June 2017 Shark Bytes
Posted on Thursday, 13 July 2017
I decided to wait a little while in getting our June Shark Bytes out so I could be sure in saying that the great white sharks are back at Seal Island!!
I can’t tell you how happy I am to be able to report this and also the excitement I have felt just being able to see a great white shark again after so many months.
Seal Island and False Bay News
At the end of May, we started off with a few brief great white shark sightings so we were hopeful that June would bring better luck. In early June it remained slow with brief sightings and still some missed trips but we persisted and with the Gansbaai sharks still missing in action, Seal Island was at least offering guests a slightly better chance of seeing a shark.
False Bay has also continued to produce great all round marine wildlife sightings and a large school of about 800 to 1500 common dolphins was present right up towards the end of the month.
A few small pods of humpback whales have also been around and added to the impressive seal colony of 65,000 cape fur seals on Seal Island. Our trips this past month have yielded a well-rounded marine wildlife experience.
This sort of patchy shark behaviour continued into the last few days of June but I will cheat a little bit and let you know that going into July we have had some very successful days with good shark numbers. Not only higher shark numbers such great news but the sharks themselves have also been interactive around the boat.
The water visibility has also been between 8 and 10 meters and with the good calm weather we have been experiencing it has meant some great cage dives and awesome viewing from the boat.
The size of sharks we have been seeing has been interesting in that a lot of small animals are being recorded. In fact we had one shark in particular that was not much a shade over 2 meters in length, making it the smallest shark I have ever seen at Seal Island.
To see such small sharks at Seal Island is unusual for us as we normally see teenage to sub-adult sharks. Great white sharks have an adaption whereby when they are pups they have tri-cusped shaped teeth which is more suitable for grasping. This ultimately means that the white sharks pups and younger animals feed predominantly on fish whereby this grasping method of feeding/hunting is more suitable.
As the sharks grow, their teeth broaden out allowing for the teeth to operate in a sawing motion. This means that mammals, ie seals, now become the more suitable prey source as they use their teeth in this sawing motion to tear the seal carcass apart.
It is for these reasons that we tend to see the larger sharks at Seal Island and why we have been surprised to see as many small great whites as we have in the last month.
Whenever something out of the norm happens it is always worthwhile questioning. Beneath the surface there normally lurks a very good reason for a change and one has to think with such a strange absence of sharks this season there must be something afoot.
However, for the moment we are just thrilled to have some sharks in the area and we are making sure to make the most of every sighting…we know how precious they are!
Predation activity has been a constant throughout the month and observations have been recorded on most of our morning Trips.
As a general rule most of the predatory events we are seeing have been short events but on occasion there have been a number of longer chases and some spectacular predatory breaches to be seen by those lucky enough to be looking in the right place at the right time.
When the sharks have made a successful kill they have spent a fair amount of time feeding on the surface so this in itself has provided good viewing.
As we head deeper into July we would expect this behaviour to be picking up on a daily basis.
In our May news I reported on the news of 3 great white sharks being killed by orcas in the Gansbaai area. This was in early May and within 3 weeks Gansbaai had begun to see a slow return of a handful of sharks. However on 24 June a fourth dead white shark washed ashore in Pearly Beach (close to Gansbaai).
This 4.1 meter male shark was missing his liver and stomach and was also confirmed to have died as a result of an orca predation. This event coincided with another exodus of great whites from the area and as I sit writing today on 9 July the sharks are still missing in action there.
Another part of the puzzle is that the 2 male flop-finned orcas known as Port and Starboard were sighted in the area just before the discovery of the latest dead shark.
As they say…there are no such things as coincidences and one can certainly assume that these orca are the responsible individuals.
A lot of people have voiced opinions that these orca’s should be “take care of” but although they are having a massive consequence, we in no way should be interfering with nature.
Chris is actually of the opinion these animals have been compromised and have probably had to adapt to a new feeding strategy and most unfortunately, great white sharks seem to be the new item on the menu.
We were privileged to spend a month with orca expert from New Zealand, Dr Ingrid Visser back in 2014. Around this time Port and Starboard had been sighted for the first time. Ingrid was of the opinion that the dorsal fin injuries were as a result of gunshot wounds and that every time she had seen an orca with injuries like this, they never survived.
It is an unfortunate fact that orcas scavenge off longline fishing vessels that operate off Cape Point and it is equally well-known that the fishermen shoot at these orcas.
If the above is correct I think Chris’ insight might well have value.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if poor and unethical human behaviour has had such a consequence with not only the great white shark population but a booming tourism industry worth millions of dollars.
All this aside, this is a completely unprecedented situation and no-one can really guess as to how this situation will end or what affects it will have on not only the white shark population in Gansbaai but ultimately the entire white shark population along the South African coast and the tourism economies linked to this.
It’s certainly going to be an interesting month going forward in both False Bay and Gansbaai. I must admit I feel like we are walking on eggshells with the situations poised to change at any time. Nobody ever said working with nature was going to be predictable and predictability is certainly not what we are getting!
We still have a few spots on our Great White Trial expedition from the 18 – 25th August 2017.
Until next month,