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Apex Celebrates 2000th Trip Milestone

written by Monique Fallows

Seal Island, False Bay, Cape Town

Posted on Saturday, 15 February 2014

It all began on a wintery day back in August 1996 when Chris witnessed his first ever breaching Great White Shark at Seal Island. Nearly eighteen years ago he would not have guessed at the wildlife history that would take place around this tiny 400m long Island located in the middle of False Bay and a mere five kilometres from the closest beach. Seal Island was to become one of the most famous places on earth for Great White sharks, their specular breaching behaviour and the most intense spot in the world for Great White shark predatory behaviour.


As we approach our 2000th trip to Seal Island I thought it would be a great opportunity to reflect on some interesting facts and highlights from the last eighteen years. Chris has kept data from day one at Seal Island and our crew and team continue this routine even when we are not at sea. Daily climatic and environmental conditions are recorded, comprehensive data points are noted for each predatory event and shark identification info is recorded for any shark that comes up to White Pointer 2.


Predatory Events

At the end of the 2013 shark season we reached a grand total of 9,071 predatory events by Great White sharks on Cape Fur seals. This is truly a remarkable data set and the most comprehensive in the world for Great White shark natural predation.

The overall success rate of the sharks is now at 47%, but interestingly there is a noticeable decline in success over the past five years and this is down from 51%. Our most intense predatory day took place on 4 August 2012 where a total of 47 events were recorded over a five hour period.

The largest shark was seen in June 1997 and was conservatively estimated at a truly massive 6m.




Historically January to April was considered low season months but in the past three years we are suddenly seeing good numbers of sharks during this time. Perhaps this is due to lack of normal summer food availability such as small shark species which previously were abundant. The sharks are thus having to come back to the island earlier as their normal food inshore is too scarce.



Our data clearly shows gender segregation in certain areas around the island and the really large sharks seem most common between April and early June.

The average size of the sharks we have seen remains 3.4m down just slightly from the 3.55m for the first ten years. Approximately 10% of all sharks we saw between 1996 and 2005 were 4.0m or more, and today this figure is about 7.5%. We are seeing fewer sharks per trip for the past eight years than we did in the first ten years. This might also be due to the fact that we spend more time now focusing on natural predation. 

The largest shark was seen in June 1997 and was conservatively estimated at a truly massive 6m.

Different Species

During our time at Seal Island we have once in 2006 had a 2.8m Mako shark, and in the late nineties we had Bronze Whalers on a few occasions and just this month have seen a few Smooth Hammerheads around the island. These are the only sightings of other large shark species that have been recorded around the island.

In the early years of working at Seal Island the predominant bait fish used to be Southern mullet or harders. Today we hardly see them and maasbankers are most common. The years around 1998-2002 saw large shoals of yellowtail being common at the island, however today we seldom see them. 

We have had orcas around Seal Island on several occasions in the past five years, something we never saw in the proceeding thirteen years. When the orcas are present there appears to be no change in white shark behaviour or numbers based on our data. 



Highest & Lowest Sightings

Historically late June sees peak Great White numbers at the island with twenty three being the most we ever saw in one trip back in late June 2000. We have seen four whale scavenging events at the island with the 2000 event being the most spectacular with no less than a minimum of twenty eight different Great Whites feeding on a carcass within an eighteen hour period.

The longest period we ever went without seeing a shark was five days up until 2012. Then in April 2012 directly after the Ocearch catch and tag program we had a forty seven day absence of shark sightings. 

The highest average number of predations per trip was in 2004 with eleven per trip. In 2010 we had an average of 2.6 per trip and this was the lowest average. In 2013 we witnessed 1017 predatory events making it the highest number of events witnessed in one season, but we also did the most trips ever.



We can also estimate that 2000 trips equates to 40,000 nautical miles between Simons Town and Seal Island. Good thing we have those trusty Honda engines!

Most importantly we have learnt that each day and each trip is different from day to day and the mystique of the shark behaviour at Seal Island will have us guessing and theorising forever. 

Each day, no matter the weather or shark behaviour has been amazing and we all feel very grateful to have the privilege of working at this incredible little Island…

Our enthusiasm and passion for encountering the sharks, seals, dolphins, whales, sea birds and many other forms of marine life continues unabated and we look forward to passing this on to all our guest in the many years ahead..


Marine Life, Great White Shark, Seal Island - False Bay

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