Chasing Cow Sharks


Ryan and I recently decided to break-away away from our usual Garden Route pathways and to play hide n’ seek with some friendly Cow Sharks off Miller’s point in Cape Town.  We were ably assisted in our quest by Steve Benjamin of http://www.animalocean.co.za

Dance between shark and man

Broadnose sevengill sharks, Notorynchus cepedianus, from the hexanchidae (cow shark) family, are sometimes referred to as “primitive” sharks as they bear a close resemblance to certain extinct sharks and are one of only 2 the only shark genera with seven gill slits- which makes them rather special.

Count the gills

They are friendly and primitive looking creatures with an upper body of pale grey, black spots and a light belly.

They have pale under-bellies

Steve says he “ mostly just refers to them as Cows – Not a very frightening name to attract shark divers!” I would think that if a cow could breathe in water they would behave very much like these cow sharks. They glide seamlessly through the kelp with their heads down, presumably looking for fish to graze? They are the apex predators in their habitat and are only preyed upon my larger sharks- such as great whites, orca’s and man.

Lurking in the kelp

I just wished they preferred warmer water. After diving for 50 minutes in a chiily 8 degrees C without suitable exposure gear– I didn’t want to do a second dive. We will have to go back with warmer wetsuits. There were times when I could see up to 5 sharks around us as they came and went on their businesses, seeming to ignore us totally, like commuters on the underground

They came and went like commuters on the London underground

They are not protected in any way and are fished mercilessly as part of the demersal shark fishery as well as a species targeted by recreational fishermen. Like most other species of shark they are at great risk of being over-utilised by man. It’s definitely worth going to visit them whilst they are still there. I will go back for sure- as soon as my thick wet-suit arrives!

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