Featured Image Credit: WWF
By: Sarah Sharkey
A recent study performed by the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science has shown that an ocean ecosystem can change dramatically when great white sharks disappear.
The study was conducted off the coast of South Africa in an area where great white sharks have declined. Specifically, the focus site was Seal Island in False Bay. The area is known for great white sharks that breach while hunting seals on a regular basis. The study started back in 2000, but around 2015 great whites started to disappear from the area. According to Neil Hammerschlag, the lead study author, “In 2017 and 2018, their numbers reached an all-time low, with great whites completely disappearing from our surveys for weeks and months at a time. While the reasons for their decline and disappearance remains unknown, it provided a truly unique opportunity for us to see what happens to an ocean ecosystem following the loss of an apex predator.”
Interesting, a different type of apex predator appeared, the seven-gill shark. Chris Fallows, a co-author, had this to say, “In 18+ years of working at Seal Island, we had never seen seven-gill sharks in our surveys. Following the disappearance of white sharks in 2017, seven gills began to show up for the first time and have been increasing in number ever since.”
Although it may seem obvious that an ecosystem would change with the disappearance of its top predator, these findings are an important validation of shark protections around the world. Shark species of all shapes and sizes are on the decline and populations need to be protected in order to keep ecosystems healthy.
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