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Shark Bytes

August 2010 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Compared to August 2009 we have had a really surprisingly great month of sharking.

 

In July I reported that our observation of natural predation events were way down. I am relieved to report that the activity has on the whole been great in August and we have had a late spurt of activity late in the month and thus late in the season.

 

To start off the first 11 days of August Neil Hammerschlag from the RJ Dunlap Marine Conservation Program (University of Miami) hosted a group of highly enthusiastic shark fanatics with Apex. Over the 11 day period we had a good variety of sightings and as sightings each day were really different we got to see a little bit if everything. Some days were great for seeing sharks around the boat and our highest recorded day was 11 individual sharks. Other days were good for predation events and breaches, and then we also got to see good sightings of common dolphins and Southern Right Whales. Spending time on the water is just like being on safari and we try to treat each trip as a marine safari. Yes, Great white sharks are incredible to see but so are some many other animals that we are fortunate to come across on the ocean.

 

Predation Activity 

Following Neil’s group we had a number of 5 day long stay guests with whom we also had a great time with. Every season at Seal Island is different but as a general rule we would expect shark sightings to start declining as we get to around mid August, but it was very different this year.

We had a number of small low pressure systems descend on Cape Town and I think this had a role to play in increased numbers of predatory events.

We have noted this pattern over the years and assume that the bad weather means that more seals will return to Seal Island to take shelter and thus gives more opportunities for the sharks to hunt.

Even though there were a lot of incoming single seals returning to the Island we did record a lot more hunting attempts on large out going seal groups. The sharks are far less successful on these groups but they are often very spectacular…seals leap dramatically out of the way as a Great white comes exploding out of the water. One of the most spectacular events we have seen this season was a 4 meter (13 foot) male breach out of the water while arching its back upside down in hot pursuit of a seal mid air. Incredible…! Chris managed to take some images and even though they are fantastic he will forever wonder what the images would have been like if we had been on the other side of the seal group!

There have been a number of other very spectacular events this month. This activity has surprised us as normally our peak predation observations are mid to end of July, making 2010 nearly a month late with predation activity.

During this very busy period we were scanning the high predation area when a white flash caught the corner of my eye. As I turned I witnessed one of the most amazing sights in my 11 years at Seal Island. A 4 meter plus Great white doing a full blooded breach so high I could have walked underneath it, white belly facing towards us and twisting in an S shape after a seal…some pretty wild language flew out of my mouth!! The funny thing was the only other person to see it on the boat was Chris, so I guess it was a lucky sighting for us.

There have also been quite a few dramatic chases on the surface. If the shark misses the seal on the first attempt the seal will try to get behind the head or tail of the shark where it uses agility to escape. The chasing on the surface can sometimes be as long as 5 to 8 minutes and are heartbreakingly spectacular. I have to say that I am a softy and always shout for the seals.

We still have about 2 weeks left of the season but I am curious to see what the overall success rate of the sharks has been. In past years the figure has always been just under 50% but I have a feeling 2010 is going to be quite a bit down from that.

 

Old Friends Return

As mentioned shark activity normally starts to slow down from mid August onwards, particularly with the amount of sharks that come up to the boat. Even though the sharks are at the Island hunting they seem to lose interest in coming up to the boat. Again, 2010 has been different and we have had some of our best shark encounters from the middle to the end of the month. Just a few days ago we had a total of 8 different sharks which must be the record for this time of the season.

I try to go on as many trips as possible but unfortunately I do need to spend some time in the office (!). I guess I am a bit of a pain as I am always phoning Chris at sea to find out what is happening! On the 15th I received the most awesome news that one of our very favourite sharks, Amber had just come up to the boat. This is now the 5th season in a row that we have seen her and her normal routine is to return to Seal Island in May each year. As we got into August we really thought that she was not going to arrive so it was very very exciting news. She is normally a great shark for staying around the boat and being interactive and I can tell you that nothing has changed. We have noted that she seems to have had a growth spurt since 2009 and not only has she grown in length but the amount of girth she has put on is impressive. I was a little worried that this may be her only sighting of the season so I was over the moon when I got to see her the next day. In fact we have seen her about 10 times now this month and each time has been fabulous.

Poenas and our crew did an afternoon trip on the day Amber first arrived and while we were at home we got another very exciting call from Poenas to say that the infamous Roundfin was back! This is a very feisty 3.0 meter male and he always keeps us on our toes when handling the bait and decoy. He was apparently up to his usual tricks and was in fine form. We have not seen him since then but it is a great comfort to know that he is still a round.

 

There have been a lot of other fantastic sharks at the boat this month. A few days ago we had a long interaction with a 4.2 meter female. Normally the big sharks do not stay around for long but she was just incredible. She was very clean with hardly any marks, strange for a large shark as they normally have some battle wounds. I always say that the best experience with a Great white is on  a flat calm day with a large shark just gently cruising around the boat, I feel this is when we are humans can truly connect with them.

At Seal Island we don’t tend to see a pattern of time periods to see male and female Great whites but we have noticed this month a lot more males than females, especially larger males in to 3.6 to 3.9 meter size range. Maybe it is just co-incidence.

August has been great for sightings of common dolphin and we have come across schools of between 200 and 800

Cetaceans

August has been great for sightings of common dolphin and we have come across schools of between 200 and 800 on a number of occasions, often with very good sea conditions. One of my favourite things to do is lay flat on the bow of the boat and look down below as the dolphins ride with us at the front of the boat. The noise as they expel their breath is fantastic and if one listens closely it is also possible to hear their sonar sounds. There have also been a number of schools with very small dolphin calves which has been great to see.

With the dolphin around we are always keeping our eyes wide open for the Killer whales. There were 2 unconfirmed reports this month…so we are hoping that we bump into them again.

The Southern Right Whales have also started arriving in False Bay in larger numbers. They spend the Southern Hemisphere summer months feeding in Antarctica and then migrate to our coast to give birth and mate in the sheltered bays.

So, Chris was very surprised to come across a Southern Right feeding in the bay, this is something that is not observed very often. He managed take some good pics where you can clearly see the whale’s baleen plates which they use to sift the plankton. I don’t think you will be able to see this online but when enlarging the image onto the whale’s callosities (patches of dry skin) we can see hundreds, if not thousands of whale lice present. Shame…it doesn’t look very pleasant.

The whales should be here until early November so we need to keep a close lookout when heading to the Island in the early morning.

 

Shark Week 2010

I have heard that Shark Week was watched by nearly 40 million viewers this year making it the most successful Shark Week of all time. Ultimate Air Jaws, the lead show for this year was hosted by Chris and facilitated by Apex received rave reviews. In fact when the ratings came in it showed Ultimate Air Jaws was the second most successful shark show on Discovery ever, so the small team that put this together with producer Jeff Kurr were all very proud. Also, thanks to all of you for all the great feedback you gave us.

 

In 2 weeks time Chris & I will be in Guadalupe Island filming for a new show next year...we can’t wait to be back at this spectacular White shark location and to see Great whites in clear water!

 

I will be sure to keep you all updated as to the last part of the season at Seal Island.

So, until September…

For regular updates check us out on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Simonstown/APEX-SHARK-EXPEDITIONS/218467680137

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

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