If you thought sharks were ocean-bound creatures, limited to saltwater only, think again! It seems that Bull sharks, locally known as Zambezi Sharks, quite enjoy taking trips up rivers. In 2009, a four metre Bull shark was captured 5.5 km up the Breede River in the Southern Cape – at the time representing a new global size record for the species. The report of Bull Shark activity in the Breede prompted Meaghen McCord and her team of the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC) to carry out an in-depth investigation on the nature of the Breede River shark population.
Bull sharks, as their name suggests, possess stocky bodies and comes with an unpredictable nature to match. Although reported attacks can be put down to confusion, mere curiosity or simply mistaking humans for their natural prey, they are responsible for the third most attacks on humans after Tiger Sharks and the notorious Great White. Meaghen McCord and her team are out to change the public’s perception of the Bull shark and the perceived notion that it is aggressive by nature, and they hope that the extensive research they are conducting – funded by the Save Our Seas Foundation and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries – will shed new light on the mysterious creature and its behaviour.
The bull shark is commonly found worldwide in coastal areas of warm oceans, in rivers and lakes, and occasionally salt and freshwater streams – if they are deep enough. They are known to swim far up rivers, thriving in low-saline water, and populations of bull sharks are found in several major rivers including the Zambezi; the Umzimvubu and Breede Rivers in South Africa; the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the States; the Amazon; the Ganges in India; and the Brisbane River in Australia – where more than 500 bull sharks are thought to be living. One was even reportedly seen swimming the flooded streets of Brisbane, Queensland, during the Queensland floods of late 2010/early 2011! However, the presence of Bull/Zambezi sharks in the Breede River is what sparked the interest of McCord and her team. “This project began as an exploratory expedition to determine what species of sharks were using the Breede River estuary. We were extraordinarily lucky to find the system was home to some of the largest Bull sharks ever recorded in South Africa, as well as being the most southerly distribution for the species in the country,” she said.