Swimming with sharksPlan you unforgettable shark adventure today
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If asked to picture a shark in your mind most people will form an image of the classic shark in the shape of the great white shark. However, sharks are one of the most diverse of any species. With over 500 different species over 8 orders, their physical appearance can drastically differ from the typical characteristics we associate them with. They range from the classical appearance of the great white shark to the flat-body sharks such as the angel shark. Their size ranges from the whale shark (40 feet in length), the largest living species of fish, to the dwarf lantern shark of the deep ocean (just 17cm in length). Other atypical shark species include the goblin shark, basking shark, pyjama shark and the megamouth shark. Their diet ranges massively from marine mammals to other fish species to plankton. Despite these differences there are particular characteristics that make a shark a shark. Unlike most other fish their skeleton is entirely composed of cartilage and not bone. Whilst fish have one gill slit on either side of their bodies sharks have five pairs of gills and even up to six or seven in some species. Sharks have a sixth sense, as well as the five senses they share with humans they also have an electro-reception sense. This enables them to gain an electrical current feedback which enhances their hunting ability.
Sharks are perceived as dangerous foes and being in the water with one can be heart stopping. However, this reputation is ill deserved and the overwhelming majority of sharks pose no threat to humans. Over half of shark species are less than a metre in length and the two largest shark species, the whale shark and basking shark, are slow moving, docile, plankton eaters. Research has shown that in any given year you are more likely to be struck by lightning than be bitten by a shark or killed by a domestic dog than by a shark. Only a handful of sharks are responsible for unprovoked attacks on humans and only three have recorded double-digit attacks since record keeping began. Although the great white shark, tiger shark and bull shark do pose risks to human life this risk is relatively small. Shark bites from any shark average 80 per year. These are often attributed to 'test bites' where the shark immediately releases on realisation they have bitten a human. Deaths average 4.3 per year cases per year over a 10 year period. This is in stark contrast to the 3000 deaths caused by hippopotamus in Africa each year or the 125 worldwide deaths caused by falling coconuts.
The East African coastline falls into the warm, tropical waters of the Indian Ocean. It is here where you will find Mafia Island, an island in the Zanzibar Archipelago, renowned as being amongst the top 5 places in the world to see and swim with whale sharks. Unusually, this migratory whale remains resident around the island year-round. This is thanks to Tanzania's Rufiji River supplying the waters around Mafia Island with nutrients and plankton, the main food source for whale sharks. The best times to view and swim these marine giants are from October to February, with November and December possibly being the most reliable months. Reef sharks such as the blacktip reef sharks and whitetip reef shark can be seen on dives and snorkelling excursions in the coral reefs around the Zanzibar Archipelago, especially the impressive 7km Mnemba Atoll off the coast of Zanzibar.
As we head down to South Africa we encounter the meeting of Two Oceans, the warm, tropical Indian Ocean spills into the cold Atlantic Ocean. These two oceans offer distinct ecosystems, supporting many species of sharks. South African waters are home to 117 species of sharks. The great white shark is the flagship species and the one most wanted to be encountered by our guests. Dyer Island, located only 8.5km from the shoreline of Gansbaii in the Western Cape of South Africa is recognised as supporting one of the densest populations of great white sharks in the world. This is due to the presence of a colony of 50,000 cape fur seals, the sharks favourite prey, residing on the nearby Geyser Rock. Great white sharks can be observed on one of our shark cage diving expeditions. Other large sharks to be seen close to Cape Town are the pelagic blue shark and mako shark. These sharks may be observed on diving trips out of Gansbaii or out of Simon's Town as part of a cage diving trip close to Cape Point. The copper shark and sevengill cow shark are impressive species of shark who often pay cage divers a welcome visit.
Smaller sharks may be seen as part of diving trips to the kelp forests close to Cape Town. Pyjama sharks, the endemic puffadder shyshark, dark shyshark and leopard shyshark, as well as spotted gulley shark are often encountered in the shallows feeding from the ocean bed. These sharks all measure less than 1 metre and are extremely attractive species of sharks.
Sharks, like many iconic species of wildlife, are under threat from extinction. 143 of the 500+ species are listed as between vulnerable to critically endangered by the IUCN. 17 of 39 pelagic sharks are recognised as being threatened with extinction. The overwhelming primary threat to sharks is fishing, whether directly or indirectly as bycatch. It is estimated that 100 million sharks per year are killed through fishing. This has caused the global shark population to reduce by 71% since 1970, a frightening statistic. Indeed, it is predicted only 5000 to 10000 great white sharks roam the entire globe today. The main reason for shark fishing is to satisfy the Asian appetite for shark fin soup. This is not only bad news for sharks but for the ecosystems they inhabit. Sharks are recognised as a keystone species in the ecosystems they inhabit. A reduction in their numbers leads to a complete imbalance of the entire ecosystem.
As with many species their very survival rests on them being perceived more valuable alive than dead. The sustainable practice of shark diving in South Africa for example makes more money per shark than a dead shark caught by fishing practices. Our partners use part of their revenue to support conservation and promote protection of sharks. Indeed, the South African government have listed sharks as protected species and banned shark fishing in their waters. By travelling with Ultimate Wildlife Adventures you are supporting the protection of sharks.
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