South Africa is home to over 100 species of sharks – about a quarter of the world’s shark diversity. From the large and impressive ragged tooth shark to the smaller and more elusive pyjama catshark, sharks are a vital part of South Africa’s coastal ecosystem, regulating the biodiversity and abundance of other species.
The Two Oceans Aquarium is home to many iconic sharks. Break your shark misconceptions at the Save Our Seas Foundation Shark Exhibit, meet the camouflaged sharks of the Kelp Forest Exhibit, and discover small shysharks and their eggs.
Fun facts about sharks
- More than a third of all shark species are at risk of extinction.
- The longest shark migration ever recorded is 32 000km – between South Africa and Australia.
- Sharks have been around longer than dinosaurs, trees, insects, reptiles, mammals, and amphibians!
- Sharks skin is covered in tiny, tooth-like armoured plates called “dermal denticles”.
What is a shark?Sharks are “elasmobranchs”, fish which do not have bones and have skeletons made of cartilage instead. Sharks have several incredible adaptations, such as armoured skin covered in denticles, the ability to shed teeth and grow new ones, excellent senses of smell, pressure and electricity, and a great degree of intelligence. Using all these traits, sharks have evolved to fill a wide variety of ecological niches – enormous whale sharks that wander the ocean feeding on microscopic food, our local ragged-tooth sharks that use stealth and special teeth for hunting fish, and tiny shysharks which look for edible molluscs on the reef.
Habitats and lifestylesSharks have different diets depending on their shape and size. Smaller sharks tend to be bottom feeders, hanging around reefs or the ocean floor where they can scavenge or collect the detritus that falls from the surface. Larger, pelagic sharks – the ones closest to the surface – hunt a variety of fish or bigger prey, like whales and seals. Our ragged-tooth sharks have a very unique way of hunting – they gulp air at the surface, allowing them to have perfect buoyancy with no effort. This allows them to glide completely silently at night, perfect for catching fish!
Breaking misconceptionsSharks are often portrayed in film and television as mindless monsters. Exaggerated, damning media is often used to describe them. But, the reality of sharks is very different. As predators, sharks are pivotal in maintaining many healthy marine ecosystems. Removing sharks from the ocean can have unpredictable knock-on effects on the overall balance of marine ecosystems, possibly driving them closer to collapse. A collapse of this magnitude could result in the loss of essential food resources, job opportunities, and biodiversity, ultimately impacting the ocean’s ability to function as a life support system for the planet. By protecting and respecting sharks, and educating people about their plight, we can ensure that the worldwide marine ecosystem is afforded greater protection and respect, which in turn has positive outcomes for humans. It is estimated that 100 million sharks are killed annually; some species have declined by 90% in recent years. Sharks are targeted for their meat, fins, skin, teeth, and cartilage in commercial fishing operations and are also caught as bycatch.
Save Our Seas Foundation