism industry is a big part of the local economy. Fallows explains to the Mail & Guardian that businesses like his give back around 100 fold what fisheries offer to the community.

Mentioned by Newsweek, South African National Parks’ Alison Kock talks about how the underwater ecosystem is affected by sharks not being there. Certain animals that might hide away are now swimming free. It’s getting confused down there. When and if the Great Whites return, everything will be thrown out of kilter again.

Another Article From Us: Two Giant Sea Lions Sink Small Boat

Explorations continue to determine just what lies behind the maritime mystery. Will the sharks ever be back? This may not be the end… more a case of ‘Fin’.


jack-beckett is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival