The Secret Life of Sharks in South Africa’s Kelp forest

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South Africa’s West Coast is a well-known destination for tourists to tick the infamous White shark cage dive off their bucket list, or to scuba dive with some of the most prehistoric sharks roaming the kelp forest, the broadnose seven-gill shark. However, people often tend to overlook the great diversity of smaller shark species inhabiting the thriving, swaying and towering kelp forest stretching for 1000kms (621mi) along the Western Cape’s rocky coastline.

This aquatic kelp forest also provides food and shelter to an array of marine life ranging from small plankton, crustaceans, a big diversity of fish species, octopus, and nudibranch.

If you ever have the opportunity to do a kelp dive, you cannot let it pass. Once you do that giant stride off the back platform of the boat or a backroll off the pontoon of the zodiac and descend, do yourself a favor and look up. 

Give yourself a minute to absorb and appreciate the enchanting kelp towering over you with the sun rays dancing through the cracks while the kelp sways from side to side as it welcomes you as if it has been waiting and expecting you into its mysterious little nooks, crannies, and corners. You can even find a playful cape fur seal twirling its way through the forest, nothing is impossible in this diverse ecosystem.

Striped Pajama Shark

Once you have adjusted your eyes to all the awe and beauty of this underwater forest, you will start seeing all of its little characters coming out from their disguise. In the passing by you can see schools of fish. If you look carefully, you can see octopus trying their best to keep themselves hidden and camouflaged. Sometimes, you can catch them on the move! 

Finally, we get to the smaller bottom-dwelling sharks. There are five different species: the puffadder shyshark, dark shyshark, the charismatic striped pajama catshark, and leopard sharks, all of them have more or less the same characteristics and behavior patterns. These smaller sharks all fall under the same family called “catsharks.” All of them feed off the crustaceans, small bony fish, and mollusks which the kelp forest provides. Growing to a maximum of 60cm (2ft), these sharks pose no threat to humans and tend to curl into a ring when they feel threatened. 

Pufadder Skyshark

The fifth species is the shy spotted gully shark, a little bit bigger and more robust than the rest of the small sharks. These guys can grow up to 1.7m (5.5ft) in size and are extremely skittish and shy toward people they can mainly be found among the shallows or hiding in the rocky areas of the kelp forest.

Doing a kelp forest dive in South Africa is easy and accessible for any diver — and you can even experience the forest with a mask and snorkel. This dive is great for beginner divers all the way to advanced divers. The maximum depth of a dive is more or less 15m (49ft) and the water temperature can vary from 10-16°C (50-61°F) .

If you would like to join a guided dive or a snorkel in the kelp forest, Shark Explorers come highly recommended. With dive guides who are familiar with the area and its animals, you are most definitely in for a memorable experience!

With kelp forest dives running from Simonstown, there is a big variety of accommodation to choose from in the historic little town! Ranging from a budget-friendly Simonstown backpacker to something more high end such as the Quayside hotel right on the pier, you will be central to restaurants and walking distance from the dive center! 

Dark Shyshark