South Africa

Expeditions:South Africa

Where two great oceans meet, the waters off South Africa support rich marine wildlife, including one of the oceans top predators: the great white sharks


Located along the southernmost region of Africa, South Africa’s coastline stretches from the desert border on the Atlantic to the subtropical side of the Indian Ocean. At the most southern point of South Africa, these two great oceans meet. These waters are home to abundances of marine fishes, seals, sea lions, whales, dolphins, and of course, many species of sharks.

Of the 100 or more species of sharks 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. Great white shark conservation was pioneered in South Africa, the first country to declare this toothy predator a protected species. Perceptions have altered over the past two decades. Today, most adventure tourists don’t consider their trip complete until they have seen a shark, usually at Gansbaai in the Western Cape.

Having been to South Africa during a Cousteau expedition in the late 1980s, I was excited to return on an expedition in 2009 to learn more about the oceans most feared, and highly misunderstood, great predator. With the help of an experienced shark expert, and with immense caution and respect, I descended into the ocean realm and swam as one with a beautiful great white shark. Sharks play a critical role in ocean health – keeping fish populations strong and healthy. They are not the monsters the media has so often been made out to be, but instead, intelligent, curious, and graceful creatures of the ocean.

State of South Africa Great White Sharks

  • Fears about great white sharks and other large shark species have led to destructive policies such as shark culling around the world, which indiscriminately kills large sharks.
  • The growing popularity of great white shark cage diving is garnering support for big sharks, and increasing the value of protecting sharks and keeping them alive.
  • Although great whites are the largest predatory sharks in the ocean, not much is known about their life history such as where they give birth or where they travel for large parts of the year.
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Videos from South Africa

Learn more about our work in South Africa

  • Watch our PBS documentary series Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Adventures – Sharks at Risk.
  • More countries are beginning to see the economic advantage of keeping sharks alive as tourism increases around the world, read Jean-Michel Cousteau’s blog on Shark Sanctuaries around the world in A Turning Point for Sharks.
  • Jean-Michel strongly advocates for the protection of sharks and an end to shark finning and banning of shark fin products, learn more at Sharks at Risk.
  • What happens when a great white shark, that eats penguins like popcorn, and a small African penguin have an encounter off Dyer Island in South Africa? Find out in The Penguin versus the Great White Shark and be prepared for the unexpected.

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Jean-Michel Cousteau with a Great White Shark in South Africa. © Ocean Futures Society

Quick Facts

  • Gansbaai is known as the great white shark capital of the world.
  • It takes around 15 years for great white sharks to reach maturity and capable of reproduction.
  • Sharks have a sixth sense: the ability to detect electric activity – such as a heartbeat. They are so sensitive, they can detect a half a billionth of a volt of electricity in the water.
  • Great white sharks are believed to live up to 70 years.

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