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Shark Bytes

April 2006 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Sunday, 30 April 2006

Dear Shark Lovers


April is traditionally a month of a variety of sharks as it is towards to end of the pelagic shark season and sometimes the beginning of the white shark season at Seal Island.


I am very pleased to report that since almost the beginning of April we have started sighting great white sharks. Great white sharks are particularly seasonal animals and we definitely are not able to find them year round. We have noted that the great white sharks return to Seal Island to feed on Cape Fur Seals during the South African winter months. During these months the water temperature in False Bay cools down and no longer supports the migratory fish and other shark species that we think the sharks prefer to hunt. As these fish and other shark stocks can no longer be found the sharks have no option but to feed on the seals. Seal Island is 60 000 strong seal colony and an ideal hunting ground for the great white.


On each trip we have seen a minimum of two different sharks and as many as five different individuals on each trip. They have not stayed around the boat for long periods but we are happy just to get a glimpse of them!


We personally have not had any breaches on the seal decoy, but our colleague Rob, who also works at Seal Island, has had one. The good news is that on all the trips we have done thus far we have been seeing different sharks on each trip, so there seems to be good numbers of sharks coming and going around Seal Island.


In the last week we have also seen signs of sharks predating on seals. On one trip last week Chris & I were about a mile from arriving at the Island when a breaching shark was beautifully silhouetted against the golden skyline just before dawn. The shark proceeded with another 2 breaches and was successful in catching the seal. As we get more into winter we will be expecting to see a lot more of these events as the young of the year seals head out for their first feeding sorties.


One particular trip I would like to mention was with a British Family on a day trip. The four kids were extremely interested in nature and in particular the 9 year old peppered us with questions throughout the day! Shark wise it started off very slowly and at 12.30pm we barely glimpsed a shark feeding on a seal carcass. In fact as we got there we just saw the top of the shark’s tail going back into the water. We went back on anchor and the kids were so excited that they had seen a great white shark. Sometimes one gets a group of people that we particularly want to have a great day. As the time wore on Chris & I gave ourselves 5 minutes before leaving. Out of nowhere we suddenly had 2 sharks around the boat and they both stayed with us for a good 30 minutes. We have never seen children so appreciative of nature and they were just ecstatic at seeing the sharks.


We get a large number of emails from parents whose kids love sharks and even kids themselves that want to learn about them. It is fantastic that so many kids are being encouraged to learn more about this greatly miss-understood animal, and who knows, maybe in the future this will go a long way to helping the conservation of this species.


Towards the end of the month we have had a large patch of dirty green water move into the pelagic shark area and subsequently have been seeing more blue sharks than mako sharks. The water temperature has also cooled down to about 17 degrees Celcius, another sign that winter is approaching.

I did however manage to have my best dive yet this season at the beginning of the month. We had 2 makos around the boat for most of the day as well as a few yellowfin tuna and about 200 longfin tuna. When it was my chance to dive only one mako was still around but I wasn’t complaining as this male shark of about 1, 8 meters (5 foot) was very relaxed and repeatedly made close passes within a few meters of me. It always amazes me how these sharks allow us into their space without being aggressive towards us. When they get close I love to watch their purple pupil beadily watch me they swim by!


Whenever the mako would disappear for a short while the longfin tuna (albacore) would come up to the surface. We found that while the mako was around they were staying below at about 10 meters. We mostly get yellowfin tuna up to the boat so it was only about the 3rd time that I have dived with the longfin and it was interesting to note that they were much more cautious than the yellowfin.


In May we will be doing the last of the pelagic shark trips and many more white shark trips. We are also hoping to do one or two more dives with the sevengill cow sharks before the white shark season really takes over.


For South African readers Carte Blanch will be featuring a segment on shark longlining on the 21 May. It will be showing both sides of the story so I am sure that you will find it interesting.


Also for South African readers, The Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) has compiled a seafood watch card relative to South Africa. It is a recommendation on which seafood is a better choice from an ecological perspective, and it is one of the ways in which you yourself can make a difference in the conservation of our oceans. The list is available on www.wwf.org.za/sassi .


Something else to check out is our new look website and you will be find all sorts of interesting information including scientific papers published on our work at Seal Island and other areas.


Until next month,

Best wishes

Monique Fallows 


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