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South Africa is a top 3 global hotspot for shark and ray diversity, harbouring 204 species and one-third of the global fauna.

69 of these are endemic to South Africa, meaning they are unique to our waters – and something we should celebrate and be proud of.

 

However, sharks and rays are in trouble globally. 

South Africa is a top 3 global hotspot for shark and ray diversity, harbouring 204 species and one-third of the global fauna.

69 of these are endemic to South Africa, meaning they are unique to our waters – and something we should celebrate and be proud of.

 

However, sharks and rays are in trouble globally. 

CAMPAIGN OVERVIEW

Shark Attack is a campaign underwriting a 3-year project (Shark & Ray Protection Project) made possible by the Shark Conservation Fund with a goal to improve the protection of threatened sharks and rays in South Africa.

 

The Project interventions include knowledge improvement, increased legal protections, support and training for effective implementation of conservation measures, and advocacy and awareness to spur citizen action as well as to support decision-makers.

The Shark Attack campaign hopes to inform the public and ocean users about the imperiled status of sharks and rays, recovery actions required and highlight the benefits of non-consumptive and sustainable use.

WHAT ARE SHARKS, RAYS, SKATES AND CHIMAERA’S?

Sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras are collectively known as chondrichthyans (members of class Chondrichthyes), which simply means that they are fish with a skeleton composed of cartilage. The former three are grouped together to form the subclass Elasmobranchii, whereas chimaeras are grouped in their own subclass, the Holocephali.

 

Everywhere else on this website, you will see chondrichthyans simply abbreviated to sharks and rays, because all these different species (sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras) are often grouped together in colloquial-speak. However, it’s important to know how scientists distinguish these groups, and that there is wider diversity in the class Chondrichthyes than what you might have thought.

Sharks are all characterized by 5 – 7 gill slits on the side of their heads, and pectoral (side) fins that are not fused to the head.

Rays and skates are adapted to living on the seafloor and as a result, they have flattened bodies. Their eyes are on the top of their bodies, facing up, making it easy to spot predators. Their mouths and gills are on their underside and they pump water from above their body to the gills through spiracles, which are pores next to their eyes, leading to their gills.

 

Rays differ from skates in that many of them have venomous stinging barbs on their tails for protection. Stingrays are a kind of ray, but not all rays are stingrays (for instance, there are also electric, butterfly, round and manta rays, and guitarfishes and sawfishes). Rays have longer tails and one lobe on their pelvic fin while skates have a shorter tail and can have two lobes on their pelvic fin, one of which can be used for movement. Rays give birth to live young while skates lay eggs.

Chimaeras are relatives of the shark that diverged around 420 million years ago. What sets them apart from sharks is that their jaws are fused to their skull and they lose denticles (rather than fish scales covering their bodies, sharks have dermal denticles: minute, overlapping tooth-like structures that make shark skin tough, streamlined and rough to the touch) as they mature, leaving their skin looking rubbery and smooth. This earns them their common name – the ghost sharks.

Sharks and rays are ancient animals. For well over 400 million years, they’ve adapted to living in our oceans in ways we’re only just beginning to unravel.

They are diverse in their anatomy (how they look and function) and the numerous ecological niches they inhabit (what they do and where they live). Globally, there are over 1300 species of sharks and ray that come in various shapes and sizes, with different diets, and roles to play in the delicate ecology of the ocean.

 

They are like puzzle pieces that keep an intricate web of life in balance. Some (the top and meso-predators) do the eating, helping to control populations of fish around them. Many others are eaten, fulfilling a different role lower down on the food chain, and yet more (like gigantic whale sharks and manta rays) hoover up tiny plants and animals called plankton. These “predator-prey” interactions are an integral part of natural selection, ensuring healthy ocean ecosystems.

With the health of our oceans so dependent on this diversity of sharks, rays, skates and chimaeras, it’s easier to see how our survival is linked to theirs.

 

It’s our ocean that gives us the oxygen we breathe, the food we eat, the jobs we rely on – and it’s the place we turn to in different ways to play, relax or find inspiration.

 

A world without sharks (or rays) doesn’t have us in it.

YOU CAN HELP