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Shark Bytes

February 2012 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

A Mako shark off Cape Point, Cape Town

Posted on Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Great White Sharks, Seal Island

Some fantastic news from Seal Island is that our Great white sharks seem to have made a very early return.

I almost feel nervous writing about the sharks arriving back at Seal Island, they are so finicky that if they hear me they may just decide to leave again! During the first week of Feb we received a phone call at 3pm from a very desperate group wanting to go out and see sharks that same day. We carefully explained that in all likelihood they would not see any but they were pretty insistent. So, at 4pm Chris, Poenas and Woods headed out. 30 minutes later they had already seen a Great white shark predation event and within 2 hours they had 4 different sharks up to the boat.

As a general rule the Great white sharks return to Seal Island in early April. Their summer food source which is made up of migratory fish species and other species of sharks would have left False Bay and the seal colony now becomes their main option.

We saw the same early return of Great whites to Seal Island in 2011 but we don’t have any definite reason as to why there has been this change.

We have not had a lot of south easter wind this summer. This wind is important in terms stimulating the eco system. The strong wind churns up the water which in turn stimulates an algal bloom. Bait fish feed on this and in turn the migratory fish and sharks feed on the bait fish, which attract the great whites to the inshore area.

If the inshore area does not have ideal conditions it does make sense that there may not be an abundance of inshore prey and the great whites may be forced to check out Seal Island.

We have been watching the shark spotter sightings closely and there have interestingly been a lot of sightings along Muizenberg and Fish Hoek this whole month which leads me to believe that there must be a fair amount of Great white sharks present in False Bay at the moment.

It was a little tricky to put trips together on short notice of the sharks being around Seal Island but White Pointer did get out 12 times this month. The good news is that on all trips we had great sightings around the boat. Numbers of individual sharks varied from 3 to 8 per trip, that is fantastic for this time of the year. More good news is that most of the time they were happy to stay around and were interactive. This meant that all our guests got great sightings from both on board and in the cage.

The sizes of the sharks ranged from around 3 meters and we saw 3 or 4 sharks around the 4 meter mark, so it appears there are some big sharks around.

One shark was a particularly interactive individual. We saw him on 3 different trips and he acquired the name “Honda” as he was very curious with our engines. Woods had to be very vigilant by using our boat broomstick to fend him off (that made for quite a sight!). He is about 3.7 meters, so a good size for a male and a delightful individual.

There have been a number of active predatory events although not too much scavenge feeding which is what we normally see early season. All we can do is cross our fingers and hope that the sharks decide to stay for the rest of the season!


False Bay is Alive!

We are also hoping that the trend of large amounts of bait fish in False Bay over February, March, April the last few years comes together. From about mid February we started to notice large schools of anchovy and the numbers of gathering cape gannets growing too. Also about this time we started to pick up on small schools of common dolphin and a couple of days ago Poenas found a school of 800 strong. So, it seems like the predators seem to be gathering in what we are starting to believe is the start of the Sardine Run.

I am sure our regular followers will guess what we are hoping for next. Yes, Orca’s!!

The sizes of the sharks ranged from around 3 meters and we saw 3 or 4 sharks around the 4 meter mark, so it appears there are some big sharks around.

In 2009 and 2010 we had 12 orca sightings, each time hunting common dolphin. It seems that the large presence of bait fish in the Bay is stimulating another unique eco system within False Bay.

Five different pods were identified so that is quite a mix. Orca’s were spotted in 2011 but sadly we missed them each time. On Saturday morning one of the fishing charters called us at home to say they had just encountered four orcas close to Cape Point. There is a pod of 4 that we have seen twice in 2009 and 2010 so we are wondering if it is them.

So be sure over the coming weeks that the Apex Team will be using their sharp eyes looking out for these incredible predators.


Mako & Blue Sharks

Since the return of the great whites to Seal Island our focus has been on these trips but we did still get out on 2 Pelagic Shark Trips.

The water off the Point has been a beautiful blue so the trips were great for diving. We had blue sharks and mako sharks on both trips. The mako sharks did not stay long on either trip, in fact a large cape fur seal actually chased one away. The numbers of blue sharks have been down and again we think it is a direct link to 3 shark longlining boats working off Cape Point this summer.

We have been fighting this battle for 12 years and have come to the conclusion that The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) don’t give one iota about South Africa’s shark population.

More distressing news is that DEA is leading a new project by hosting the notorious “Shark Men” documentary team in South Africa.

This controversial series was aired last year and the main theme was for Chris Fischer to hook and land great white sharks in order to tag them. The sharks were handled in a very bad way and there was huge criticism to the project.

The South African project is due to start next week and so far the operators of the great white shark cage diving industry have not been informed never mind consulted about the project. We can only hope that the impact on the sharks is not as severe as at Guadalupe and The Farralones.


Whats Happening in March?

Well, we hope that the Great Whites stay at Seal Island.

Chris & I will actually be spending 2 week at Peninsula Valdez in Argentina. We are hoping to witness and photograph the orca’s as they race onto the beach in pursuit of seals.

We gather we have to be very lucky but hopefully we have given ourselves enough time for a good chance at it.

Poenas will be taking care of trips on White Pointer so if any of you are interested in an early view of the Great whites let us know.

We are also fast approaching our annual Apex Sardine Run Expedition. There are 2 spots left so let us know if you are interested in experiencing this incredible marine phenomenon.


Until March,

Best wishes

Monique Fallows


Marine Life, Great White Shark, Seal Island - False Bay

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