Charles Maxwell
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Sevengill Cowsharks

Broadnose sevengill sharks, Notorynchus cepedianus, from the hexanchidae(cow shark) family, are sometimes referred to as “primitive” sharks as they bear a close resemblance to certain extinct sharks and are the only sharks with seven gill slits. With an upper body of pale grey, black spots and a light belly, these are also the only sharks with a single dorsal fin set far back near the tail. Yet another distinguishing feature of this interesting shark is its broad flat nose. When I dived with these sharks for the first time I was drawn to them by their unique “prehistoric” look.

Sevengill sharks are sometimes found on the shallow reefs of False Bay near the edge of the kelp forests. These sharks are easy to film as they come close into the camera, apparently not concerned by the divers or their bubbles. These sharks can reach three metres in length and, while not normally aggressive to divers, they are known to have attacked spearfishermen and to feed on the carcasses of seals and other mammals.

In the gloom of the kelp forest, keeping up with these animals, while holding a camera steady, can be tricky as many a good sequence is spoilt when the camera catch on a piece of kelp, swinging the camera to one side. In winter the water is often referred to as “clean green” and this combined with the long kelp stems reaching to the surface can give an eerie effect. However, the results are worth the effort as a comparatively large shark, gliding through a kelp forest, adds an interesting new angle to viewing sharks.

Winter is the best time to dive with cow sharks in False Bay as the underwater visibility is at its best. As a bonus, there are also spotted gully sharks, striped cat sharks, and one of my personal favourites, the tiny puffadder shysharks, to film in this area.

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