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Shark Bytes

April 2011 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Saturday, 30 April 2011

Dear Shark Lovers!

 

April has been a very up and down month for Great white shark sightings. It has been interesting to see how dramatic the effect of weather and water temperature seem to have had on the shark activity.

Sadly, our much loved crew member, Woods, also had a very traumatic event where he lost his home in a fire. Please read below to see if you can help him.

 

Great White Sharks, Seal Island

April certainly started off with a bang with our first breach of the season on 1 April. It was a wintery day, just perfect for breaching behaviour. We did not have to wait long and in 5 minutes we had an almost full breach on the decoy. Needless to say we were all tremendously excited to see this huge animal launching itself out of the water.

Sightings of sharks around the boat were steadily increasing and we really thought that the early start to the season was just going to keep getting better! We should have known better…

Chris & I had been away the second week of April on board a 6 Star Cruise Ship, Serenity, where Chris was invited as a guest speaker. The 6 star treatment was something completely new for us, especially after just camping in very rough conditions in the Himalayas! We weren’t complaining and had an amazing time on board enjoying both the exquisite food (!) and very interesting lectures by other guest speakers.

While we were away “White Pointer” was operating as per normal and Poenas and our team had some amazing shark sightings for this time of the year as well as great sightings of a large school of dolphin throughout the week. They also had breaches on the decoy on three trips, so the sharks were certainly hotting up.

Sunday ,17 April, was our first day back at Seal Island. We were welcomed back by a strong South East wind which meant hiding in the lee at the Northern side of the Island. The sharks were excellent and we ended up with 6 different animals throughout the day.

The following day we were automatically expecting good sharks, never a good thing to do! The day started off badly with Chris having terrible effects from food poisoning (argh!) and then 2 brief sightings of sharks around the boat.

The following day we also had brief sightings but had 4 different sharks up at the boat. 

When we operate we always try to provide a marine safari experience so seeing dolphin on these slower shark days really was a highlight as well as getting close to the seal colony on Seal Island.

On the 20th we had a small cold front approach Cape Town and although it was pretty miserable at sea we got to see the first few predatory events of the season. 

The following day we had a very large 2 meter swell at the Island. The swell was coming directly into the bay and this meant a slow rolling sea at the Island. Big swell is normally not good for seeing good numbers of sharks and by 11am when there was still no sign of sharks we were all a little worried!

We were only going to give it a little while longer when a fantastic male shark of about 3.3 meters came up to the boat. He was very interactive and stayed with us for about 30 minutes. With each pass he would come up very close to the boat and made quite a few surface lunges for the bait and decoy. Everyone wanting to dive also got great views of him from the cage. 

On that Friday we had a very short trip which was a Private Charter. After towing the decoy with no luck we ended up at the Northern side of the Island. As I was retrieving the decoy Chris spotted a curious shark that was investigating a large piece of kelp (seaweed) on the surface. We raced over and in a space of 10 minutes we identified 3 different sharks looking at the kelp. Really interesting!

These were all sharks that we had not seen during the week and it looked like things were picking up again.

But, over Easter we had 2 big cold fronts hit Cape Town which produced a massive 7 meter swell offshore. The remnants of this meant more big swell (2 to 2.5 meters) which we felt at Seal Island. 

Not only did we have big swell but the water temperature dropped to 11 degrees Celsius. The average temperature for our winter  months at the island is 14-16 C so that it quite a significant drop, and this also had a big effect on the shark activity. 

Great whites are able to increase their body temperature. However, cold water means they lose their body temperature more quickly to the environment and so have to be extra careful to not waste this energy by unnecessary fast swimming or anything else that burns energy. We think that this may make them less likely to visit us at the boat. The result was a couple of really tough days at The Island right the way to the end of April…

 

The cold olive green water appears to be completely sterile and devoid of life. The large schools of baitfish that were keeping the common dolphin and cape gannets present have also disappeared, along with our hope that we may encounter the Killer Whales in 2011. I have to say that this is pretty disappointing and Chris is still struggling with Orcalitis from last year so was desperate to see these awesome animals again.

I guess it is important to remember that Great White Sharks are very rare animals and any sightings we have of them is a good one. I really learned this lesson well whilst in India. 7 days of our trip was spent in Kanha National Park and our main focus was to see a Tiger. We had 2 sightings on 14 game drives. Bearing in mind that Great whites are said by some to be rarer than Tigers in the wild to see even 1 shark on a morning is still really good, as well as a privilege, and this something we have really tried to impress upon our guests.

I can let you in on a little secret before writing May’s newsletter at the end of May and say that the first week of May has been much better and shark sightings are picking up on a daily basis.

So, we are all looking forward to what May will bring us. It is historically a great month for seeing sharks around the boat and Chris & I will be hosting our first of 2 Sardine Run Expeditions.

 

Woods

Many of you will know Woods who is one of our permanent crew members. He lives in an informal shack settlement close to Simonstown called Masiphumelele. Earlier this week his home, as well as 1500 other homes were burnt to the ground in a massive fire that went through his area. Sadly people living in this area have very little to start with and really have lost everything in many cases.

Over the last year Wood’s character has grown in leaps and bounds and is a infectiously bubbly member of our staff who has developed a true love for the sharks and marine wildlife. More importantly he tries with very limited means to spread his passion for animals and wildlife amongst the kids in the community that he lives in who have no exposure to this lifestyle at all.

To help him through this devastating event Apex is donating 12 spots on the boat between now and 15 May where the full proceeds will go towards Woods and his family to help rebuild his house.

If you are interested in buying a spot on the boat, which is discounted to R1500.00 for this period or helping in any way please contact us. Any help will be greatly appreciated. 

On a happier note we look forward to a month of good sharks, sardines and dolphins and hopefully even a chance of an orca or two.

 

Until May’s end,

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

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