Passive Prey Discrimination in Surface Predatory Behaviour of Bait-Attracted White Sharks from Gansbaai, South Africa

Animals (Basel). 2021 Sep 3;11(9):2583. doi: 10.3390/ani11092583.


Between the years 2008 and 2013, six annual research expeditions were carried out at Dyer Island (Gansbaai, South Africa) to study the surface behaviour of white sharks in the presence of two passive prey: tuna bait and a seal-shaped decoy. Sightings were performed from a commercial cage-diving boat over 247 h; 250 different white sharks, with a mean total length (TL) of 308 cm, were observed. Of these, 166 performed at least one or more interactions, for a total of 240 interactions with bait and the seal-shaped decoy. In Gansbaai, there is a population of transient white sharks consisting mainly of immature specimens throughout the year. Both mature and immature sharks preferred to prey on the seal-shaped decoy, probably due to the dietary shift that occurs in white sharks whose TL varies between 200 cm and 340 cm. As it is widely confirmed that white sharks change their diet from a predominantly piscivorous juvenile diet to a mature marine mammalian diet, it is possible that Gansbaai may be a hunting training area and that sharks show a discriminate food choice, a strategy that was adopted by the majority of specimens thanks to their ability to visualize energetically richer prey, after having been attracted by the odorous source represented by the tuna bait.

Keywords: Gansbaai; behaviour; prey choice; shark olfaction; shark vision; white shark.