Most people know very little about Great white sharks and this has resulted in them being one of the most misunderstood marine species. Even amongst the scientific community, there are waves of fascinating unanswered questions.
These aquatic creatures are incredible long-distance swimmers and often travel between the shores of South Africa and Australia. Gansbaai (a small town about 170 km from Cape Town) is known as ‘great white shark mecca’ and is subsequently a popular place for tourists to go shark viewing and cage-diving.
If you’d like to know more, read our top 6 facts about great white sharks in Gansbaai.
Great White Sharks are very Curious Creatures
Great whites are known to be very curious. When encountering unfamiliar objects such as boats, the sharks poke their heads out of the ocean waters and often follow them to see what’s happening. This act is called ‘spyhopping’. This behaviour is quite unique as very few aquatic animals pay attention to life above water.
If you’re out shark watching and you see a great white following the boat, don’t panic! It’s not aggressive behaviour, they’re just curious.
The genus name for a great white shark is ‘carcharodon carcharias’. This is derived from the Greek word ‘karcharos’ meaning to sharpen and ‘odous’ referring to its teeth. The species name ‘carcharias’ is also translated from Greek meaning to point or type of shark. This is the main reason that they’re referred to as ‘white pointer’ in Australia. Other nicknames include ‘great whites’ and ‘white sharks’.
Just like humans, sharks have unique and natural physical markers that we use to tell them apart. This method relies on minor injuries and scarring in a shark’s dorsal fins which eventually form grooves or ridges on the edges of their fins. Although these heal and change over time, the process is slow enough that the sharks can be identified and monitored based on images of their fins.
According to the Two Oceans Aquarium, this method of identification has been developed by shark scientists over the past 22 years. And recently, scientists have made this identification process more automatic due to advances in technology – narly right?
Spyhopping is a very important skill for sharks as they are naturally surface feeders – unlike other aquatic predators that hunt within the ocean’s waters. They peep their heads out of the water to spot seals and other prey that spend time above the water.
These sharks also keep an eye out for their predators such as orcas that come up for air to breathe.
Great whites may have up to 3,000 teeth with five rows of teeth at a time. And over the average lifetime of these sharks, they grow over 20,000 teeth! Like many other shark species, the great white will never run out of teeth because as one loosens, another starts growing to replace the old one.
In a single bite, a great white can take in up to 13 kgs of flesh, devouring a total of over hundreds of kilograms at each feeding. Although these sharks have a high metabolism, they can go weeks without eating!
Great White Sharks are Prey
Believe it or not, the great white shark is not on top of the food chain – they are often hunted by orca whales. In fact, these orcas are often blamed for the sharks leaving False Bay.
The South African coast is home to type A orcas like ‘Port’ and ‘Starboard’ whales and are notorious for feeding on sharks. In False Bay, these orcas feed on sevengill sharks, great whites and bronze whalers. These whales work both in pods as well as individually to hunt sharks.
Great white sharks are some of the mysterious and magnificent creatures known to man, but nothing compares to seeing them up close and personal. Get ready to get your adrenaline racing by meeting these creatures with White Shark Ventures! We offer year-round shark cage viewing and diving that are both safe and exciting.
See our rates and packages to complete your bucket list!