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Shark Bytes

April 2014 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

A mola mola fish off Cape Point, False Bay

Posted on Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Dear Shark Lovers


Greetings from a very sharky month at Seal Island where our awesome sightings from March have continued over into April.In this month’s news I’ll update you on all the Seal Island great white shark sightings as well as whale and dolphins sightings in the Bay. There is also info below on Chris’s upcoming talks at The One & Only Hotel in Cape Town this May and a unique dive with a Mola mola.

 

Great White Sharks, Seal Island

The weather this past April has mostly been great which has allowed us to spend a good deal of time at Seal Island and for the most part our shark sightings have been excellent.Over a two day period we had water visibility of up to 12 meters making for excellent cage diving conditions. Coupled with good shark interactions I did at times feel as if we were in the peak part of the season.It is interesting how much weather seems to affect the shark activity. In the last couple of years we have started off with solid sightings in April and then bad weather, in terms of a summer South East gale and big swell rolling into False Bay, seemed to cause a down turn in activity. We did have a number of strong SE wind days but the slower days we felt right after did not last longer than three days at a time until sightings picked up again. It is worth mentioning that as soon as we had a slower day at Seal Island the shark spotters in Muizenberg and Fish Hoek had a number of great white shark sightings on their side. So, there seems to be a movement of sharks to the inshore area directly after the wind blows strongly from this direction, even though it is not during spring or summer..The good weather is also a highlight as we had unusually high temperatures for this time of the year. Over a 5 day period we found ourselves hot and bothered in temps of 33C, 37C, 36C, 36C and 35C. These days were also windless and provided the most amazing conditions to watch the great whites gently swim around our boat and all guests over this period had amazing close up encounters, not to mention a series of incredibly beautiful sunrises.I have lived in Cape Town most of my life and have never experienced high temperatures like these during autumn. It certainly was strange working with the sharks in such hot conditions when the norm is a cold wintery day!

 


     
A Number of Big Sharks and Some Great Characters

There have been a number of shark characters that we have seen multiple times over the last month as well as a number of sizable sharks.Deux Rossi has not been seen every day but every few days we can count on her putting in an appearance. We are still not working at her “favourite” side of the Island so perhaps when we move down to the southern end we will see her more regularly.Two females both in the 3.8 meter size range have spent a couple of weeks at the Island. “Scarlet” has fairly fresh propeller-like scars on her dorsal fin and as the description mentions we suspect that she was hit by a boat. Thankfully we have seen the injury healing from day to day and she seems to be in good condition.“ExSat” is also around this size and has a beautiful bold white pigment mark on her dorsal fin. She is easy to identify and is a pretty feisty shark so her behaviour has earned her a bit of a reputation. Her boldness around the boat however means that all the guests love her personality and she certainly provides a very exciting cage dive. It was great spending time with her over the 3 week period she was at Seal Island and I hope that she makes a return later this season.We also had two sightings of “Mango”, another large female shark that has a badly damaged dorsal fin that has rolled over almost completely. We had last recorded seeing her 5 weeks previously.It seems like injured sharks were plentiful as we recorded another shark in the 3.5 meter range that has its top of its Upper caudal lobe missing. This shark was also seen about 6 weeks ago so it has been great to have another returning shark.There have also been a couple of males just over 4 meters recorded as well as 2 females of 4.3 meters and 4.5 meters. These are very large sharks and although they never stayed around the boat for more than a few turns, it was a privilege to have seen them at all.This is normally the time of the season that we tend to see the larger sharks and one more surprise was in store for us at the very end of the month….. A 5 meter female!It is difficult to explain how exciting it is to see such a huge Great white shark. At 5 meters this is the second largest shark I have seen at Seal Island since 2002, so it was a very special sighting. It became more exciting when we noticed a large bump just behind the right side of her mouth. There was a female shark we used to see very often at Seal Island with a very similar bump. We named her “Bumps” and she was well known to guests as she used to be very interactive around the baits. Very big sharks hardly ever pay us any attention and most sightings are drive-by’s i.e. One look at the bait and then they are gone!This shark was very different and spent an amazing 10 minutes with us, constantly checking out the bait and just generally being very comfortable with the boat, it was an intense encounter with all us of going crazy with this incredible experience!We are not 100% sure if this was Bumps as there were new notches out her dorsal fin but she was in the right size range of what she should be now. In any case I would like to think that it was her and that she has matured into a magnificent shark in her 5 year absence! 


