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Shark Bytes

August 2012 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

A Great White shark breaching on a Cape Fur seal.

Posted on Friday, 31 August 2012

Wow, August has been an exceptional month at Seal Island and I can’t wait to tell you all about it! Not only have we had intense predatory activity and awesome shark action around the boat but we have also seen a great array of other wildlife in False Bay. (Don’t get too excited, no Orcas this month!).

There have also been a few records broken and a number of interesting sightings …

 

Predation Activity

Over each season we normally get a 10 day to 2 week period of highly intense shark/seal predatory events at Seal Island. This is normally the period between mid-July to early August. You can never be 100% sure when it will happen as a couple of things need to come together such as a high concentration of sharks at Seal Island coinciding with the perfect environmental conditions to bring about a rhythm of intense hunting.

Perfect environmental conditions would be very good settled weather leading up to a fairly large approaching cold front or Cape winter storm. I don’t have reasons for this; it’s just a pattern that we have picked up on.

The intense hunting starting to gather momentum during our 10 Predation Expedition where we had a number of high hunting days in the 15 to 20 events per morning region. When I mention numbers like this it’s important to understand that we don’t always see shark/seal interaction on each event. Sometimes it’s just a large splash in the distance or kelp gulls hovering over a slick. These factors indicate to us that activity has taken place based on our previous experience. Some days can be very frustrating where you feel like you are chasing shadows all morning and barely a dorsal fin is seen…!

Other days you can just get incredibly lucky and it all happens close enough to see and get to in time.

We had one such day where we recorded 22 events in early August, where on almost all of events there was an amazing sight to be seen and a photograph to be had. Chris was still away in Alaska so unfortunately there are no photographs to show you all but our guests came home with some incredible images, which is just as important.

On this particular sector 4 of Seal Island was the spot where it was all happening. We picked up on this and basically just drifted in this area watching for incoming seals. Please understand that when we do this I realise that it sounds pretty macabre waiting for sharks to hunt seals, but at all times we have great respect for both predator and prey and we understand that this is life and death in its rawest form. On this day it just seemed there were a number of sharks just camped out in this small area and they kept hunting all through the morning. Just about every seal that passed over this area had a predatory attempt on it, honestly, you did not want to be a seal on this day.

The events themselves were phenomenally spectacular with numerous full white belly breaches and spectacular jaw open lunges and dexterous seal moves. I have been working at Seal Island for 13 seasons now and I still can’t help the involuntary screams that come out of me when I see moments like this …

 

 

The predations were still busy like this for a few days after this one, and then we hit the mega day. It was a windy, gray, overcast and choppy day at sea, with high amounts of seals returning to Seal Island due to the inclement weather, perfect hunting conditions for the sharks …

Virtually from the moment we arrived early that morning till we departed at lunchtime the predatory events were non stop and we went on to record a number of 47 events. The previous record was 46 events and this was back in July 2008. This is a huge amount considering how difficult it is to see any predatory event in nature.

On a number of occasions we were watching 2 different events going on at the same time, and twice we observed 3 events taking place at the same time, all within a 200meter radius. Sometimes you’ve just got to pinch yourself to realise how remarkable this is. In situations like this I certainly don’t believe that there were 47 different sharks hunting at Seal Island on this day. It would more have been a case of maybe 15 sharks trying to hunt multiple times. The sharks are not always successful so they will keep trying, and even if they are successful I am pretty sure they won’t say no to a good opportunity.

Another great thing about this day was that all our clients on board sincerely appreciated how special this trip was and completely understood how privileged they were to be at Seal Island on this day. We also had 2 guests on board who each season spend between 2 and 4 weeks on the boat for a number of years now, so I was thrilled they were able to share this with us too …

 

Shark Activity Around the Boat

The days after this the activity went off the boil a bit but we were still seeing a fair amount of hunting. Then, out of nowhere and for no apparent reason there were zero predations. There were still seals going out and coming in, but just nothing hunting them. So weird, sharks always keep you guessing!

