Gaansbaai and False Bay: The Best Places To See Great White Sharks and Orcas in South Africa

The waters around South Africa are internationally recognised as being hotbeds of marine activity, with places like False Bay and Gansbaai renowned for Great White Shark activity, while Hermanus enjoys a fantastic whale watching season. All of these are just a short drive away from Cape Town, and provide the perfect day excursion from your base in the city.

Marine life enthusiast and conservationist Chris Fallows has spent many years observing these fascinating creatures from his base in False Bay and loves nothing more than educating others and raising awareness. We were fortunate enough to attend a fascinating talk by Chris a few weeks ago at the One and Only Hotel’s Guest Speaker Series entitled “Great White Sharks versus the Orca”, and boy did we learn some things…

Chris began tagging sharks in 1989, and was integral in implementing a new tag and release program that saw over 1500 sharks and rays released from local fishermen’s nets. In 1992, Chris was at the forefront of Great White Shark diving in South Africa, working for one of the first diving operations in Gaansbaai. 1996 saw Chris and his partner discover the now famous breaching waters of  False Bay and the rest, as they say, is history. With over 2000 expeditions to Seal Island under his belt, Chris has amassed invaluable data that has been published in four co-authored scientific papers, and his book ‘Great White and The Majesty of Sharks’. A keen photographer and stand up paddle boarder, his incredible photographs of these apex predators have also been published around the world.

Chris Fallows on the beach
Chris Fallows is happiest at sea.

Orcas – also known as Killer Whales – are the most widely distributed marine animal in the world and stay in pods of up to six Orcas if transient, or up to 50 Orcas if resident. Males are really attached to their mothers, staying with them their whole lives (which can be between 50 and 80 years). Birthing up to five Orcas in her lifetime, this could be pretty trying for mom! Orcas are the largest members of the dolphin family (not whales, as many people think) and grow up to 9.5m in length, and weighing as much as 9 tonnes. Known to be extremely intelligent, Orcas devise ingenious tactics to catch their prey in teams, be it creating waves to knock seals off ice blocks or swimming adjacent to the shoreline to catch naive seal pups. With the second largest brain on the planet  - coming second only to the much larger sperm whale - Orcas are the braniacs of the sea.

Orca breaching
Orcas have incredible strength.

Great White Sharks – perhaps the world’s most misunderstood animal – are the largest of all the world’s fish species and have the biggest brain of all the world’s cold-blooded creatures. Growing up to 6.5m in length, they have evolved to become supreme aquatic predators and solitary hunters. With a lifespan of up to 40 years, they don’t enjoy quite the same wisdom associated with old age as Orcas do. With the ability to self-regulate their body temperatures by up to 22 degrees celsius, sharks are adept at thriving in even the most testing of conditions. With 18% of their brain activity dedicated to their sense of smell, sharks can detect even the faintest of smells from kilometres away such as a fat-rich whale carcass drifting offshore. Sharks have incredible body strength, which is evident when they breach the water by as high as 5m.

Chris Fallows Shark Breaching
One of Chris’ shots of a Great White Shark breaching.

The two great predators of the ocean largely keep to themselves with little interaction occurring, however there have been two recorded incidents when an Orca has killed a Great White Shark. Fascinatingly, the sharks completely left the area thereafter and have yet to return leading to theories that the sharks release a powerful stress hormone to warn fellow sharks of impending danger.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the One and Only and Apex Shark Expeditions for their hospitality. We thoroughly enjoyed the talk and look forward to learning a whole lot more throughout the series! Click the link for information on upcoming One and Only Guest Speaker Series.

Chris Fallows Stand Up Paddle Board
Chris on his beloved stand up paddle board.

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