SFJ Dudley, G Cliff (2010) Influence of the annual sardine run on catches of large sharks in the protective gillnets off KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, and the occurrence of sardine in shark diet. African Journal of Marine Science, 32(2): 383–397
Shark catches in the protective nets set off the beaches of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, are strongly influenced by the sardine run, the winter influx of shoals of Sardinops sagax from the south-west. The effect of the sardine run, which is highly variable from year to year, is greatest in June and July at beaches south of Durban. Total annual shark catch and effort are presented for the period 1952–2005, and total monthly shark catch on the KZN south coast for the period May–August, 1965–2005. Measures to reduce catches of sharks associated with the sardine run have been introduced and have been increasingly successful. Reliable species-specific catch data are available for the period 1978–2005 only. For this period, the spatio-temporal distribution of each of 14 species of shark and the frequency of occurrence of sardine in their diets is documented. Occurrence varies according to species, as does the apparent influence of the sardine run on shark distribution. During June and July on the KZN south coast, sardine were found in the diet of all but two species and frequency of occurrence was 40% or greater in eight species. The presence of copper or bronze whaler sharks Carcharhinus brachyurus in KZN waters appears to be strongly associated with the sardine run, as does that of certain life-history stages of dusky sharks C. obscurus. Spinner sharks C. brevipinna and smooth hammerhead sharks Sphyrna lewini are caught in greater numbers in summer than in winter, but appear to shift their spatial distribution seasonally to feed on sardine.