Posted on Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Dear Shark Lovers
Well, working with Great White Sharks is not always glamorous, there are many tough days out there with poor sea conditions and of course sharks not behaving themselves…!
This April has seen a big drop in great white shark sightings but on the plus side we have had a couple of awesome Pelagic Trips …. And ….. orca sightings!
Also read all the way to the bottom for some info on lectures by Chris this coming July.
Great White Sharks, Seal Island
The longer I work with these animals the more complex the sharks and the eco system appears to be. For the third year in a row we had a very early start to the Great white shark season at Seal Island, with the sharks returning in early February, nearly 2 months early.
We were seeing on average 5 sharks per trip and of course we thought to ourselves, fantastic, here comes a great season ahead.
The sharks must have been listening …
You may recall me writing about a big South Easter storm at the end of April. Well, since that particularly bad patch of weather we have had a big downturn in shark numbers at Seal Island.
At most we have seen 3 sharks on a trip and twice none at all.
Although it probably is not the best move to be writing about low shark numbers (!) but it is also interesting to observe the conditions around this and perhaps try and pick up on what could cause this change.
We have noted that the piece of water that moved into False Bay is low in oxygen and generally devoid of a lot of marine wildlife. Alison Towner from The Dyer Island Trust has completed her Master project on environmental conditions and how they affect Great White Sharks. She has found that poor water quality and especially low levels of oxygen in the water can have a negative impact on the number of sharks in an area. The sharks would need the higher levels of oxygen to aid digestion and also to save energy. So, perhaps this is what happened in False Bay after the bout of bad weather.
The weather has been fairly settled since then which means that we have not had a big system with which to move a lot of water and perhaps bring in a change. As I write today we have a large 6.5 meter swell running offshore and we are hoping that this will cause a major shift and change in False Bay.
It is also interesting to note that on almost all trips we have observed scavenge events, just as I wrote about in March Shark Bytes. Often we could judge the size of the shark on the scavenge event and many times this particular shark did not come to the boat. So, it seems like there are still some sharks frequenting Seal Island but it seems that most of them do not seem to be interested in coming up to the boat and interacting with us.
We had a very similar situation happen from about the middle of April to the beginning of June last year where we went just over 45 days of not seeing any sharks at Seal Island. This time period right now is historically peak season for us and it certainly is surprising that we have now had 2 years in the row with this different kind of situation. Interesting again though that last year we also had a very big South Easter storm that brought in water that was low in oxygen at the onset of this quite period of shark sightings.
I do however want to make a very big point about what a great privilege it is to see a Great white shark. It is a very rare animal with some world-wide population estimates being 2500 to 3000 animals. It does not matter how quick your view is, it is still an amazing opportunity to see this incredible predator. In wildlife not every day is a red letter day so it is always best to make the most of whatever you see …
Other Wildlife in False Bay
Slow shark sightings have meant that we have paid extra attention to other marine wildlife in the Bay and on most trips we have been coming across schools of common dolphins. At one point we had a school of around 2500 strong which was incredible to see.
We have also seen a number of smaller schools numbering 100 to 200 dolphins.
So, sometimes when one option is not working, it can lead to other opportunities …
Since our extremely exciting time spent with a pod of 4 orcas in May 2012 we have been impatiently waiting for April 2013.
Since 2009 we have observed Orcas in False Bay on very rare occasions. These orcas seem to be dolphin specialists and as such we have observed them hunting dolphins on most of the occasions we have been fortunate enough to find them.
The time period seems to be around April and May each year so we have spent the past 10 months patiently waiting for hopefully another chance…
Even since early April we have been on the lookout for the black and white hunters, making doubly sure to carefully check the area around large schools of dolphin, and also to carefully watch the behaviour of the dolphins.
We have found that the dolphins behave in a particular way if the orcas are around, they can definitely come across as being nervous and the whole school will also constantly put in big burst of speed.
On 18 April at around 12 noon we were headed back to Simonstown after a Great White shark trip when we got a call over the radio to say that Orcas had been spotted close to Roman Rock lighthouse …. The orcas were with a large school of dolphins!
Read the full report here …
Other Orca Sightings
Just 10 days later the whale watching boat caught wind of a possible orca sightings near Millars Point. They went to have a look and lucky for them came across another pod of 6 Orcas.
They were not hunting dolphins this time but where making their way along the coast up to Cape Point and it seems that they continued out of the Bay.
Simonstown Boat Company have shared their images with us and the exciting news it that this is a different pod that we saw for the first and only time in June 2010. In fact this pod was seen a week after the other pod in 2010 so it is so fascinating to record that these 2 pods were sightings just 10 days apart again. I really do feel there are few coincidences in nature, so, who knows what the relationship is here.
We have also had another report of orcas moving with a pod of pilot whales off Cape Point and possibly trying to hunt them. This is unconfirmed but still exciting.
Over the next month we will most certainly be on the lookout.
A Small break from Great white shark trips allowed us 2 opportunities to venture of Cape Point this past month and they were both equally great trips.
On our first trip just before heading off Cape Point we came across a school of about 500 common dolphin at the mouth of the Bay. We spent a good 30 minutes with them accessing their behaviour. Of course we had seen a pod of Orcas just 3 days before so we wanted to make sure they were not around before driving further south … all seemed quiet so we continued our journey in search of warmer water , it was just 13C at The Point!
It was still pretty cold until we hit strong current line about 17 miles from Cape Point. There was also a great temperature break on the other side of the current line and we watched the water temperature climb up to just under 18C, perfect for the sharks!
We set up our slick and began our wait…
Read the full report here ….
On our second trip we travelled along way offshore in search of good water, 27 miles from Cape Point. The long drive was well worth it as we ended with 15 blue sharks and 2 mako sharks on the trip. We had good colour water and with great shark numbers and good conditions all our guests had fantastic dives and a great day spent on the ocean.
Chris will be giving 2 lectures at The One and Only Hotel in Cape Town this July. On the 28th he will be speaking about our experiences with Orcas in False Bay as well as in other places in the world such as Argentina and Alaska.
On 23 July he will be talking about The Legendary Great White Sharks of False Bay.
The talk also includes dinner at Rubens after the event.
There are also a number of other interesting speakers between May and September so please review here for more info: http://capetown.oneandonlyresorts.com/cuisine/events/speakers.aspx
So, if you are in Cape Town over this period don’t miss these interesting events!
Ten Day Predation Speciality Expedition, July
We have just 2 posts left on this specialist 10 day expedition, 16 to 25 July. If you are really interested in Great white sharks and seeing one of the most spectacular natural behaviour events in nature, this 10 day trip will give you some great opportunities. The limited number of people on board as well as Chris, myself and our team will be focusing on finding these events for a once in a life time experience.
More info here
VIEW PHOTOS OF THE MONTH HERE
Wish us luck for good Great white shark sightings in May!