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20 Years of Flying Sharks at Seal Island

written by Chris & Monique Fallows

A breaching great white shark in Seal Island, False Bay

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.

 

Nothing has taught me as much as the respect I have learnt from watching both predator and prey.

Many celebrities have come out to see the sharks with us including Tiger Woods, Bill Gates and several others.

Celebrities and documentary crews were amazing to work with but I would have to say one of the highlights was getting to know and make friends with so many people who have become regular guests or have been so passionate about the sharks, from young kids to adults for whom seeing a great white has been their life highlight.

 

If I had to pick one spectacular event it would have to be watching a minimum of 28 different great whites, in one day, feeding on a whale carcass in late June 2000.

That said the most memorable thing has actually been getting to know individual sharks over the years. Just 10 days ago we saw “Shy Guy” who has visited Seal Island for 13 out of the past 14 seasons.

 

Pictured here is Shy Guy hunting. 

 

We have been humbled so many times when watching a young seal out wit, out maneuver and outlast a predator 50 times its weight. We have sat amazed at the persistence and hunting acuity of a 5,0m shark as it twists, turns and then powers it’s way through massive seas to locate and then run down it’s wily prey. Nothing has taught me as much as the respect I have learnt from watching both predator and prey.

 

Some numbers along the way.

 

Up until the 8th of August 2015 (the remaining data up until today still needs entering), we had undertaken 2385 trips to Seal Island.

   

We have recorded a staggering 9881 predatory events, of which 4689 were successful kills.

 

The most predation events seen on one trip was a staggering 46 in August 2012.

 

The largest shark seen was in June of 1997, a shark estimated to be a minimum of 6.0m in length. The smallest shark we have seen at Seal Island, around 1.8m.

 

The most sharks seen on one trip was in June 2000 and that was 23.

 

In the past 10 years we are seeing less than half the number of sharks seen in the 10 years previous to those.

 

All in all it has been the most incredible privilege to work with these amazing animals at Seal Island and share it in so many ways with some special guests, film crews and shark enthusiasts who have in many cases become friends.

 

Last but not least we owe a huge Thank You to all our staff and crew along the way that have been part of the incredible Seal Island journey.

 

Best wishes

Chris & Monique

Tags:

Chris Fallows, Great White Shark Breaching, Seal Island - False Bay

Comments

John J King

Huge congrats to you both for your amazing dedication and work which has inspired so many...including us!! CHEERS>>>& best wishes for continued success to you both and the entire Apex Shark Expeditions Team! xoxo J & P

Posted on: 24 August 2016

Damiata F

Congratulations Chris ...Watched you from the sidelines and hugely proud of your achievements ....you followed your dream...chapeau !

Posted on: 24 August 2016

David "Baz" Jenkins

Congratulations Chris & Monique to you and your awesome office crew on a great achievement , looking forward to the next 20 years! See you all again next year for some more awesome flying sharks , chocolate and football !!! :)

Posted on: 25 August 2016

Chris & Monique Fallows

Thanks for your lovely comments everyone! Being able to share Seal Island with like-minded friends who are equally passionate about the sharks and wildlife has definitely been one of our highlights. We look forward to sharing many more incredible moments with you all out there in the future!

Posted on: 26 August 2016

Peter Verhoog

My first great white shark breach in Falce Bay was in 1998. I still love to be there and see these amazing animals. Thank you both for sharing your great photos and your conservation work.

Posted on: 8 September 2016

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