Environmental Biology of Fishes

, Volume 76, Issue 2–4, pp 341–350 | Cite as

Effects of environmental conditions on predator–prey interactions between white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) and Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus) at Seal Island, South Africa

  • Neil HammerschlagEmail author
  • R. Aidan Martin
  • Chris Fallows
Original Paper


Effects of environmental factors on frequency and success rate of 2,546 natural predatory attacks by white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, on Cape fur seals, Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus, were studied over an 8-year period at Seal Island, South Africa. Attacks occurred primarily during winter months (June–August). Attack frequency increased significantly during northerly winds, during high tides, and within 400 m of the island, but predatory success rate decreased with proximity to the island. Attacks occurred over a depth range of 5–31 m, with significantly more occurring at depths of 26–30 m. Attack frequency and success rate increased significantly at low light levels. These results are compared with published effects of environmental factors on white shark predation frequency at the Farallon Islands, California, and discussed in terms of the Predation Cycle. Suggestions for future work at this site are offered.


Elasmobranch Behavior Sensory biology Predation cycle Ambush Attack 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.



Thanks to Herman Oosthuizen and South Africa's Marine and Coastal Zone Management for permitting us to do this work. For their invaluable assistance and ongoing support both in and out of the field, we especially thank R. Lawrence, M. Fallows and M. Bright. Thanks to all volunteer research assistants during the study period; especially C. Peyer, C. Meyers, D. Washington, D. Atagöksel, G. Sure, C. Voltaire, B. Jasinsky, B. Kilbride, A. Currie, G. Gurman, K. Hodgson, M. Hawksworth, J. Northey, B. Bray, H. Brown, B. Lindl, C. Black, B. Gonzalez, R. Flores, A. Barron, G. Markham, J.N. & D. Allinson, K. & G. Foster. We thank our corporate sponsors, YSI, Oregon Scientific, Li-Cor Biosciences, and Ben Meadows for generous donation of environmental sensor equipment. Thank you to Ruth Farre, Sanette Gildenhuys and the South African Navy: Hydrographic Office via the Institute for Maritime Technology for providing hydrographical data. Thank you to NSRI for permitting us to erect a weather station on their facility. We thank J.N. Allinson Associates, Inc. for supplying infrared thermography equipment. Thanks to the SeaStar foundation for financial support. We thank M. Farber and E. Keith of Nova Southeastern University's Oceanographic Center for technical advice and encouragement; we also thank E. Taylor of the UBC Fish Museum, the Zoology Department at University of British Columbia, and the Pew Institute for Ocean Science, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami for continued support. For their technical and statistical assistance, special thanks to J. Serafy and E. Babcock. Thanks to our families for their ongoing care and perpetual support, especially A.E. Martin, who also prepared the figures. Thanks also to A.P. Klimley, whose review enabled us to strengthen and shorten this paper.


