20 Years of Flying Sharks at Seal Island
Posted on Wednesday, 24 August 2016
The 22nd of August marks a significant milestone for our company Apex Shark Expeditions as it was 20 years ago to the day that I first towed a yellow lifejacket as a decoy behind my 3,5m rubber inflatable boat at Seal Island in False Bay, South Africa. Up until that point we had no idea that sharks breached at this tiny island in the Northern half of False Bay.
I got the idea of towing the decoy from watching Scott Anderson cast a surfboard off the rocks at the Farallon Islands off San Francisco, which when retrieved, resulted in a spectacular breach by a 20 foot long great white shark famously known as Stumpy.
I remember our day well. Along with three friends, including Rob Lawrence, we launched from the beach through the surf, roughly 7km from Seal Island.
This was illegal as we were heading more than a mile offshore, and probably reckless, but when you are 23 years old, bullets can’t hurt you!
Not expecting anything, we put the lifejacket out, 15 meters behind the inflatable and began our tow. At 11h15 within just 30 seconds of deployment a small 2.5m great white shark launched into the air. We all stared at each other in disbelief! The small shark quickly spat out the unexpected taste of a lifejacket, which with much hollering, we duly retrieved.
With some reservation on the part of my companions, we once again put the yellow decoy out. Thinking it may have been an incredible once off, we watched transfixed as a far larger 3.5 sharks catapulted into the air after just a further 5 minutes of towing. Like it’s smaller relative it too spat out the decoy, but instead of diving, it swam up to the air filled boat and circled us. It was the first and only time I have ever been in a boat where the famous words of Jaws rung true, we genuinely did need a bigger boat as the shark was indeed longer than the one we were in!
Little did we know back then what we had truly discovered and what a world-renowned phenomenon Seal Island’s flying sharks would become.
Whilst observing sharks breaching on a decoy is undoubtedly spectacular, my interest has become focused predominantly on observing the natural predatory behavior that sets Seal Island, False Bay apart from any other known great white shark hotspot.
In the early years we would observe a splash or two, occasionally observe some slashing on the surface and wonder what the gulls were doing hovering above these seemingly random events. As our team’s skill in understanding what was actually going on increased, we quickly became aware that this island was truly amazing and that the intensity of predation seen here was unsurpassed anywhere in the world.
I started to take photos of the breaches and predations mostly for my own interest however when a few became known in the public domain the interest was overwhelming. Suddenly the rush was on from newspapers all around the world to publish these images. We had the biggest publications with a spread from Sydney to London to New York all wanting to run with the images. It was overwhelming. Quickly big TV networks got in on the act and soon we had the likes of National Geographic wanting to work with us. We had no idea what to charge and worked 15 hour days at a paltry sum to make the film crews happy.
After the first documentary aired, many more crews quickly followed.
In 2000 we did our first Air Jaws show with Jeff Kurr for Discovery Channel. Monique and I rebranded us as Apex Shark Expeditions and the rest as they say is history. Now 20 years down the line, we have hosted or facilitated more than 50 documentaries, including all 8 of the Air Jaws shows, and many other well known documentaries such as Planet Earth, Life, Africa, SHARK and many more.