Blue Sharks Feeding on Anchovy Baitball
Posted on Wednesday, 23 January 2013
December and January are normally a great time for our Pelagic Shark trips that take place off Cape Point. The warm Agulhas Current is normally very close to Cape Point so not having to travel 20 to 30 miles from Cape Point always makes the day easier and the water temperature is normally warmer. This often means that we can come across interesting species and situations; it’s like going on a marine adventure.
On this particular day in early January we cruised to Cape Point in beautiful sea conditions and upon arrival we found that The Point was teeming with life. The surface of the ocean was alive with bait fish and sea birds such as Corey’s and Sooty shearwaters, Sabine’s gulls and Cape Gannets were working the fish all around us. We even spotted the occasional longfin and skipjack tuna feeding on the surface too.
In the distance Chris spotted the birds working in a very small and focused area so we raced on to find out what was happening. As we were approaching we saw a Minke whale make two big lunges through the bait ball. Just like that the action was abruptly ended as the whale demolished the entire bait ball.
It was exciting even from a distance but before we could calm down Chris picked up on another very concentrated area of birds working. Again we raced over but this time there was no feeding minke whale! On closer inspection we could detect silver flashes and we assumed it was tuna working the anchovy bait ball. This was a unique situation in terms of it is not very often that we come across slow moving bait balls in great diving conditions. The water was clear blue, 15 to 20 meters visibility, 21C and due to low winds the ocean conditions were perfect for diving. The bait ball was just below the surface which meant that it was also easy to snorkel in this situation.
Chris decided on a quick inspection and quickly put his wetsuit on and dived in … this was shortly followed by very exciting and enthusiastic snorkel screaming ... I knew then it was something very different…
Chris had discovered that in fact the silver flashes were not tuna but about 20 blue sharks feeding on the bait ball. In 15 years of working off Cape Point this is the first time we have come across this amazing situation, and we immediately recognised it as a great moment we were about to share with our guests.
You can never predict how long a bait ball can last for so we initially dived all the guest, 3 at a time, for a short period. This was to make sure that everyone got to experience the situation.
I was anxiously waiting for all the guests to dive so that I might have an opportunity to dive as well. When I finally got in I was extremely surprised at the sight in front of me.
It was so amazing it did not seem real. By the time I got in there were 30 to 40 blue sharks, with probably 8 to 10 sharks coming into the ball at a time and gulping mouthfuls of anchovy. Even though they were not using a lot of speed to attack the ball they would be successful each time they attacked it. In fact sometimes they would be catching 4 to 6 fish at a time. Whilst these 8 to 10 sharks would be feeding all the other blue sharks would be circling below the bait ball, almost like they were just waiting for their turn.
It doesn’t seem fair to describe the scene as unbelievable ... I need a better word to help you appreciate what I was seeing! The sight before me was just mind blowing and I also knew how rare this opportunity was. Actually I felt like I was living a Blue Planet moment, which in fact, I was!