  1. Ainley DG, Strong CS, Huber HR, Lewis TJ, Morrell SJ (1981) Predation by sharks on pinnipeds at the Farallon Islands. Fish Bull 78:941–945Google Scholar
  2. Ainley DG, Henderson RP, Huber HR, Boekelheide RJ, Allen SG, McElroy TL (1985) Dynamics of white shark/pinniped interactions in the Gulf of the Farralons. Memories Southern California Acad Sci 9:109–122Google Scholar
  3. Anderson SD, Klimley AP, Pyle P, Henderson RP (1996) Tidal height and white shark predation at the Farallon Islands, California. In: Klimley AP, Ainley DG (eds) Great white sharks: the biology of Carcharodon carcharias. Academic Press, San Diego, pp 275–279Google Scholar
  4. Bres M (1993) The behaviour of sharks. Rev Fish Biol Fisher 3:133–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Busch H, Dücker G (1987) Das visuelle Leistungsvermogen der Seebären (Arctocephalus pusillus und Arctocephalus australs). Zool Anz 219:197–224Google Scholar
  6. Carey FG, Scharold JV (1990) Movements of blue sharks (Prionace glauca) in depth and course. Mar Biol 106:329–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Demski LS, Northcutt RG (1996) The brain and cranial nerves of the white shark: an evolutionary perspective. In: Klimley AP, Ainley DG (eds) Great white sharks: the biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, pp 121–130Google Scholar
  8. Ebert DA (1991) Observations on the predatory behavior of the sevengill shark Notorynchus cepedianus. South African J Mar Sci 11:455–465Google Scholar
  9. Ellis DV (1986) Animal behaviour and its applications. Lewis Publishers, Inc., Chelsea, p 329Google Scholar
  10. Endler JA (1986) Defence against predators. In: Feder ME, Lauder GV (eds) Predator-prey relationships: perspectives and approaches from the study of lower vertebrates, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 109–134Google Scholar
  11. Fouts WR, Nelson DR (1999) Prey capture by the Pacific angel shark, Squatina californica: visually mediated strikes and ambush-site characteristics. Copeia 1999:304–312CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Goldman KJ, Anderson SD (1999) Space utilization and swimming depth of white sharks, Carcharodon carcharias, at the South Farallon Islands, central California. Environ Biol Fish 56:351–364CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gruber SH, Cohen JL (1985) Visual system of the white shark, Carcharodon carcharias, with emphasis on retinal structure. Memoirs Southern California Acad Sci 9:61–72Google Scholar
  14. Heithaus MR (2004) Predator–prey interactions. In: Carrier JC, Musick JA, Heithaus MR (eds) Biology of sharks and their relatives, CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 488–512Google Scholar
  15. Heithaus MR, Dill LM, Marshall GJ, Buhleier B (2002) Habitat use and foraging behavior of tiger sharks (Galeocerdo cuvier) in a seagrass ecosystem. Mar Biol 140:237–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hueter RE, Mann DA, Maruska KP, Sisneros JA, Demski LS (2004) Sensory biology of elasmobranchs. In: Carrier JC, Musick JA, Heithaus MR (eds) Biology of␣sharks and their relatives, CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 325–368Google Scholar
  17. Klimley AP, Anderson SD, Pyle P, Henderson RP (1992) Spatiotemporal patterns of white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) predation at the South Farallon Islands, California. Copeia 3:680–690CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Klimley AP, Pyle P, Anderson SD (1996) Residency patterns of white sharks at the South Farallon Islands, California. In: Klimley AP, Ainley DG (eds) Great white sharks: the biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, pp 365–373Google Scholar
  19. Klimley AP, Le Boeuf BJ, Cantara KM, Richert JE, Davis SF, Sommeran SV, Kelly JT (2001) The hunting strategy of white sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) near a seal colony. Mar Biol 138:617–636CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. MacLeish WH (1980) Senses of the sea. Oceanus 23:1–76Google Scholar
  21. Martin RA, Hammerschlag N, Collier RS, Fallows C (2005) Predatory behaviour of White Sharks (Carcharodon carcharias) at Seal Island, South Africa. J Mar Biol Assoc UK 85:1121–1135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Myrberg AA Jr (1987) Understanding shark behavior. In: Cook S (ed) Sharks: an inquiry into biology, behavior, fisheries and use. Oregon State University Extension Service, Portland, pp 41–83Google Scholar
  23. Pyle P, Anderson SD, Klimley AP, Henderson RP (1996) Environmental factors affecting the occurrence and behavior of white sharks at the Farallon Islands, California. In: Klimley AP, Ainley DG (eds) Great white sharks: the biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, pp 281–291Google Scholar
  24. Rogers SC, Church DW, Weatherly AH, Pincock DG (1984) An automated ultrasonic telemetry system for the assessment of locomotor activity in free-ranging trout, Salmo gairdneri Richerdson. J Fish Biol 25:697–710CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stewardson CL (1999) Preliminary investigations of shark predation on Cape fur seals Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus from the Eastern Cape coast of South Africa. Trans Roy Soc South Africa 54:191–203Google Scholar
  26. Strong WR Jr (1996) Shape discrimination and visual predatory tactics in white sharks. In: Klimley AP, Ainley DG (eds) Great white sharks: the biology of Carcharodon carcharias, Academic Press, San Diego, pp 229–240Google Scholar
  27. Strong WR Jr, Murphy RC, Bruce BD, Nelson DR (1992) Movements and associated observations of bait-attracted white sharks, Carcharadon carcharias: a preliminary report. Aust J Mar Freshw Res 43:13–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sundström LF, Gruber SH, Clermont SM, Correia JPS, de Marignac JRC, Morrissey JF, Lowrance CR, Thomassen L, Oliveira MT (2001) Review of elasmobranch behavioral studies using ultrasonic telemetry with special reference to the lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris, around Bimini Islands, Bahamas. Environ Biol Fish 60:225–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tricas TC, McCosker JE (1984) Predatory behavior of the white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), with notes on its biology. Proc California Acad Sci 43(14):221–238Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Neil Hammerschlag
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • R. Aidan Martin
    • 2
    • 3
  • Chris Fallows
    • 4
  1. 1.Pew Institute for Ocean Science, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA
  2. 2.ReefQuest Centre for Shark ResearchVancouverCanada
  3. 3.Fish Museum, Zoology DepartmentUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.Apex ExpeditionsCape TownSouth Africa

Personalised recommendations