The Two Oceans Aquarium participates in research and conservation programmes for two species of sharks, namely ragged-tooth sharks and seven-gill sharks.

In the beginning

In 2004, the Two Oceans Aquarium in conjunction with Save our Seas and the AfriOceans Conservation Alliance (AOCA), tagged and released Maxine, a ragged-tooth shark that had been housed in the Aquarium for eight and a half years. Maxine’s fascinating history and release gave rise to the M-Sea programme (Maxine Science, Education and Awareness Programme). This programme aimed to gain scientific information about ragged-tooth sharks and to raise awareness of their plight. 

Aquarium Curator Michael Farquhar with Maxine

Since then, the Two Oceans Aquarium has subsequently released several other sharks back into the ocean every two years. After Maxine, another three Aquarium sharks were tagged with satellite tags and released, while sharks released since 2009 have received spaghetti tags.

In 2013, we released two sharks fitted with acoustic tags, which can be used to track their movements along the South African coast. Watch these short videos below, documenting the release:

Why do we release our sharks?

Scientists are using every opportunity available to learn more about these incredible animals that have been roaming the Earth’s oceans for the more than 400 million years. Releasing sharks that have been housed at the Two Oceans Aquarium affords us a great opportunity to study ragged-tooth sharks in general and their migration patterns along the southern African coastline. The data from Maxine’s tag and other tagged sharks revealed fascinating aspects of the sharks’ lives. 

  • Globally vulnerable species
  • Locally abundant
  • Long-lived species
  • Not breeding in the Two Oceans Aquarium
  • Opportunity to highlight the plight of species locally and globally
  • Ambassador species
Kay is lowered into the back of the truck, ready to hit the road

What are the objectives of the tag and release programme?

  • To create awareness about the plight of sharks: Over 100 million sharks are killed around the world every year
  • To change peoples’ perceptions of sharks: they are not ‘man-eating monsters’ but top predators in the oceans and important for keeping the ecological balance
  • To determine the success of releasing sharks from the Aquarium back into the wild
  • To compare their behaviour to wild sharks
  • To investigate migration patterns

Sevengill shark research

A diver and a sevengill shark. Photo courtesy of Morne Hardenberg

With thanks to Woolworths, the Two Oceans Aquarium donated over R150 000 to Dr Alison Kock, research manager for the Shark Spotters, who is leading an exciting five-year research project on broadnose sevengill sharks (Notorynchus cepedianus, also known as cowsharks). Aquarium staff also physically assist Dr Kock by accompanying her on tagging trips and assisting with the catch, sampling, tagging and release of the sharks.

Read more about the project here:

Why shark conservation?

Sharks in deep trouble

Around the globe millions of sharks are slaughtered every year for their meat, fins, teeth, skin, oil and cartilage. One of the biggest threats facing sharks is illegal finning where the fins are hacked off the living animal and it is tossed back overboard to die a slow death. The fins are then sold for sharkfin soup, which is considered a delicacy in Asia.

As populations of fish species collapse around the world due to overfishing, humans are having to cast their nets wider, targeting other animals in the food chain such as sharks. Shark and fishery scientists agree that many shark species are in deep trouble as the numbers of sharks being caught as target species or as bycatch are increasing. This has serious implications for their populations, as they are mostly slow growing and produce few offspring each year.

South Africa’s sharks

South Africa has a rich diversity of shark species off its shores. About 100 species of the world’s approximately 400 known shark species live in the oceans surrounding South Africa.

In South Africa various shark species are not only targeted by certain commercial fisheries, but are also caught as by-catch. Several conservative management restrictions have been put in place to help ensure the conservation and sustainable use of our sharks.

Ragged-tooth shark in the I&J Predator Exhibit. Photo by Ingrid Sinclair

Currently white sharks, whale sharks, basking sharks and sawfish are on the prohibited list (no catch or possession) while others including ragged-tooth sharks, spotted gullies and pyjama catsharks are on the no-sale recreational SASSI list. South Africa has also developed a draft National Plan of Action for Sharks [PDF] to ensure conservation, management and the long-term sustainable use of sharks through ongoing research, management, monitoring, and enforcement.

Rethink the Shark

As a public aquarium dedicated to marine education and conservation, the Two Oceans Aquarium aims to inform the public of the role of sharks in the oceans and the importance of the larger species as apex predators. One of our main focus areas is on changing people’s perceptions and attitudes towards sharks and putting shark attacks in perspective [PDF].

With regards to the fishing of sharks we support the world-wide call for sustainable shark fisheries. We urge governments to:

  • regulate and monitor shark fisheries
  • implement heavy penalities for non-compliance
  • ban shark finning
  • insist on the landing of entire shark carcasses
  • fund ongoing research to further understand sharks and assess shark populations

We also urge consumers to be aware and to support sustainable fisheries. Choose seafood that is still plentiful and can withstand today’s current fishing pressure, i.e. choose from SASSI’s green list [PDF] or purchase seafood products with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label.

You can also download the following articles about our shark release programme: