Whale shark at Soetwater, 18 March 2012. Photo by Nicola von der HeydenLocal surfers were first on the scene today at about 10:40am (Sunday 18th March 2012) when a 2.5m whale shark was discovered beached on the rocks at the Soetwater recreation area between Scarborough and Kommetjie. A valiant effort ensued as three surfers managed to turn the shark around and wade it into deeper water.  At this time there were still signs of life and surfers and onlookers alike hoped desperately that the beautiful creature would find the strength to swim out into the deep blue. Sadly, this was not to be as the shark drifted around for a bit before literally going belly up and washing back into shore.

Frontal veiw of whale shark washed up at Soetwater, showing its enormous mouth. Photo by Nicola von der HeydenBy this stage, the presence of the whale shark had created quite a stir and there was much slipping and sliding as members of the public shambled to get a better look. Fortunately, members of KEAG (Kommetjie Environmental Awareness group) were quick on the scene and managed to instil a sense of order after they had cordoned off the dead shark. Samples will be taken by Marine and Coastal Management for scientific analysis and this department and the Soetwater security guards who alerted them, must be commended for their quick response.

Whale sharks are not commonly sighted in the Cape’s waters despite the fact that they were first detailed in Table Bay as long back as 1828. They are more commonly seen in the warm waters off Kwa-zulu Natal.

Evidence of previous injuries to whale shark washed up near Kommetjie March 2012Whale sharks, the largest fish in the sea reaching up to 20 metres with a lifespan of up to 100 years,  are filter feeders, using their giant mouths to scoop up  plankton. Although the latter are their favourite food source, they have been known to feed on small fish and squid. Whale sharks are typically found in tropical and warm waters. They are docile and not immune to allowing humans into close contact. A vulnerable species, they are unfortunately still hunted in the parts of Asia such as the Phillipines. As the whale shark spends much time just a few centimetres below the surface of the ocean, they are often damaged by the propellers of motor boats.

Bjorn von der Heyden

Photos by Nicola von der Heyden

On a happier note- we hope- see