Longline fishing, pollution, the arrival of orcas – what’s causing these crowd-drawing sharks to shun Cape Town’s waters?
For those who watch the waves, rocks and beaches for the distinctive silhouettes and dorsal fins, there is still hope. If the great white sharks are gone for now, they will return, one day soon.
Not so long ago, there were 200 or more annual sightings in South Africa’s False Bay of the most famous of sharks. The sheer numbers gathering around one island off the stunning curve of sand just east of the Cape of Good Hope and the city of Cape Town made it the “great white capital of the world”.
This year, a single shark has been seen. Last year, not one.
“We need to keep watching to work out what has changed and why, and when they may come back. For now, we are still really hopeful the sharks will return,” says Sarah Waries, of Shark Spotters, an organisation largely funded by local authorities to monitor the population of great whites in False Bay and watch over the beaches.
The great whites are important for economic as well as environmental reasons. They are part of a £2bn-a-year tourist industry, as much of an attraction as Cape’s vineyards, game reserves, fine dining or Table Mountain.
The tour companies taking visitors out in boats to view the sharks, or lowering them in cages into the sea for closer encounters, employ hundreds in a country that suffers from an acute lack of jobs.
Though there are still other sharks to view, the absence of the crowd-drawing great white is a challenge to an industry seen by some as a leading example of successful eco-tourism.
Experts began to notice the decline of the great whites about five years ago, and remain divided over the reason for their absence from False Bay. Some have suggested the arrival in 2015 of orcas, another apex predator that attacks sharks, forced even the great whites to retreat.