Cape Town – Baby seals are often eaten by great white sharks that congregate around Seal Island in False Bay, but new research has shown that these youngsters get wise to the big predators and start changing their behaviour to avoid becoming shark breakfast.
Alta de Vos from Rhodes University, the lead author in the study published in Marine Mammal Science this month, said yesterday there were many more young seals attacked by great whites around the island than adult seals.
She and the other researchers had originally thought this was because sharks preferred young seals to adults. When they looked at the situation more closely, they found this was not the case.
It was because the adult seals were wiser than the babies, and avoided the shark “danger zone” at certain times of the day.
Great whites congregate around Seal Island during winter. Although scientists have not established why, they say it may have to do with the availability of plenty of seal pups born in December/January and which start to go to sea to feed in April/May. Or it may be because other shark food is not available during winter – or something entirely different.