Just weeks after the results of a five-year study revealed South Africa’s great white shark population could be heading for extinction, a great white died from unknown causes on Sunday [7 August] after being stranded on rocks at Danger Point, in Gansbaai. The shark was a male between 2.5 and 3 metres long, most likely a juvenile but close to sexual maturity, said Imke Meyer, a marine biologist and research assistant for the White Shark Diving Company (WSDC) volunteer programme.
After being alerted of the situation by a concerned Gansbaai citizen, crew members of WSDC headed to the site where they found the shark barely alive. They moved it off the rocks and into deeper water with the hope of resuscitating it by moving water over its gills. Despite their best efforts to save the shark, it did not survive. The shark was retrieved from the water and handed over to government officials from the Department of Environmental Affairs, who will conduct a necropsy (animal autopsy) to determine the cause of death, which is still unclear.
According to Meyer, ‘The shark had no exterior bite marks or hook wounds, but the stomach was extremely bloated and there was blood coming from the reproductive organs’.
The recent study revealed that only between 353 and 522 great whites still exist along the SA coastline – a number researchers say is well below the critical mass needed to sustain a healthy population in the long term.
The decline in GWS population stems from a multitude of reasons, including deadly gill nets and drumlines; the jaw trade; and depletion of food stocks due to finning, poaching, bycatch and commercial fishing practices targeted at other sharks. Additionally, sharks are slow to reach sexual maturity, which has severe implications for their ability to recover from a low population.
WSDC volunteer Taylor Smith said, ‘In light of the small population of sexually mature white sharks, their dwindling numbers, slow growth rates and how critical they are to the health of our oceans, the loss of this great white is a tragic blow.’
Article by Cindy Tilney
Photo by Imke Meyer