Where can I see a great white shark in South Africa?

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Answered by: Kimberley, An Expert in the Countries in Africa - South Africa Category
Great White Shark Hotpots of the Western Cape

When it comes to viewing the great white shark (Carcharadon carcharias) there really is no better place than South Africa! It is possible to interact with these majestic sharks at a number of prime spots all along the Western Cape of Southern Africa; however, by far the best place to be is a small village called Gansbaai. What this place lacks in size it certainly makes up for in reputation, and now prides itself on being the "white shark capital of the world."

Great white sharks usually follow two seasonal behaviors. During the summer months they stay close to shore, munching on large fish schools. From October to April, Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) wind down in readiness for mating and birthing. Males fight for territories, while females give birth and suckle, before mating again. During this time neither male or female seals enter the water.

In winter months they become the breaching, seal chomping predators that everyone is familiar with. Between May and September the Cape fur seals, after several months of birthing, mating, and weaning, return to the sea to forage en masse. Juvenile seals enter the water to learn to hunt for the first time, while males leave their territories to hunt further afield. It is in this flurry of action that the white shark starts to actively hunt around seal colonies again.

There are major Cape fur seal colonies all around the Western Cape - Seal Island near Cape Town, Dyer Island near Gansbaai, and Seal Island at Mossel Bay - all of which are hotspots for great white sharks. All three of these hotspots offer white shark viewing trips throughout the year. As I mentioned earlier, Gansbaai is definitely the top spot to go. The white sharks at Gansbaai are big, bad, and active nearly all year round. The industry has grown exponentially over the years, with more permits issued for cage dive operators, so the area can be a bit busy. However, the experience you get, from both the genuine "sea-dogs" you are on a boat with, and the actual viewing of white sharks, soon out-weighs any "busy" feeling.

There are other options for those that prefer a quieter trip. Mossel Bay, right in the centre of the Garden Route, is a small fishing village with only one cage diving operator. The bay itself is protected from wind and swell, which might otherwise inhibit vessels further down the coast, and there is a resident population of white sharks within twenty minutes of the harbour. The sharks here are slightly smaller - almost the adolescent equivalent of humans - and hang out in the bay until they reach a certain size, then move on to bigger and better things at Gansbaai and Cape Town.

At Cape Town, the operators are very interested in natural encounters with white sharks, so will wait for predations and natural breaches rather than use chum to entice the shark to the boat.

Regardless of whether you see a white shark at Cape Town, or Gansbaai, or Mossel Bay - it is a once in a lifetime experience and something to be savored. Search around for the operator that is going to give you the best possible memories of this charismatic animal.

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