The aim of this study was to investigate various aspects of the life history of white sharks Carcharodon carcharias at Dyer Island, South Africa, between August 1999 and January 2001. Inter-specific predatory interactions between the white shark and various potential prey species such as the Cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus), African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), Cape cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis), bank cormorant (P. neglectus), crown cormorant (P. coronatus) and white-breasted cormorant. (P. carbo) were observed. White sharks were attracted daily to a research vessel positioned at various anchorages in the vicinity of Dyer Island. Spatial and temporal abundance, and population composition of white sharks were recorded throughout the year and revealed seasonal trends in habitat utilisation. White sharks occupied inshore waters, away from the Geyser Rock seal colony in the summer. Sharks became abundant in the near vicinity of Geyser Rock in the winter period. The summer inshore population was characterised by the increased total length of sharks and the exclusive presence of female sharks. Prey resembling decoys were used to investigate trends in the 'predatory motivation' of white sharks in relation to various independent variables. White sharks displayed greatest predatory motivation in close proximity to a seal colony, in overcast conditions, and when water clarity was low. White sharks evidently elevate their motivation to hunt large prey, which are difficult to catch, in situations where the likelihood of encountering valued prey and completing a successful attack is greatest. Ontogenetic difference in predatory motivation towards the decoys existed, with sharks above 325 cm TL displaying greater predatory motivation than smaller sharks. Various choice tests were conducted to determine the visual discriminatory ability and prey preference of white sharks at Dyer Island. The results suggested that white sharks preferred a biologically familiar shape (pinniped) over an inanimate shape (rectangle), smaller (75 mm TL pinniped) over larger (1800 mm TL pinniped) prey, and a pinniped decoy over a penguin decoy of similar size. Selectivity in larger white sharks (>375 cm TL) was most noticeable in the prey shape (pinniped vs. rectangle) experiment, which suggests they may readily utilise a speculative hunting strategy based on rough similarities between detected potential prey and recognised prey. In this situation mistaken identification of prey is more possible. Smaller white sharks (a majority of the sample) displayed most selectivity in the prey size experiment, with strong preference for the smaller seal decoy over the large one. This pattern indicates that prey size may be a partial limiting factor in the feeding of smaller white sharks. Negative impacts (such as conditioning or distraction) of cage-diving on white sharks were assessed by the measurement of white shark contact time and visit time in relation to the chumming vessel. These results revealed that smaller sharks had longest visit times, and that sharks in the vicinity of Geyser Rock displayed visitation patterns indicative of hunting sharks. Particular vigilance should be kept by operators not to allow small sharks to take bait (reward). The channel area appears to be an important hunting ground and white shark cage-diving should perhaps be restricted in this area. White sharks also showed greater activity around the chumming vessel on cloudy days and operators must be particularly vigilant to deny sharks any rewards (bait) under these conditions. Both the white sharks and Cape fur seals predate and/or attack seabirds and predatory interactions were quantified and qualified by the routine collection and inspection of seabird carcasses and injured birds, as well as opportunistic observations of live attacks throughout this study. White sharks are infrequent predators of seabirds in this ecosystem, perhaps due to an abundance of Cape fur seals (a preferred prey), anti¬predator behaviour by penguins, and seabirds not being a sought after prey type. Cape fur seals were a more conspicuous seabird predator, annually attacking a significant percentage of the adult penguin (1.99-2.52%), white-breasted cormorant (5.21-5.72%), and crowned cormorant (3.13%) populations. A minimum estimate of 1.09% of the fledgling Cape cormorant population also succumbed to Cape fur seal predation.
Dissertation (MSc(Zoology))--University of Pretoria, 2006.