South Africa's Great White Shark

Bookshelf: South Africa’s Great White Shark

South Africa’s Great White Shark – Thomas P. Peschak & Michael C. Scholl

South Africa's Great White Shark
South Africas Great White Shark

I don’t know why we didn’t get hold of this book earlier. We have spent months and months of trying to get information about shark movements in False Bay – the only good sources of information are commercial operators, such as Apex Predators, and Shark Spotters.  Many South African based shark researchers whose work is frequently mentioned in newspapers, online and in conversation – usually preceded by the words “they plan to…” or “they’re about to…” are as easy to get information from as it is to open a giant clam with your bare hands. We find this hugely frustrating as regular users of the ocean – in my mind, I compare it to withholding news of traffic conditions, jams and accidents from road users. It’s even more frustrating because a lot of the work is publicly funded (and because a run-in with a shark can be a lot more hazardous to your health than an hour in a traffic jam).

Thomas Peschak is a photographer and marine biologist who spends several months of the year in Cape Town. The photos in this book are his, and he was also involved in much of the research.

The book is small and thin (under 100 pages), but covers white shark biology, behaviour and interactions with humans – with a focus on Southern African populations. Tony devoured it in a day, reading most of it aloud to me, and I read it straight after he did. There is confirmation and refutation of many of the bits of information – usually frustratingly vague – that are passed around as fact in diving circles and general discussion with interested parties.

At the back there is a section on how to avoid unpleasant human-shark interactions, and what to do if you see one. The authors have advice for swimmers, divers, kayakers and spearfishermen (in a word, don’t do it!). Interestingly, they advise against urinating in your wetsuit or going in the water while menstruating or bleeding from a wound. This is erring on the side of caution – I don’t necessarily think there’s a huge problem with either of those in general – but if you’re diving somewhere near Seal Island such as the SAS Fleur, an area trafficked by sharks, it’s probably wise to be wise. The rest of the advice to divers confirms what Tony tells people when he does a shark briefing – stay together, breathe slowly, stay at the bottom, and make your way out in a dignified manner when the opportunity arises.

Buy the book here.

I would recommend that instead of making a donation to shark research in Cape Town – since we have NO IDEA where that money goes – you buy this book. Or donate to Shark Spotters, since their work is visible, open to public scrutiny, and clearly directly useful. Or both!

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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