Worried by the sudden disappearance of great white sharks from the ecosystem which serves as a source of tourism revenue to the country, the South African Department for Environment, Forestry and Fisheries has called for an emergency meeting to address the issue.
Great whites are considered the apex predator of the ocean. They can reach sizes of more than six metres, and have more than 300 serrated teeth in their mouths. The giants of the deep can travel at speeds of more than 50 kilometres per hour, and can sense minute movement from prey from 250 metres away.
All of the above suggests there is nothing more terrifying than great white sharks in the oceans, but something has been killing them off the coast of South Africa, experts have said.
Since 2017, cage-diving operators have noticed a sharp decline in great white sightings.
In 2018, there were 50 sightings, and in 2019 there were none.
It had been thought that illegal hunting and human activity was responsible for the decline in great whites, but scientists now believe there is another explanation.
Killer whales, or orcas, were first spotted off of South Africa in 2015, and a team of nine experts believe they are responsible for the disappearing act of the great whites.
As a result, the Government called an emergency meeting regarding their disappearance.
A statement from South Africa’s Department for Environment, Forestry and Fisheries said: “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 scientists said at the meeting they “found some evidence for a causative link between the appearances of a pod of orcas that had specialised on preying on white sharks”.
In 2017, the remains of five great whites were discovered near the Gansbaai area which were consistent with orca attacks.
One of the team, marine biologist Alison Kock, said that when orcas appear, sharks tend to die.
She said during the presentation: “Each and every time that this happened, there was an immediate drop and gap in white sharks sighting.”
However, she conceded that “we still don’t have all the answers”.