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Shark Bytes

February 2008 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Friday, 29 February 2008

I have quite a lot to tell you about so right now may be a good time to grab a coffee so you can sit and enjoy hearing about the sharks!

I was not able to send out any news in January. The wind blew so hard and so often that we only went to sea four times. These were all pelagic shark trips and we saw sharks on all of our trips. In February this continued and I have to say that this month we saw the highest numbers of sharks on trips since we first started in 1999.

 

Pelagic Sharks

The numbers of blue sharks were particularly high and on one trip in particular we had as many as thirty blue sharks. This was of a variety of sizes from 80cm (2.5 feet) to 2,5 meters (7 foot). We did note that many of these big blue sharks were males which I am sure in the greater scheme of things must mean something!

On other trips we were consistently seeing in the region of 5 to 10 blues per trip. Although we were not seeing large numbers of mako sharks we were seeing at least one individual per trip.

This leads us to wonder what is different that we are seeing higher numbers of sharks and there are two big differences that really stand out.

The first is that the water has not been the crystal clear blue that we associate with the open ocean. Rather the water has varied from clean green to dirty green. This greener water can be richer in terms of nutrients which in turn supports a variety of fish species, and thus supporting more sharks.

The other glaring factor has been the absence of the dedicated shark longlining vessels from our area. The price for shark has declined and it appears that it is not worthwhile for these shark fishing boats to be out fishing for the blue sharks and mako sharks. It has been noted that up to 1000 individual sharks are caught during a 1 week fishing excursion so perhaps their absence has allowed a batch of sharks to stay in the area rather than being fished out. Marine and Coastal Management does not want to stop these experimental longlining licenses due to legal battles with the fishing companies and they have also said they are not prepared to stop shark fishing for makos and blues if other countries have not done so. They have also said that they do not believe shark longlining has a big impact on the sharks’ population compared to other factors. I beg to differ. 

Anyway, the bottom line is that we have been having fantastic encounters with these sharks and our guests have been overwhelmed with the experience of free diving with these magnificent super predators.

 

Mola Mola

On Photos of the Month you will also see that we have a fantastically unique encounter with a sunfish (mola mola). It was a great way to end a good pelagic trip and Chris was able to dive with one for the first time. They are usually very shy so it was an exciting opportunity.

We could only attract in the region of 20 sharks up to the boat but we could count between 100 and 150 sharks just on the surface.

Hammerheads, Bronze Whalers & Ragged Tooths

At the end of the month Chris & I opted to take a few days off and head up to a spot up the east coast of South Africa that is very special to us. Every summer we try to spend a few days diving here as we have discovered a smooth hammerhead nursery that also teams with other sharks.

It was a fantastic trip and we were fortunate not only with great weather but awesome sharks shared with a good friend who also loves the sharks.

On our first afternoon we managed to attract in the region of 30 bronze whaler sharks to the boat. For those in other parts of the world you may know bronze whalers as copper sharks. They are know to shoal so it is not unusual to find large numbers of them together although this did not take away from the excitement of seeing them. On the last day we also witnessed upwards of 120 breaches by bronze whalers in a period of just over an hour. This has to rate as one of my most exciting shark sightings in the last little while. We do not know why they breach. It does not appear to be feeding related so it could possibly be some sort of social interaction especially if there are so many sharks together. They were breaching so often Chris decided to try photographing this. You will see some images on Photos of the Month. I think he did pretty well seeing as though there was no warning and each breach was no longer than 1 second.

The following day we spend most of the day diving with and trying to photography the small hammerheads. Over the years we have tried many times to photograph them but they have always proved elusive, passing just out of photographic reach and being rather shy!

Although Chris wants to keep trying he did manage to take some of his better photographs of them. From my side it was just brilliant to be with them underwater. Even though they are pups (70 cm to 1,2 meters; 2 feet to 4 feet)) they display so much body language and personality. Dropped pectoral fins, head shaking and gaping are just some of the moves that they make. We could only attract in the region of 20 sharks up to the boat but we could count between 100 and 150 sharks just on the surface.

On our last day we had great success with the ragged tooth sharks that are also in the area. At the first spot we were diving in a depth of about 10 meters and counted at one time 12 individual raggies. I am sure there were more but I kept losing count. At the end of the day Chris suggested we try one more spot in very shallow water (3meters!). To our surprise we encountered 5 different ragged tooths ranging from 1,5 meters to 2,8 meters (5 feet to 9 feet). The water was very clear and it was fantastic to just snorkel with the sharks in the shallow water. The sharks were also very relaxed and we were able to pass very close to them.

By the end of the weekend I have to admit that my heart was very warmed due to the fact that we saw such high numbers of sharks. They are in a protected reserve so we hope that this will continue.

 

Tiger Shark Killed at Aliwal Shoal

On that note we received devastating news about 3 weeks ago that 3 tiger sharks were caught and killed by a commercial fisherman off Aliwal Shoal on the Natal South Coast. This was later confirmed that in fact 8 tiger sharks were killed. Aliwal shoal has become a very famous spot for divers from around the world to dive with tiger sharks. I know that operators were regularly seeing about 20 tiger sharks that they could identify. With 8 sharks now removed it severely impacts on the tiger shark population in that area.

Ironically it is legal to catch and kill 10 tiger sharks per person per day but because the fisherman landed the carcasses in a marine protected reserve he may be charged.

The operators in the area have tried for many years to get MCM to protect tigers sharks and bull/Zambezi shark but to no avail. MCM are simply not interested to protect this valuable resource and seem happier for see these animals to be fished and sold for a pittance. This latest incident goes to show how important it is to protect a living marine resource and how non-consumptive use through eco tourism is the way forward. A petition for this cause has been set up. To help please go to www.aoca.org.za

 

A Tragic Incident

It always amazes me how the sharks make it so difficult for us to help them. Only a few days after the tiger sharks were killed on Aliwal Shoal a diver in the Bahamas was tragically killed due to a suspected bull shark bite during a shark feed dive. I would suggest reading the following link on wetpixel.com. This seems to give the most accurate account of the event. http://wetpixel.com/i.php/full/bahamas-shark-bite-aboard-shear-water-official-thread/ .

Most times in order to actually spend time in the water with sharks one has to have a bait in the water to keep them interested in staying in close proximity. Shark diving is also one of the fastest growing marine based activities and this is not hard to understand as it is a very special and exciting experience to share the same environment with a shark.

From a conservation point of view it is very important for people to see sharks as it is difficult to be passionate about something that you do not see. Even after this accident I believe 100% that is  safe to dive with sharks in a baited situation as long as logical safety laws are followed at all times. Chris & I have very stringent rules that we follow and as such I have personally never felt threatened in the water with sharks and neither has Chris. We are of course aware that we are in the sharks’ environment and we respect these predators at all times. Any indication that the shark/s is not comfortable with us is an indication that we must get out of the water. I hope that this latest incident will not cause too much damage to shark perception as well as shark diving. There are far bigger issues with regards to marine conservation that need our attention.

 

Great White Sharks

We have also started to have a few sightings of great white sharks at Seal Island. It is still historically low season but I will definitely keep you all informed if the season should start early.

On that note our bookings for the white shark season are filling up fast so if any of you are thinking of coming over to Cape Town for the sharks you need to book as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.

 

New Booking Office

And finally we are very excited to have opened our new booking office and merchandise store in Simonstown. We are located on the Main Road opposite the Pier so please stop by and visit us if you are in the area.

 

We have a variety of images on Photos of The Month so we hope that you all enjoy viewing them!

 

Until next month,

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

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