Chris Fallows: The flight and plight of the Great White Shark

Aug 1 2023

David heads to Cape Town to speak with conservationist, wildlife photographer and Great White Shark expert, Chris Fallows

David Oakes

David Oakes


Chris Fallows


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About this episode:

Bridging the gap between wildlife naturalist and dedicated photographer, Chris Fallows was the first person to photograph the now famous breaching Great White Sharks of South Africa. Since then, he has been the human face for Great White Sharks on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, the BBC and almost everywhere else you can imagine. Chris has devoted his life to demonstrating the gentler side of “…the last animal on earth that can catch, kill, bite us in half and consume us!” In this in depth interview, Chris shares his views on African Wildlife, on how nature is faring in South Africa post-Apartheid, and the reality hidden behind the shocking decline of Great Whites off the Cape peninsula: Is it the government making the beaches “safer”? Are Australian fishermen to blame? Or is it simply a pair of hungry male Killer Whales who have acquired a taste for Shark Liver pâté? For those who, like Chris, adore the great iconic African subjects – great tusker Elephants, black mane Lions, super groups of Humpbacks, wandering albatrosses, et al – this is the podcast that will inspire you to help conserve them.

David's thoughts:

Reading a book or two, scanning the internet for scientific journals, scouring my past for any pertinent memories; such is the kind of research that normally goes into preparing for each ‘Trees a Crowd’ episode. Diving with Bronze Whaler Sharks off the southernmost tip of Africa is therefore a left-field approach to my podcast-prep!

These are amazing sharks (also known as Copper Sharks) – related to the Great White, but a metre or so shorter (they can reach up to 11ft long!) To be in the water – an environment that will always place your bipedal land-based momentum system at a disadvantage – alongside a creature that is larger than you and created seemingly from pure muscle is truly awe-inspiring. There is seemingly little threat; I am not their preferred prey, so why would they wast precious energy to take a nibble. They have a diet of cephalopods, bony fishes, and, as per the GWS, other cartilaginous fishes – it’s a shark eat shark world out there!

These diving trips used to take visitors out a number of times a day to swim in different spots with the larger Great White Sharks. The GWS’s however have gone, and now the Bronze Whaler is the usual target for tourists. But, the Bronze Whaler and Great White both are on the IUCN’s Red List as “Vulnerable”, and as a species is recorded as decreasing in numbers… As you’ll hear in Chris’ interview, for a number of reasons, these waters may find themselves lacking a number of it’s apex predator species.

On our journey out to the dive spot we joined a pod of bottle-nosed dolphins and passed the infamous seal island in False Bay. These waters were once home to the inimitable flying Great White Sharks, and for any landscape to lose its apex predator means it is undoubtedly going to undergo some change. For one, the seal population here is burgeoning; the rocky island we passed was covered at all points by cape fur seals of all shapes and sizes. The water around the boats too, alive with writhing furred flesh. The increase in seal numbers, will have an effect upon their prey species, and so on…

As humans it is hard not to see the animal world in binary terms – those of cute vs. ugly or cuddly vs. evil. So perhaps some may be pleased that the cute fur seals now out number the tooth-riddled grinning Great Whites; but after 100-or-so episodes of this podcast I hope that is not the case for my listeners!

But this arbitrary divide we draw can also go further. In America, yesterday (as I write this on the 28th of July 2023), the Northern Long-Eared Bat was stripped of it’s (science-based) Endangered Species Act protection. A South Carolinian Senator, Republican Ralph Norman, even expressed an ardent hope that these wonderful rare flying mammals would be wiped out by white-nose syndrome because of how their presence in the wild was limiting the construction of new roads. So, add productive for human industry vs. a hurdle blocking human industry to the list of ways to categorise animals. (Needless to say, the absence of these bats, and the knock on they could have to human survival should be clear to anyone with even the faintest understanding of biodiversity and our interconnected world – see Prof. Kate Jones’ interviews for more on bats…) We have to, need to, take the time to view our planet and all its inhabitants with a more holistic gaze.

As for the waters off Cape Town, should current fishing laws remain in place, the shark populations will diminish further still, and the knock on effect could be very worrying indeed…

A massive thank you to Mark Carwardine for introducing me to Chris and his wife Monique for this interview, and for the opportunity to get in the water with some amazing animals, and all in the name of research too!



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