Did you know?
There was once a mythical great white shark in False Bay so big it is called 'The Submarine'.
Of the 100-odd shark species swimming in South African waters, there is one that captures the imagination like no other – the great white shark. Their size alone has entered the realm of myth. Because they were feared, they were often killed, but that tide started to turn in 1991.
That was when South Africa became the first country in the world to introduce great white shark conservation. Great white sharks were proclaimed a protected species. Other countries followed, including Namibia, Australia, the United States and Malta.
It was also in the early 1990s that the shark tourism industry started. Soon former shark fishermen saw to their astonishment that people were willing to travel vast distances for a reasonable chance of seeing this marine predator. The great white shark is officially worth much more alive than dead.
As a plus, South Africa is the only country in the world where it is relatively easy to see great white sharks. A boat ride taking less than 20 minutes will take you to ‘Shark Alley’ near Gansbaai, where operators are so confident they can show you these animals that they will usually offer a free trip in the unlikely event that you don’t see a great white.
Not many people mention it these days, but the book and movie Jaws in 1975 had a profound effect on great white shark conservation. At first, it led to the persecution of these magnificent creatures across the world. They were seen as monstrous man-eaters. But as marketers will tell you, any publicity is good publicity. The fear led to an abiding fascination and a profitable shark tourism industry that has safeguarded the species in South Africa.
As one shark dive operator noted: 'Jaws scared people out of the water and into the boats. People want to see them, but still be safe.'
Great white sharks remain vulnerable outside South African waters where shark hunters and fishermen still target them.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Best time to visit
The best time to see sharks is in winter (April to September), when they are more plentiful and active. But they can be seen throughout the year.
Tours to do
Many of the shark-watching operations are based in the Western Cape town of Gansbaai, where there is something of a concentration. But you could also find them off Simon's Town, Mossel Bay and Port Elizabeth, among other places.
Length of stay
A boat-based shark-watching cruise or shark-diving trip usually takes at least half a day or more. Set aside a full day.
What to pack
Refreshments are usually served on the boats, but take along something waterproof to wear, sunscreen and a hat. The sunlight reflects off water and you may burn without feeling it.
Don't succumb to the temptation of buying a shark-tooth pendant, or even worse, a jaw from a great white.