So, for about this 7 day period each morning I would think to myself, oh dear, seems like no sharks here today. But then we would anchor up and almost immediately we would have sharks around the boat, and in good numbers, a couple of days there were 11 different sharks. The sharks were also really sticking around and it was amazing to have that constant close up experience with them. The cage diving was also amazing and all the guests had special dives …

On one afternoon trip (unfortunately I was not on board) the crew and guests had the immense privilege of seeing a 5.2 meter female and a 4.7 meter male. We very rarely get to see sharks of this size, I believe they are extremely rare, and I would consider this a once-in-5-year sighting … lucky for those on board and I have to say I am pretty jealous that I was not there to see those sharks!

We also have a new favourite shark … her name is “Duex Rossi” and as her name suggest she has the character of an Italian, hugely flamboyant with a fiery temperament!!

She has been around since mid July and for most of August and she is completely different to the other sharks. She doesn’t really stay around for long periods, she just comes in with huge pace, has one look at the bait or decoy, and returns again maybe 30 minutes later, we always have to be on our toes with her so that we don’t lose the bait!

We also had one very very brief visit from “Amber”. This has been the only sighting of her this season but as she looked in incredibly good condition that made our hearts very happy indeed.

Generally from about mid August the sharks seem to lose interest in coming up to the boat and seeing a shark up close and cage diving can become quite a challenge. This season, as I keep saying, has been so different. Right up to the end of the month activity at the boat has been magic, the best this late in the season that I can remember.

Guests had the immense privilege of seeing a 5.2 meter female and a 4.7 meter male.

The Great White Trail

21 August 2012 was the start of our inaugural “Great White Trail” 8 day special expedition. The aim of this expedition was to provide an opportunity to experience all 3 Great white shark locations in South Africa to people that are complete shark nuts!

I can’t go on enough about what a success this expedition was. We had great weather and all 8 days were sea going days. Most important is that it brought together a fantastic group of people who all love sharks and it was just pure fun sharing some truly special shark and wildlife moments together.

The expedition started in False Bay. We timed the trip so that there would be a good chance to see the natural predation events at Seal Island and then to move onto Gansbaai and Mossel Bay in order to cage dive.

As it turned out the cage diving in False Bay was still amazing and we also got to see some spectacular predatory events and breaches on the decoy. As the tour moved on there was also great cage diving in Gansbaai and Mossel Bay and everyone got to see more than what I think was expected.

What I do want to highlight is a truly special day we had in False Bay on the fourth day …

As Red Letter days normally are … it was a truly perfect day … no wind, good sunshine and flat sea …

Early in the morning we observed a number of predatory events and had two good breaches on the decoy, always a great start!

On anchor we had 8 different sharks around the boat and in those perfect conditions we got such a great view of them. As we were preparing to leave Chris made an amazing spot of about 400 common dolphins about 2km away. He wasn’t sure if it was the dolphins but he wanted to have a look.

When we arrived on the scene it wasn’t only the dolphins that he had seen but also a pod of about 6 humpback whales moving with the dolphins.

It was just an intensely beautiful scene … it’s difficult to describe, you had to be there. Just watching the dolphins moving in the unbroken water and hearing the humpback whales breathe each time they surfaced … wow … truly amazing and everyone got that special feeling you can only get with a great wildlife experience. This will most certainly be one of the days to remember from the 2012 season.

 

 

Seasons Are Changing

Spring is now here and the wind direction is starting to change to a southerly direction. This means the seasons are changing and the sharks will shortly be departing Seal Island for their inshore summer area… it’s a sad time for us but I am hoping that we can squeak out another couple of weeks!

I’m looking forward to report back on what the last few weeks of the season brings …

 

Until next month,

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

Tags:

Shark Expeditions - South Africa, Great White Shark Cage Diving, Great White Shark Predation

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