Zambezi sharks

  • Sharks
Years funded
  • 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
  • Archived
Project type
  • Research

In South Africa, bull sharks are known as Zambezi sharks, and they have a superpower – their body chemistry can change to allow them to survive in fresh water. Meaghen is studying the Zambezi sharks of the Breede River.

Zambezi sharks

Meaghen McCord

Project leader
About the project leader
For someone who grew up in landlocked central Canada, a career studying sharks in South Africa seems nothing if not far-fetched. But let a girl dream and anything is possible. We lived in the middle of the bush where we had no electricity until I was about 13. My parents and our community always encouraged a close relationship with nature and much of my youth was spent romping through forests, exploring ponds and rivers, fishing, canoeing and skiing. I believe it was these close encounters with nature combined with my passion for literature – reading about adventures in far-flung and...
PROJECT LOCATION : Breede River, South Africa
Related Blogs
By Meaghen McCord, 19th February 2013
Breede River shark fishing ban gazetted
Just weeks after receiving the news that South Africa’s Minister of Fisheries, Tina Joemat Pettersson, had signed documentation approving the ban on elasmobranch fishing in the Breede River the emergency regulations were officially gazetted in terms of subsections 2(e) and 2(n) of section 77 of…
By Meaghen McCord, 30th January 2013
Grassroots action leads to shark protection
Since the scientific discovery of Zambezi sharks in South Africa’s Breede River in 2009, our team has been motivating for the implementation of an emergency protection measure (EPM) to ban the disturbance of, and fishing for, the species to protect them in what might be…
By Meaghen McCord, 26th September 2012
The secret lives of the Breede River Zambezi sharks & their prey
Nine months after our research team first deployed a series of 18 acoustic receivers in South Africa’s Breede River we are finally gaining much-anticipated insight into the secret lives of a Zambezi shark and its favourite prey, the spotted grunter. Although we have spent over…
By Meaghen McCord, 8th August 2012
Extinction and extirpation: balancing ecology & economy
The French government has recently provided economic incentives to fishers on the island of Réunion to begin culling Zambezi (bull) sharks, following a rise in shark attacks on surfers and bathers in the area. This action has been condemned by scientists and conservationists around the…
By Meaghen McCord, 22nd June 2012
130 000 data points (or an exciting first look into predator-prey interactions in the Breede River)
The month of May was an exciting one for the team from SASC and the Department of Fisheries. It marked the first time we downloaded data from the array of 18 acoustic receivers in South Africa’s Breede River, and the first time we got a…
By Meaghen McCord, 7th June 2012
Bull sharks big & small
A neonate Zambezi shark captured in the Umzimvubu River on South Africa’s east coast The Umzimvubu River – a shallow and turbid river – flows into the Indian Ocean near the small town of Port St. John’s on South Africa’s east coast. Surrounded by lush…
By Meaghen McCord, 10th February 2012
Investigating habitat utilization patterns of Zambezi sharks and their prey
Our team of researchers have recently returned from the first field trip of 2012, during which time we embarked on a study which aims to unravel the ecological role of Zambezi sharks in South Africa’s Breede River. Along with a team of scientists from South…
By Meaghen McCord, 13th January 2012
A call for a moratorium on the killing of the Breede River Zambezi sharks
As we prepare to launch our 2012 field season – during which we will be examining the role of Zambezi sharks in shaping community structure and ecosystem functioning in South Africa’s Breede River – human-shark conflict has come to its perhaps inevitable head. On Monday,…
By Meaghen McCord, 17th November 2011
Man bites back: are sharks in hot water?
How can management policy balance competing objectives of conservation, fisheries and tourism by considering both negative impacts and new opportunities? On November 23rd, as part of the Univeristy of Cape Town Marine Research Institute (Ma-Re) Benguela and Agulhas Systems for supporting Interdisciplinary Climate-Change Science (BASICS)…
By Meaghen McCord, 20th October 2011
Protecting South Africa’s Great White Sharks through industry-science-conservation partnerships
South Africa is internationally recognized for its plethora of wildlife on land and in the sea. It is a country blessed with charismatic fauna ranging from the powerful rhinoceros to the most formidable marine predator, the Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharius). What many don’t realize,…
By Meaghen McCord, 15th September 2011
Bull sharks in human mythology
What is the most dangerous animal in the World? Any guesses? Perhaps unsurprisingly – at least to those of you who take the time to understand sharks and their behaviour – the most dangerous animal is not the Great White shark, tiger shark or bull…
By Meaghen McCord, 11th July 2011
Kicking off the new field season on the Breede River
SASC is so thrilled, once again, to be working with the Save Our Seas Foundation for the second year in a row! A grant from the SOSF has made it possible for us to continue studying the world’s biggest bull sharks in one of the…
By Meaghen McCord, 21st January 2011
Zambezi (bull) shark research: Expedition 01_2011
From January 6-14 the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC) undertook our first Zambezi shark research expedition of 2011. With the assistance of experienced recreational anglers from Triton Angling Club in Mossel Bay and community members from Witsand on the Breede River, we spent many long…
By Meaghen McCord, 22nd November 2010
Status of the Zambezi shark research on the Breede River, South Africa
Upon the discovery of Zambezi sharks in the Breede River estuary on the southwest coast of South Africa (visit the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC)), a dedicated study to examine genetic structure, fine- and broad-scale movement patterns and abundance was started. The overarching aim of…
Project details

Spatio-temporal dynamics of fish, fisheries and environment in the Breede Estuary

Key objective

This project will investigate the Zambezi (bull) shark’s use of a newly identified habitat in the Southern Cape region of South Africa.

Why is this important

As a species of global conservation concern, the Zambezi shark is in need of sound management and conservation measures. This study will provide information to support the development of such measures by investigating a recently discovered, novel habitat used by this species.


The recent discovery of Zambezi sharks in the warm-temperate Breede River estuary on the south-west coast of South Africa, 366 kilometres outside of its previously known range, has refuted current scientific thinking about this animal, which had been thought to occur only in tropical and subtropical waters.
To address these new gaps in scientific knowledge, this project aims to identify reasons for this shift in distribution using satellite and acoustic tagging techniques; determine how Zambezi sharks utilise this unique habitat; and identify the population structure of this species in the Breede River and South Africa. This data will be used to inform and develop a species-specific management strategy for Zambezi sharks in South Africa.

Aims & objectives

The aims and objectives of this project are to:

  • Determine the genetic structure of the Zambezi shark population in the Breede River and compare this to genetic information from other parts of the shark’s South African distribution.
  • Determine the abundance and population structure of Zambezi sharks in the Breede River.
  • Define fine-scale and broad-scale habitat use patterns for the species.
  • Examine how physio-chemical features affect the distribution and movement of Zambezi sharks in the Breede River.
  • Determine whether the Breede River estuary is a pupping or nursery ground for Zambezi sharks.