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Shark Bytes

December 2016 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Wild dogs in Mana Pools National Park

Posted on Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Wishing you all a very Happy New Year and we hope that 2017 will be a shark and nature filled year ahead!

The news of this past month is a little short due to the awful amount of wind that has been constantly blowing however our news includes a number of Pelagic trips, the continued Humpback whale migration, and some nature experiences from our Mana Pools trip.

I also include some brief info on our exciting and not to be missed Shark Expeditions this year.

 

The Passing of a True Wildlife Naturalist

I would first like to write a dedication to Barrie Rose, our dear friend who passed away tragically on 30 December 2016.

Barrie was without a doubt one of the greatest marine wildlife naturalists of our time and we were fortunate enough to share many memorable moments, not only on board White Pointer but also on a number of bush trips together with his wife, Roselle.

Barrie, your fountain of knowledge and ever constant dedication to see, experience and learn more, along with your enthusiasm for every creature no matter how big or small has not only left us with important lessons but will continue to inspire both Chris & I to live each day to the fullest doing the things we are most passionate about.

Thank you Barrie for that precious time we were so fortunate to have had with you, you will be greatly missed by many…

 

Pelagic Trips

There have not been more than about five days where the wind dropped enough to get out to sea this past December but we took those opportunities when we could to get off Cape Point and into the pelagic environment.

One such trip was way out into the deep water canyons off Cape Point where the ocean floor can be as far down as 2000 meters and the walls of the canyon provide interesting feeding opportunities for sharks and cetaceans alike.

On this particular day we didn’t come across any cetaceans but we did have a beautiful Mako shark we were able to dive with for more than an hour. Towards the end of the trip a small number of Blue sharks began to find their way to us and just before packing up for the day one of the biggest Blue sharks we have seen in a long while, at around 2.3m, complete with an equally large pilot fish arrived at the boat. It was a magnificent animal and Chris had a great underwater interaction with this male, not long before another large Blue shark arrived.

It is interesting that we often find Blue sharks traveling together of a similar class size, and on this occasion it was fantastic to see some larger animals.

We also did a couple of pelagic trips that were closer to Cape Point when we had small weather gaps. Both trips yielded good shark numbers and on the trip just before New Year a beautiful, almost purple in colour Mako shark graced us with her presence and also a good size at around 2.2m. She was the perfect last shark to see in 2016!

Another of the highlights was seeing an abnormally big sunfish that must have weighed well in excess of 500kg and was at a guess comfortably over 2m from tip to tip of its fins. 

 

 

More Humpback Whales

We have been very surprised to observe that the Humpback whale migration that has been taking place along our western seaboard is still continuing nearly six weeks since the first few groups were spotted coming down off the Cape Peninsula.

The bulk of the whales have since passed through but in mid-December, numbers of about 50 to 60 whales were still aggregating together off the Kommetjie/Scarborough areas and even now smaller groups of 20 to 30 animals are still present.

Due to all the South East wind that has been blowing there has been a large and continuous amount of upwelled water in this area and this has created a great feeding opportunity for the humpbacks as they make their way down to Antarctica.

At best we can tell they are feeding on small euphorsids (krill like shrimp). These little critters are themselves feeding on the nutrients that are present in the upwelled areas.

It has been interesting to observe the radical and constant changes in water temperature over small areas which is thus creating these perfect conditions.

As much as I dislike the wind perhaps it can blow for a little longer if it is stimulating this spectacular gathering of humpback whales!

 

 

2017 Shark Expeditions

Although nature never offers any guarantees we are expecting to start our 2017 Great White shark cage diving season at Seal Island sometime in early February. Towards the end of January the Apex crew will be heading out to check on the conditions and presence of sharks and hopefully we can commence our season early. Shark cage diving trips.

 

As we head deeper into our shark cage diving Cape Town season we have a range of expeditions that we hope you will join us on!

Super Sharks: 21 to 31 May.

South Africa is home to a huge diversity of shark species. Super Sharks gives you an opportunity to see and dive with many shark species that will be on your most wanted list!

The Sardine Run: Starting from mid-May to mid- July

Experience one of Nature’s greatest spectacles as a whole host of predators feed on the annual Sardine Run that takes place up our South African East Coast.

Shark Week in South Africa: 31 May to 5 June * NEW*

This one is definitely for Shark Week fans! Shark cage diving in Cape Town and Gansbaai gives guests the best of both locations.

Natural Predation Specialty: 17 to 26 July and 27 July to 5 August

20 years at Seal Island, South Africa has given us great insight and understanding into the unprecedented natural predation behaviour that takes place at Seal Island. These 2 expeditions fall over historically the busiest predation period of the season. This is what we will be focusing on as we observe and photograph this spectacular behaviour as a small exclusive group.

The Great White Trail: 18 to 25 August

The perfect expedition for the ultimate Great white shark fan as we visit all three hot spots in South Africa for shark cage diving: False Bay, Gansbaai and Mossel Bay

 

We also have our 5 and 10 day packages available on our scheduled daily trips and as such we hope to meet many of you this year as well as welcome back old friends!

In the pitch dark a dog had killed an impala about 60 meters from our tents. We hadn’t even heard a thing!

Mana Pools

The last stop on our 7 week Zimbabwe trip back in October and November was Mana Pools National Park.

