The great white shark is a voracious and lightening fast predator, but the Cape fur seal is a swift and adversary. Predator-prey relationships have fascinated scientists for years, but it is by watching the charismatic top predators of the oceans that we learn the most about the complex rules of the sea. Read the article below for more details about the predatory strategies of the white shark and the fur seal.
In South Africa, there is a small fishing village called Mossel Bay, which is home to a resident population of white sharks. These sharks spend half of the year coasting around in the shallows next to the beaches, eating fish. The other half of the year - South African winter, between May and October - they can be found circling a small rocky island in the middle of the bay. This island is aptly named Seal Island, after the Cape fur seals that can be seen frolicking on and around the rocky outcrops.
What attracts the sharks closer to Seal Island?
During winter, the juvenile seals from the previous year, and the adults who have spent summer mating, birthing, and fighting over territories, take to the water en masse. The former go out to learn how to hunt, while the latter venture further afield to richer feeding grounds. While this mass of activity is going, the white shark slowly circles the island in what is known as the 'Ring of Death' - an area widely accepted as a white shark hunting ground. The seals are aware of this, so make false starts and try to leave in groups to outsmart the sharks, and more often than not, they will leave. However, sometimes they don't.
The shark's predatory strategies
When the white shark spots a suitable target, it lines itself up slightly behind it, otherwise the seal would spot him and the hunt would be ruined. Suddenly, the shark literally bursts up with the aim of stunning the seal and delivering a fatal blow, because the teeth and claws of the seal can cause serious damage to the shark. The speed of the ascent up the water column lifts the shark straight out of the water, in what is now so lovingly known as a breach. If the seal is lucky, the shark will miss, and the seal will live to fight another day. If the shark is lucky, he gets lunch.