You may remember from my last blog that I mentioned that False Bay has a magnificent diversity of shark species, but that due to the infamy the Great White has achieved in the False Bay waters, one tends to overlook the magnificent diversity of Sharks we find in False Bay.
I also promised that we would look at some of these magnificent creatures, starting with the Great White, which we did in excess, so for this blog, let’s start with The Sevengill Broadnose Cow Shark.
The Broadnose Sevengill Cow Shark… its all in the name.
This is an astounding shark to dive with, with its primitive looking and calm slow movements. This shark can be seen in Cape Town in the shallows and in the stunning protected reefs in the Kelp forests along the Cape Peninsula marine reserve.
The Sevengill Broadnose Cow Shark…
as named has 7 Gill slits rather than the standard 5 Gill slits most shark species have. They have a large round body with broad wide nose and comb-shaped teeth. Growing up to 3,3 metres in length, much more inquisitive than many of its fellow shark brethren.
The Sevengill cow shark in itself is a very rare prehistoric looking shark that not many can say to have seen or swam with, this is an excellent opportunity to have a look a shark that has stood the test of time and gracefully roams the oceans’ floor. Although not as popular or as glamourized by Hollywood as the Great White shark, it still is quite a beauty stealing the lime light from the Great Whites and display that sharks can be curious too.
These beautiful sharks are ancient with evidence linking them back to the Jurassic age from over 150 million years ago so diving with them is a real treat just for this reason alone. The sharks are active hunters and predate. Known as mid to bottom feeders they feed on sting-rays, smaller species of sharks and seals and are known to hunt in packs when taking out larger prey. They can also find themselves “swimming or the shallows” when a large bull seal or two decide to play catch and chase the shark to the depths.
The best place to see these…
Sevengill Cow sharks is in False Bay, Cape Town, South Africa. The sharks roam in the kelp forests along the cape peninsular coastline close to Millers Point. These sharks are still present in Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa and the best place to see them is South Africa in these magnificent kelp forests. And more recently, at Seal Island, when the Great Whites are not about.
Join us for a once in a lifetime opportunity to meet this unique aquatic creature in its own habitat. Sevengill sharks will restore the favour and reputation of the blood thirsty monster painted by Hollywood.
Sevengill cow shark could be considered the ambassador for the shark population, as their gentle tranquil nature is indicative of a shark’s true temprement. Unknown too many people sharks are not aggressively on the prowl looking for their next meal, killing and destroying anything its path (that would describe a little more the average man in their pursuit for money). Sharks mistakenly attack humans not maliciously, but rather though misidentifying them as a possible food source when test biting the possible seal, fish or other of it’s food choices. This is evident because after an attack sharks don’t return to finish you off or consume the remains. Instead they swim away and continue to investigate and learn as we do. It is unfortunate that their touch does lead to injury and or death, but not the Sevengill cow shark it is a true representation of a shark’s nature.
Trade our violent nature in for a peaceful and realistic portrayal of sharks.
In society we as a human race are attracted to violence and danger this is evident in the world today, and so sharks are portrayed as a mirror of what we choose to reflect. So come and do a shark dive and see if your perspective of sharks changes. See if we can trade our violent nature in for a peaceful and realistic portrayal of sharks.
But before you do that, let’s chat some more about The Seven Gill Cow Shark
And I want to do this, because against all that is “normal” we have been visited by these pre-historic looking, gentle sharks at Seal Island lately in the absence of our glorious Great Whites. Not to say that it hasn’t been wonderful, it’s just been different, as Cow Sharks tend to spend most of their time in deeper waters and kelp forests, as mentioned above, only coming into shallower waters, it is believed, to breed. They are also nocturnal hunters, so to have them entertaining us, at Seal Island, is a treat we cannot ignore! Oh, and this is not really a “cow shark” … this is …
Cage Diving with Sevengill Sharks.
They make me think of the sock hand puppets we used to make as children, and though they are wild “animals” and need to be treated with respect, they are about as dangerous. They have incredibly curious natures and have proved to be incredible sharks to cage dive with.
They are called the “pre-historic” shark as a result of the fact that it’s skeleton is similar to that of fossils found of extinct sharks.
Also they have a relatively primitive digestive system compared to other sharks, almost as if evolution hadn’t caught up with them yet, and they boast 7 gill slits as opposed to the “normal” 5 as found with others in the shark family. The reason for the extra slits, whether they serve a purpose is not known, other than another throwback to prehistoric times.
Diving with the Sevengill Broadnose Cow Shark.
There are four species in 3 groups; these being the Bigeye Sixgill, the Bluntnose Sixgill, the Sharpnose Sevengill and the Broadnose Sevengill Cow Shark. The Boradnose Sevengill is the one most commonly found in our False Bay and Simons Town waters, and this is who has been visiting our cage at Seal Island recently.