Please read the full elephant blog here. Excerpt below…

Mrs Stumpy Tail

“When we first visited Mana Pools back in 2012 we booked one of the park’s chalets on the banks of the Zambezi River. Every day, and at almost the exact same time each day, a small elephant family would come walking through our camp, picking up the apple ring acacia seed pods to snack on before crossing the river to graze on the other side.

The herd was made up of an old “mum”, her young adult daughter and two juveniles. The young female was easily recognised by her “stumpy tail” that has almost two thirds of her tail is missing, most likely having been lost to a crocodile when she was younger. Without too much imagination we began calling her Mrs Stumpy Tail!

Due to their gentleness around us, and the predictability of their visits, we made sure we were back in camp by 11am each to day so that we could enjoy the pleasure of their walk through.

We felt we had gotten to know this little herd of elephants so well that the following year, and all the years after that, we booked the same chalet just in the hopes of seeing them all again.

We saw them daily again in 2014 but missed them completely in 2015.

This year we booked again but weren’t too sure that Mrs Stumpy Tail would still be around as sadly there is significant poaching in the area.

Sure enough, on our first day, at exactly 11am we looked up river and here came four elephant shapes slowly moving towards our camp. I can’t tell you how happy and how excited the two of us were when we confirmed that it was indeed Mrs Stumpy Tail and her gang!

Now at this point I must add that Mrs Stumpy Tail is probably the most unimpressive elephant you will ever come across. She is short and squat with very small tusks but I can honestly say that I just love her and her little family. A bit obnoxious I know, but Chris & I really feel like they are “our” elephants whilst most people focus on the more impressive bulls that the area is renowned for.

 

At dawn one morning whilst we were looking for elephants in the woodland we came across our mob. The light was spectacular with yellow highlights streaming through the canopy and rays of light falling in focused areas. It was breath taking and a great photographic opportunity.

But our little elephant proceeded to stand absolutely motionless. She didn’t move a muscle, and she wouldn’t even flap her ears…she was just a small, frumpy grey blob of a thing giving us no scope at all to photograph! Initially Chris & I were very frustrated begging and pleading for her to do anything that would give her more of an “elephant” like profile, but eventually we began to laugh at the situation which had made her all the more endearing to us.

Eventually after a painful five minutes she began to move into the beautiful light and we now have a very special memory of our most favourite and very much loved elephant, Mrs Stumpy Tail.”

 

 

Please read the full Wild Dog blog here. Excerpt below…

Wild Dog night activities!

“We had made the mistake of booking over a full moon period back in 2015, and as the dogs hunt at night on a full moon we had seen no hunting behaviour over that full moon period. This year we booked over new moon and thought we had been smart in doing so!

It turns out that the Nyakasanka Pack that the film crew were trailing were hunting every night regardless of the moon phase.

The Nyakasanka Pack is the famous wild dog pack from Mana Pools that hunts baboons. They are said to be the first pack on the planet that has learnt to do this. We experienced several baboon hunts first hand last year and although I do not want to see something like this again, it certainly was memorable.

In the past year the pack has split into two and as such there are now two baboon hunting wild dog packs in Mana Pools. It is the story of these two packs that The BBC are filming as part of a new upcoming series called Dynasties.

Whilst under 24 hour surveillance it began to emerge that if the Nyakasanka Pack wasn’t successful in the early evening, or only had a small meal they would continue to hunt late into the night. Most nights they would hunt well after the sun went down and were even recorded hunting as late as 10pm. This took place even in new moon conditions. New moon means there would have been no light from the moon and it is fascinating to know that the dogs were able to be so successful even in these difficult conditions.

Wild dogs are well known to hunt under a full moon but as far as I know this predatory behaviour over new moon had not been regularly observed before.

The Dogs are not only night owls, but seem to be very early risers as well. Apparently most mornings they would begin to wake up between 4.15 and 4.30am and shortly after this would go on their first hunt for the day. Often times they would be successful long before the sun popped its head over the horizon and thus in pretty dark conditions.

Our wild-dog-night-experience is pretty special. 3 nights before we were due to leave we were sitting in our camp with a fellow photographer and friend enjoying an ice cold beer around the fire. Whilst we sat reminiscing about our afternoon with the dogs and wondering where they could be right then, we all turned as we heard the familiar and classic high pitch squeals of the young dogs’ right behind us.

In the pitch dark a dog had killed an impala about 60 meters from our tents. We hadn’t even heard a thing! It was only the returning pack coming to feast and their excitement that had alerted us to the situation. The film crew had lost them in the dark so we were able to contact them and let them know about the dogs’ whereabouts and for the next two hours the five of us had the privilege of watching them feed and having the dogs in our camp.

It really was an unforgettable sighting and I fell asleep content to be sharing our space with some extra special canine friends!” 

 

 

The epic South Georgia trip we organised for October this year quickly filled up so unfortunately this trip is now full. For those who missed out this time around keep an eye out as Chris will probably organise another intimate trip of this nature in the next two years to Antarctica to areas we have selected as being very special.

 

That’s all our news for this month and until next month.

 

To read our last three shark Bytes click on the links below:

November 2016 Shark Bytes

August 2016 Shark Bytes

July 2016 Shark Bytes

Tags:

Blue Sharks, Elephants, Humpback whale, Mako Sharks, Wild Dogs

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