Has The Great White Shark Really Vanished From Cape Town's Waters?
Wildside Magazine|February 2020
The squat clump of rock barely qualifies as an island. It is even hard to make it out from the shoreline of Cape Town’s False Bay.
David McKenzie and Brent Swails

Up close, though, almost every inch of Seal Island is covered by the Cape fur seals that gave it its name. They shuffle clumsily over the bare island, flopping into the bay with each passing swell. Unsurprisingly, Seal Island has been a virtual fast food outlet for the ocean’s most fearsome apex predator.

“Seal Island is probably the world’s most famous location for seeing great white sharks,” says Chris Fallows, a well-known shark expert, photographer and tour boat operator.

Fallows says the giant great white’s favored prey were young seals making their first, tentative attempts at getting beyond the safety of the island. It was documenting the shark’s hunting technique that made Fallows famous.

It’s likely that you have seen Fallows’ incredible images of False Bay’s flying sharks. He discovered their remarkable behavior back in the early 1990s when he snuck a small inflatable boat into the bay, dragging a yellow life jacket off the back.

Almost immediately, he says, a young great white shark breached the water in an aerial attack, tearing the jacket to shreds. After countless documentaries and Shark Week appearances on the Discovery Channel, in 2019, Fallows is forcing himself to talk about these awesome sharks in the past tense.

The vanishing shark

“For me, losing the great white is like losing part of my soul,” he says. “It shaped my life and it has given me some of the greatest highs of my life.” Back in 2012, Fallows and his team witnessed 47 shark predations in False Bay in a single day. But for more than a year now, nobody here has recorded a great white. Not one.

The great whites of False Bay have vanished.

On the steep hill overlooking the popular Muizenberg surfing beach, Mobwabisi Sikweyiya is bemused. For 15 years he has been eyeing sharks and warning surfers, part of the well-known Shark Spotters charity.

“They have to come back. They will come back,” he says, sounding unconvinced. “If they don’t come back, then I am going to have to look for another job.”

Down in the small fishing harbor of Kalk Bay, fishing boat skipper Solomon Solomons’ eyes widen as he remembers his last encounter with a great white.

“It was a year and a half ago, we were fishing by the island and the shark came right past our boat, the guys were like ‘we got to get out of here skipper!’” he says with a laugh.

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