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Shark Bytes

December 2009 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Thursday, 31 December 2009

Dear Shark Lovers,

 

After a 2 month drought of sharks (!) I am really excited to report that we have just wrapped up filming the last segment of an upcoming Discovery Channel shark show for Shark Week 2010.

 

Shooting For a New Discovery Channel Show 

We have been working on this show over the last 6 months in various stages with our friend and producer of Air Jaws 1 & 2, Jeff Kurr. The last segment lead us to spend time filming in Mossel Bay. This is one of the Great white shark hotspots along the South African coast and our primary objective was to film unique interactions with Great Whites close to shore.

Over the South African summer months the great white shark population in this area predominantly moves close to shore where we suspect they are feeding on fish and other shark species as well as various other reasons which we have explored in the documentary.

Chris, myself and Poenas could not wait for this opportunity to spend time with the White sharks as it has been a good 2 months since we have been able to do any serious shark work due to the low season for seeing Great whites in False Bay this time of the year. When we arrived in Mossel Bay we heard that they were sighting really good numbers of sharks. And believe me this was accurate info! During our first day on the water we recorded 16 individual great white sharks as well as a number of juvenile hammerhead sharks as well.

We were also very fortunate to have calm seas for most of the time. This meant that at the start of each morning we could take the boat just behind the surfline and slowly cruise looking for sharks. Under these conditions is was very easy to spot the sharks and each day before even going on anchor we would have come across a number of shark this way. It was truly a unique experience to drive along the surfline spotting Great white sharks at will.

During our time here we made some interesting observations. Firstly, although we were recording between 10 and 16 sharks per day it was the same animals that we were seeing so there was not a large turn around of sharks in the area. Secondly we observed that the size of the sharks ranged from juveniles in the 2.6 meter range to teenagers in the 3.5 to 3.7 meter range. When we were in Mossel Bay in August I would guess 90% of the sharks where small juveniles and very few in the teenager range. It is important to note that we did not see any sexually mature animals. Some do suggest that mating could take place amongst these inshore sharks but we did not come across any sharks in this size range that would make this possible.

In False Bay we do not tend to record a majority of males or females but here in Mossel Bay we only recorded 2 males with the all other sharks being female. False bay also has the largest sized great whites of any location in South Africa so perhaps when they are smaller you get different sex aggregations being more likely.

I guess what most surprised us was how slight changes in environmental conditions had a major effect on the shark behaviour.

Behaviour would change from day to day and even sometimes within a day. We found that conditions with good visibility mostly meant that the sharks were very relaxed and calm around the boat.

On days that were overcast or with poor water clarity (i.e. limited visibility) the sharks were clearly more ampted up and quite a handful when trying to keep the bait away from them. This is just our opinion but having seen how low light conditions in False Bay stimulate natural predation perhaps these poor visibility conditions would trigger better conditions in which to hunt.

The new documentary focuses on uses high tech cameras to record exciting shark behaviour and unique human interaction with sharks. Due to this we had to be very in tune with regards to how the sharks were behaving to be able to safely achieve our goals. Whenever working with sharks we are at pains to make sure that neither ourselves nor the sharks are put in any compromising situation and are very aware and respectful that we are dealing with one of the world’s great super predators. So, everyone make sure to look out for the show during Shark Week 2010. It is sure to be an exciting cinematic journey with sharks but also a documentary that offers a balance to many of Discovery Channel’s shark week shows!

white sharks are unfortunately one of the species purposefully targeted

An Exciting Ride for Monique

I feel I have to share with you all a very exciting helicopter ride that I was able to join whilst filming in Mossel Bay. There were a number of aerial shots that the cameraman needed to shoot so I was able to join him in the chopper. I am generally not one who enjoys high speeds and heights but there was no way I could pass up this opportunity. Even though I was really excited I must also confess that I was also a little nervous! We had a very competent and experienced pilot and he was happy to fly low over the sea so they we could spot and film sharks close to shore. As we were filming all the doors had to be removed creating tremendous wind and noise inside the chopper. When I spotted the first shark I automatically pointed with my arm out the door. Not a good move as my arm was very quickly thrust backwards with the force of the wind! Also once we spotted the first shark the pilot was so excited and enthusiastic that he threw the chopper into a very sharp turn and dramatic bank as we approached closer. After the initial shock of my stomach in my throat I was set and ready for all moves…or so I thought! We spent about an hour in the air over which course of time we spotted 10 sharks (and even managed to id a couple of them from previously seeing them around the boat). I also sighted 2 large rays which were most likely short-tailed devil rays. It was amazing just how sharply both the sharks and the rays stood out and I guess due to the large size of the sharks and their dark colour of their top sides they were surprisingly very easy to spot.

At the end of the hour the cameraman had captured all the shots he needed and as we prepared to head back to base I reckon the pilot thought he would have a bit of fun with us. With no warning he dived towards the ocean and at the last moment pulled up as we raced just meters above the sea. The speed was tremendous and it did not stop there. When he pulled up again the bank was so sharp that I could hear the “ whop whop” sound of the routers slapping as they tried to bite into the air. Once over land again we raced just over the tree tops at great speed. It was one of the most exhilarating things I have done and to have the chance to observe the white sharks from the air was a great privilege I will never forget.

