December 2011 Shark Bytes
Posted on Saturday, 31 December 2011
I can hardly believe that 2012 is already here and I hope that you all had a great New Year!
We always look forward to our Pelagic Trips in December. The warm Agulhas Current normally pushes really close to Cape Point and can sometimes give us the opportunity of seeing species in our waters that are not the norm. We had 2 very unusual sightings which I will tell you about.
Pelagic Shark Trips
The weather has limited us to some extent but as soon as we had the right sea conditions we were out there! The past 4 seasons we have been seeing very high numbers of blue sharks, sometimes up to 40 individual animals and our wait time for sharks was normally in the 10 minute range.
This season has been very different so far. Our highest shark day has been 5 blue sharks so that is quite a dramatic drop. Also the waiting time for the first shark to arrive has gone up to about 1 hour.
This past winter we did a number of off season Pelagic Trips and we came across the shark longliner working off Cape Point. These longliners can catch up to 1000 shark per trip and can very quickly have an impact on the shark numbers in a given area. So, to be honest is has been very distressing to see how this season has changed.
Never the less we have still had awesome dives with the blue sharks and we have also had mako sharks on all but one trip. In fact on the last trip out we had 3 makos in a 3 hour period, so this has been a highlight for us.
One of our trips this month had a photographic focus. Chris was trying out his brand new Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens with his also new Canon 5d Mark 2 after the last was lost to an overly keen great white. So needless to say he was thrilled when we found warm water with great visibility, perfect for shark photography!
The first point of interest we came across was a floating piece of bamboo about 4 meters long. We never drive past things like this as there can sometimes be interesting critters that have been attracted to this natural FAD (fish aggregating device). As we approached a shoal of yellowtail were swirling around it and then to our great surprise we noted a very small (less than a meter long) silky shark! It is extremely unusual to see a silky in our waters of Cape Point but it was 22C and of course the FAD had something to do with this sighting as it had probably drifted 100's of kilometers from warmer waters. There was also a type of grouper which we were not able to identify, brownish in colour and roughly 60cm long, almost looking a bit like a wreck fish.
Once we selected our spot for the day and started waiting for sharks we managed to attract a yellowfin tuna to the boat. It has been a good while since we have had the opportunity to dive with the yellowfin tuna in large shoals. These are amongst the most magnificent gamefish and it is as exciting to dive with them as the sharks. The bigger they get the bigger their yellow sickle fins grow and they are extremely fast in the water. This makes it difficult to get good images of them added to the fact that Chris had to get extra close due to the fisheye lens!
In about 45 minutes we had a school of up to 20 yellowfin around the boat providing an excellent dive.
The blue sharks decided to take their time in arriving and the first one came in about 2 hours after we started our scent line. It was a little guy of 80 centimetres. I think it took one look at the yellowfin and decided he was a little out gunned! Shortly after the small blue shark departed an awesome 2 meter plus male blue shark arrived. He was accompanied by a pilot fish that was in perfect size ratio to him and the pair provided excellent situations for charismatic shark images.
I always say that blue sharks are THE best sharks to dive with. They are non-threatening as they move in their silky smooth way and they have no qualms about coming close to divers. You may be surprised to hear that it is normally difficult to get sharks to approach you when in the water and all sorts of techniques like yellow fins, wetsuit's and masks are used by Chris for this purpose.
The new canon fisheye lens was superb for close encounters and Chris was really excited to discover new possibilities for different angles. So, I have to conclude that a big obliging blue shark went perfectly with a new fisheye lens!
After a 2.5 hour dive we headed for home. One of the reasons we love the open ocean shark dive trips so much is that it is more about an ocean adventure and although we have done hundreds of these trips since we first started offering them in 1999 we are still often surprised by what we encounter. Although the primary target is mako and blue sharks there is always a possibility of seeing something different and the nutrient rich pelagic waters off Cape Point always hold a surprise.
On the way home we spotted a large dark shape on the surface which we all thought was a monster of a shark, something that is always exciting to see! On approach we discovered it was a 3.5 meter plus Manta Ray. We have spent a lot of time off Cape Point and Cape waters and have never seen a manta ray in our area so it was really exciting. We are not sure what it was doing so far south but it did seem to be on a mission and was headed in the easterly direction up the coast. Chris is never one to lose an opportunity so he carefully entered the water as the manta approached. Even though he was not taking photographs it was an amazing encounter and he said the manta was accompanied by a number of pilot fish, all moving in front of it and a couple of big remoras clinging on underneath. An amazing sighting!
I already mentioned briefly about seeing 3 makos on one trip. We were lucky enough on this particular trip to have 2 mako sharks around the boat together. This does not happen very often so we were really excited. Generally mako sharks, like Great White Sharks, do not like to keep close company with one another. The flat sea and good water visibility gave us a great look as these two sharks interacted with each other. One shark was definitely more dominant causing the smaller shark to move off from the other one with tremendous quick bursts of speed. It kind of looks like a bullet being fired from a gun, it’s that impressive. With the blue shark numbers being down it also meant that the mako sharks came to the bait more frequently. On those big blue shark number days the blue sharks tended to dominate the bait and the mako sharks were less likely to come close.
On this same trip with the 3 mako sharks we were just getting ready to head home when one of the tuna fishing boats very kindly called us over the radio. They had found a floating rope with “brown sharks” around it, along with hundreds of yellow tail, dorado and small yellow fin tuna. Chris never says no to an opportunity so we headed another 4 miles further out.
The water in this area had even better clarity and when Chris & the guests jumped in they described the scene to be like an aquarium, the water visibility being close to 25 meters!
Within minutes they were surrounded by 8 silky sharks and hundreds of yellowtail. It was an incredible dive and we were really thankful that “Tyler” called us over!
What a truly spectacular day and we can’t wait for our next adventure out there.
The life at Cape Point has also been phenomenal. There have been huge amount of various species of gamefish feeding on baitfish, everything from yellowfin tuna to katonkal. This has also made the birds very happy who have been gorging themselves with the abundant baitfish.
Great White Sharks, Gansbaai
We have been keeping a close watch of the Great white shark sightings in Gansbaai this past month. Even though it is low season the number of Great whites being seen on each trip has been great with up to 9 sharks per trip. It is a little tricky for cage diving as the water visibility has been poor close to shore, but for those wanting to just see a Great white shark, it has been fantastic.