Other than their broad flat noses and six and seven gill slits, there are other characteristics that set these sharks apart from the perceived “regular” shark. They have comparatively slender bodies with largish angular pectoral fins and smaller pelvic fins with a single anal fin. They have only one dorsal fin with no spine. The caudal fin has a well-developed upper lobe with an obvious sub terminal notch; that is a distinct notch on the underside of the caudal (back) fin. Some of them can grow to 5 meters in length.
Two of the 4 genera have small eyes while the other two have large eyes. The Bluntnose Sixgill actually has eyes that glow a florescent green/blue colour, very cool! The teeth differ from upper to lower jaw, with the upper jaw having smaller, more pointed teeth and the larger comb-like ones in the lower jaw.
Cow sharks are ovoviviparous.
This means that though they have egg casings, the female will carry these casings until they hatch within her, at which time she will then birth them. The Bluntnose Sixgill can have up to 100 pups in one litter. How long a gestation period, is not known and when they reach maturity, is not known.
They enjoy a diet of relatively large fish of all kinds, including other sharks, as well as crustaceans and carrion.
It is possible to free dive with these sharks, and we would be happy to make that a possibility for you too. It is recommended to have a scuba certification to do a kelp and Cow Shark dive, though not a necessity. As we are cage diving with them at Seal Island, we feel it prudent to keep you in the cage, as Seal Island is the temporary home of the Great White.
So for the sake of these gorgeous pre-historic, sock-like puppet looking sharks, let’s keep our oceans clean, safe and home to all that live in it!
There are 510 different species of shark, but for this exercise I did say we would keep to the False Bay Sharks, so let’s move on to the Shortfin Mako – The cheetah of the oceans.
The Mako Shark, with its big eyes and round nose, is the cheetah of the ocean. With one advantage over the cheetah, it is able to achieve speeds of over 46 miles an hour (over 74km per hour) for as long as is needed for it to catch its prey and beyond, cruising around at a speed of anywhere between 20 and 30 miles per hour, as opposed to the Great White’s cruising speed of 4.7km per hour! The exact speeds and duration capable of a Mako Shark are not yet known, as every experiment to date has ended with the blowing up of speed boat engines resulting in uncompleted data! This shark is built for speed, even sporting “spoilers” on either side of its tail and stream lined “skin teeth”! I’m guessing catching one of these big boys (they grow to an average of 2 meters in length and weigh between 90 and 160kgs) will prove a challenge and out swimming a Mako shark, an even greater one! This is fast becoming another of my favourites.
Despite it’s scary appearance, in all the recorded history of shark attacks, there has never been any record of a Shortfin Mako attacking humans. Its brother, the Longfin Mako has been recoded as attacking, but only spear fishermen, when they had a fish at the end of their spear. With its friendly nature, it is possible to free dive with the gorgeous torpedoes.
The Shortfin Mako, has a row of jutting ragged looking teeth, that even when they “close their mouths” still show through and so add to the fear factor of this incredibly friendly shark.
Let’s move on to another gorgeous Shark that calls False Bay it’s home; The Spotted Gully Shark.
Found in False Bay, this shark answers to a couple different names, the Spotted Gully Shark, Sharptooth Houndshark, Sweet William or “Spotty” as “affectionately” referred to by anglers. The Spotted Gully Shark, prefers shallow inshore waters from South Africa to Southern Angola, closer to the sea bed in sandy areas near rocks, reefs and gullies.
This tough little shark grows to about 1.7 meters in length with the females out-growing the males and boast large rounded fins. It has a short blunt snout and is characteristically grey or bronze in colour with plenty of its signature black spots, while the underside of the shark is paler.
The Spotted Gully Shark is Near Threatened on the IUCN
Being a nocturnally active shark, the Spotted Gully Shark enjoys a diet of crustaceans, bony fish and cephalopods. They have been seen gathering together during the day in shallower waters, and it is believed that they do this for reproductive purposes. They are viviparous and birth between six to twelve pups every two to three years. As a result of its slow growth and reproductive rates, it is a concern that they are vulnerable to overfishing, as they are often hooked by recreational fisherman as well as being caught by commercial fishing trawlers in bottom longlines, and so have been marked as Near Threatened on the IUCN.
These sweet sharks, tend to keep to depths of 10 meters in sandy habitats, but have been known to go to depth of 50 meters, but never into open waters. And this makes sense when you know that their favourite food is crab, in the juveniles, and slipper and spiny lobster as well as bony fish and cephalopods as they grow into adulthood and have been known to chase their meal almost onto the shore! When the squid spawn, the Spotted Gully Shark, has been known to break its nocturnal behaviour to hunt during the day to make use of this easy prey.
Stick around to learn more about the magnificent sharks in the False Bay coastline.
Till we meet again, keep that toothy grin!
By Nadine Bentley