 

Fishing for White Sharks from the Beach in Mossel Bay 

Unfortunately our time in Mossel Bay also alerted us to a major problem of rock and surf fishermen targeting Great white sharks from the beach. At this time of the year the great whites swim so close to shore that using new fishing technology recreational fishermen are fairly easily able to bait them from the beach and engage in a rod and reel battle with a great white shark. One afternoon we were heading back to the harbour and spotted a fishermen on the beach engaged in a heavy battle. Chances were it was a great white shark and as the fish approached the beach we were easily able to identify the great white shark wallowing in the shallows , another fisherman standing at the ready to gaff the animal. Fortunately at the last minute the shark rolled on the trace and was spared being impaled, dragged up on the beach and manhandled for a photo or worse.

Over the last few years a fishing technique called sliding has been improved upon in order for beach fishermen to target large sharks, white sharks are unfortunately one of the species purposefully targeted. As the Great white shark is a protected species it is illegal to target them. The law further states that if a fisherman “accidentally” hooks a great white he must immediately cut the line and under no circumstances must the shark be landed on the beach.

Of course this is a good law but there is very little enforcement. When we called the authorities while the beach angler was fighting the white shark there was no help available nor was any law enforcement officer able to attend the scene. So, we suspect that this sort of thing is happening on a daily basis with no law enforcement watching over this illegal activity. The irony of it all is that the fishermen are often fishing from public beaches amongst bathers.

When they slide their big bonito, skipjack or tuna baits to the end of the line the shark is naturally attracted to the bait which is often inside the surf and often very close to bathers.

If a shark eco tourism boat were to do this there would be a march on parliament yet as it is for sportfishing the public seems to think it is great sport , a strange and confusing twist in the shark chumming saga. In a round about way this is yet another 

Nail in the coffin of sharks being mindless killers as even though the sharks are now being attracted amongst bathers there are still no more shark attacks.

We had observed many of the sharks around the boat with hooks and trace line but the worst sightings took place on the morning I went up in the chopper. Chris and the crew were cruising slowly behind the surfline when they spotted a tiny 1.2 meter Great white shark. This is mostly likely a very recently pupped Great white and is by far the smallest free swimming white shark Chris has ever seen. The tragic news is that this animal was found to be in shocking condition. It had fresh slashes all over the pectoral fins as a result of probably being hooked and fought off the breach as it rolled and cut itself on the steel trace.

It was highly emaciated and was swimming very lethargically on the surface with the trace and hook both covered in growth trailing from it’s mouth.

All on board felt that the shark was just days away from dying.

There are very good reasons why it is illegal to hook great white sharks and even releasing them at the end of a fight does not mean that the animal is going to swim away as a healthy shark. The tremendous stress placed on the animal and the build up of lactic acid can be fatal and it also makes the shark very vulnerable to its own kind.

Weakened animals are also more likely to prey on easy meals and thus the chances of one of these sharks attacking non normal prey items is greater if it cannot secure its regular prey.

We are constantly pushing for enforcement and we will keep you updated on this subject, hopefully local research and conservation groups as well as the relevant authorities will all put pressure on Marine and Coastal management to stop this unacceptable practice.

 

Whats New at Apex

As we approach 2010 we have a number of exciting developments at Apex.

Previously we shared a shop called the Great White Shark Shop with Rob and Karen of African shark eco-charters a company we were partners in for many years.

Due to changes within Apex Shark Expeditions and a desire to expand into several other shark related tourism activities we have decided to expand our business to be able to offer a more professional service and team offering.

As such we have opened our own shop and booking office in Simonstown called  Apex Shark Expeditions where we will offer guests a wide variety of shark related tours, shark merchandise, a big screen TV to watch documentaries and after tour slide shows for expedition groups. We also hope the shop will be a venue for guests to simply pop in and say hi or stop by for a sharky chat.

 

The NEW base in Simonstown is just above Bertha’s restaurant. So for any local Capetonians and visitors please be sure to stop in! Crystal will still be managing the booking office for us but we also have a new employee who will be handling all our bookings and marketing. Karyn has a great passion for the sea, diving and sharks and we are very excited to have her on board. Her understanding of sharks and the ocean will really help to give you all informed decisions on when to book your shark experience with us.

 

2010 Trips

We have also opened up bookings for our 2010 expeditions. Due to The World Cup Football event this winter we will host 1 exclusive 10 Day Expedition (again limited to only 8 guests). The dates for this trip are 22 to 31 July and we currently have 2 spots left.

We also have great 5 or 10 day package deals at any time that form part of our scheduled trips. So, we hope that many of you will make 2010 a time to visit us at Seal Island!

We also have a lot of scheduled Pelagic shark trips between now and mid January so for any locals that are interested please contact us for further info.

 

Seasons Greeting

Well, I think that about wraps up sharks for 2009 ! We wish you all a great Festive Season and hope that we will see many of you during 2010.

 

Until January,

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

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