     
Whales and Dolphins in False Bay

Again April has been phenomenal for common dolphin sightings and up to around 22 April we saw dolphin schools on all our trips. The school was sometimes as large as 2000 and were accompanied by up to 4000 Cape Gannets. Sardines were plentiful and as such the dolphins and gannets gorged themselves and baitball feeding events were a common sight. Some of the sardines even spent time around our shark cage (!) which made for a bonus sight of great whites cruising in and out of the sardines.On a number of trips we would be on anchor watching 1 to 2 sharks cruising around the boat, dolphins would be streaming past us on the Eastern side of the Island and more dolphins and gannets would be working a sustained baitball just north of us. This was all in our 180 degree vision and I often found myself stressing to our guests what remarkable wildlife they were surrounded by.The sardines were also attracting Brydes whales and over a week period we were seeing sometimes up to 5 Brydes whales per trip.The whole time of course we were on red alert for Orca sightings. But, it seems for now at least they have eluded us with almost all of the current sightings coming from the Atlantic side of the peninsula or from tuna longlining boats who report the orcas to be stealing their yellowfin tuna!Towards the end of the month the dolphin sightings became small, scattered groups only and there has been no further sign of the very large schools.We hear that there is a large presence of sardines off Hout Bay and the Atlantic side of the Peninsula along with large schools of common and dusky dolphins. So, it would appear that the great bio mass that was present in False Bay has now moved to better pastures.On a saddening note we have seen the shark longling boats massacring the mako and blue sharks off Cape Point, leaving us to wonder for how much longer we will still see these sharks in our waters.

 

A Unique Experience With a Sun Fish
The Sunfish or Mola mola has to be one of the most bizarre looking animals in the ocean, no, maybe make that on the Planet! We usually spot them on the surface of the ocean as its dorsal flops up and down in its attempt to propel itself forwards. We have tried to dive with them on a number of occasions but have found them to be shy and to swim off almost immediately when entering the water with them. We also usually see them in the green water closer to shore and not in the beautiful blue pelagic water.
We were off Cape Point towards the end of the month when one of our guests spotted a Mola mola swimming ahead of the boat. We watched in amazement as the Mola mola made an abrupt turn and proceeded to swim up our chum slick. It seemed curious so Chris suggested to our guests to hop in with it. He certainly did not expect that the Mola mola would oblige our presence for an hour long dive where it would often stop and just hang in the water with us.
It is such a strange animal to examine at close quarters. It really is like looking at a giant swimming old man’s face.
They can get up to 2300 kgs and as this one was about 1.8 meters high it would make it about 100 kgs. They feed mostly on jelly fish but can also feed on salps, squid, crustaceans, small fish and fish larvae. The latter would account for the presence of the 2 pilot fish!
But most of all, I was amazed to learn that the Mola mola can produce up to 300 million eggs at a time, this is the largest amount known to any vertebrate.
It may well be a while till we next have such an accommodating Mola mola and we did well to make the most of the experience.

 

 

Talks By Chris this coming May at The One & Only Hotel
Chris will be giving two talks at The One & Only Hotel again this May. The talks are one hour long and are followed by a delicious dinner at Ruebens Restuarant in the Hotel.

The two talks will be as follows:
21 May: The Great White Shark: A Global Perspective
The distribution and unique hunting techniques used by Great White Sharks in different locations around the world.
22 May: The Great White Shark versus the Orca
Comparing the oceans two greatest super predators - who really is lord of the sea?

We hope to see some of you there! Booking info can be found here.
Or call to make a reservation on +27 21 431 4511 or +27 21 431 5888 or email to Restaurant.Reservations@oneandonlycapetown.com


One Spot Left on our 10 Day Natural Predation Expedition
This 10 Day Expedition is our Premier Expedition of the year. The Expedition dates are chosen over what is historically the most intense period to witness natural predation events. Due to the popularity of these expeditions we now run two each season. These expeditions are normally sold out at least a year in advance but due to a late cancellation we have just had one spot open up for the 16-25 July Expedition.

As we move into May the shark sightings are on the increase and the first few natural predation events should begin to take place.
It’s going to be a busy month and we of course will still be on the lookout for those ever elusive Orcas, if you see or hear of them please please let us know!

 

Until next month

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

Tags:

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

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