Experts urge protection of white sharks as sightings in SA drop

Posted on 22 March 2024 By Savanna Douglas

A recent research paper on ScienceDirect, co-authored by marine biologist Dr Enrico Gennari and other experts, has highlighted that sightings of white sharks in typical areas off the Western Cape coast have decreased to fewer than 10 per year.

Dr Gennari has estimated that South Africa may be ‘losing between 60 to 80 white sharks’ annually, which underscores the pressing need for updated and modernised protective measures, as reported by IOL.

In 1991, South Africa pioneered a precautionary approach to white shark conservation, but with recent declines in sightings, it might suggest that existing conservation strategies may not be sufficient for the survival of white shark species.

The 1991 ‘White Shark Reasearch Project’ programme, led by marine biologist Chris Fallows and filmmaker Jeffery K Kerr, looked at the behaviour and ecology of great white sharks around Seal Island in False Bay.

In the 2024 study, researchers are arguing for the continuation of a precautionary stance and stressing the importance of prioritising conservation efforts as the number of white sharks is declining in commonly populated areas.

‘We suggest a precautionary approach to be taken in light of concurrent local declines documented at historical aggregation sites, historical and current levels of known removals […], as well as the reduction in sightings of large mature individuals currently being observed,’ the paper stated.

Dr Gennari’s research paper served as a response to a paper published in October 2023 that had ‘indicated stable population numbers since 1991’. After a subsequent analysis by Dr Gennari and his team, gaps in the data were revealed, which cast doubt on the conclusions drawn in the 2023 paper.

One example would be that in the 2023 study, Dr Gennari highlighted inconsistencies in the interpretation of percentage figures, noting that ‘an 80% decrease in one area does not equate to an 80% increase elsewhere’.

Article written by Jan-Hendrik De Villiers for Cape Town ETC. 

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