Whit Shark Projects are now assisting the Oceanographic Research Institute’s (ORI) Cooperative Fish Tagging Project (ORI-CFTP). This is a long term environmental project with an aim of ensuring the sustainable use of South Africa’s fish resources. The ORI-CFTP is a voluntary project that relies on conservation conscious anglers and public to report the recapture of tagged animals. White Shark Projects will be helping the ORI-CFTP by identifying and tagging small shark species (E.g. catsharks) and then sending them the information. As well as helping their project, it also gives White Shark Projects volunteers an opportunity to learn species identification, animals handling and tagging skills.

How do the tags work?

Photo of tag from the ORI website

The ORI-CFTP have sent us their A-tags which are external dart tags for sharks, rays and large bony fish >60cm. The tags consist of a monofilament vinyl streamer attached to a plastic barb, much like a miniature version of a spear from a speargun. Each tag is inscribed with a unique code (e.g. A123456) and contact details (E.g. phone number).

Tag recapture is when a fish is caught that already has a tag in place. The ORI-CFTP relies on anglers to report the recapture of tagged animals. When a fish is recaptured anglers are asked to read the take note of the tag number, species and measurement. In addition, date, location and whether the fish was kept or released are also needed (oritag.org.za/GettingStarted).

ORI fish tagging kit

Species of Interest: 

There are various species of small shark species you may find if you go snorkeling around Gansbaai and I must say these are some of the most adorable looking sharks you may find. Below are four main species of interest when we take the volunteers snorkelling that are on the Priority Species List for the ORI- CFTP:

Pyjama shark (Poroderma africanum)

Leopard catshark  (Poroderma pantherinum)

Puffadder shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii)

Dark shyshark (Haploblepharus pictus)

First up, we have the pyjama shark (Poroderma africanum)…

Pyjama shark photograph taken by Kimberley Deumer

The pyjama shark, also known as the striped catshark is an inshore bottom dwelling species that is endemic to South Africa and found in the southeast Atlantic and western Indian Oceans. They inhabit rocky reefs and kelp beds, in depths shallower than 100 metres.

This species was named pyjama shark after the unmistakable dark stripes running down its body, making the shark look like it is wearing pyjamas. It is also identifiable by its prominent short nasal barbels and the dorsal fins are set very far back on the shark’s body. The pyjama shark can grow up to a whopping 1 metre in length.

Leopard catshark – photo © Andy Murch, elasmodiver.com.

Next, we have the leopard catshark  (Poroderma pantherinum)…

The leopard catshark is a very abundant inshore species found around the coasts of South Africa. This bottom dwelling species prefers to live on rocky reefs and kelp beds and sandy flats usually up to 20 metres deep, although they have been found in a depth up to 250 metres.

To identify the leopard catshark, it is a little harder as their patterns are so diverse. Their colours range from almost white to black and are covered with diverse patterns of spots, blotches and sometimes lines. The leopard catshark has a stocky body with the two dorsal fins set very far back on the body, a short head and tail and can reach lengths of 84 centimetres. They also have a long barbel that hangs down from each of their nostrils.

Puffadder Shyshark – photo © Andy Murch – elasmodiver.com

Now we come to my favourite, the puffadder shyshark (Haploblepharus edwardsii)…

The puffadder shyshark is a species of catshark fondly known as Happy Eddie which is a shortened version of its latin name (Haploblepharus edwardsii). Puffadder shysharks are also endemic to South Africa and can be found near the bottom in sandy or rocky areas to a depth of 130 metres.

This species only reaches a maximum of 60 centimetres in length and has a slender flattened body and head. It has the most beautiful patterns with a series of dark edged orange saddle shaped markings down its body and white spots all over its back – these patterns also resemble the puffadder snake. It is known as a shyshark because when threatened it curls into a circle with its tail covering its eyes apparently like a doughnut shape…. However, I think it looks more like a pretzel.

White Shark Projects tagging a “Pretty Happy”

Last but not least we have the dark shyshark (Haploblepharus pictus)…

The dark shyshark, also known as “Pretty Happy” is a species that is endemic to southern Namibia and Western South Africa. It is a bottom dwelling, inshore species that prefers to inhabit rocky reefs and kelp forests.

These sharks are often mistaken for puffadder shysharks but can be identified by their more bluntly rounder snouts and their dark body with large light spots. This species grow up to 60cm in length and like puffadder shysharks, when threatened they curl up into a circle with their tail covering the eyes, like a little pretzel.

Why tag them?

White Shark Projects volunteers snorkeling for catsharks.

According to IUCN Red List there is little to no data available on the population numbers of these species that are endemic to South Africa. These species are commonly taken as bycatch in inshore line and net fisheries and caught on longlines and gillnets. It is important to tag shark species around our coasts as currently there is not enough data to indicate any past reduction or ongoing decline in population, range or habitat quality. We will be tagging to help ORI understand whether these shark populations are declining or not.

All the data White Shark Projects collect will go towards the Oceanographic Research Institute’s Cooperative Fish Tagging Project and helps to conserve South Africa’s fish resources. In addition the project gives White Shark Projects volunteers an opportunity to learn species identification, animals handling and tagging skills.

The tagging of South Africa’s endemic species is important because there is little to no data on population trends and due to the small habitat range these animals are particularly vulnerable to both human and environmental pressures.

For more information on the species above as well as other shark species that inhabit the waters around Gansbaai, read our previous BLOG.

White Shark Projects volunteers snorkeling for catsharks at De Kelders

For more information on White Shark Projects volunteer project – visit our web page!