Posted on Friday, 31 January 2014
I can hardly believe that 2014 is already upon us, and I’d like to wish you all a very sharky and nature filled 2014!
Chris & I were away for most of December so I will include some December news from our trip to South America (including Antarctica) and highlights from our Pelagic Sharks trips the last 2 months.
Bumper Sharks in the Treknet
Each summer Chris & I spent a lot of time down at Muizenberg beach helping the treknet fishermen to release various species of sharks, rays and protected fish species.
Unfortunately with this type of net fishing there is a huge amount of by catch but through many years of hard work on Chris’s part, the fishermen are very well educated at putting back what needs to go back in the way of sharks and rays. They are especially excited to release the sharks and thankfully so, as it is legal for them to catch and sell the sharks. Sometimes on facebook the images get misrepresented and people think that the fishermen are targeting the sharks. Not so, the sharks are caught as by catch but they are returned safely back to the sea.
In early December there were perfect conditions for sharks, especially bronze whaler sharks, close to shore, and also with good treknetting conditions for kabbeljou (a type of popular eating fish in South Africa).
For a 7 to 10 day period large numbers of fish and sharks were caught and at times we had between 8 and 10 large bronze whaler sharks in the net. They need to be put back into the water fairly quickly and it was hard labour getting these sharks that were weighing up to 100kgs (220 pounds) back in to the sea. The sharks are sometimes, understandably, very feisty which can make the job that much harder, but it is always a great feeling being able to help release them. On one occasion a large shark sadly died while still in the net but other than that roughly 30 bronze whalers and many smooth hound sharks were all released along with large numbers of duckbill rays.
Once the water conditions changed the numbers of sharks caught have decreased but we are still doing regular checks when we are at home…
Pelagic Shark Trips
We have had a battle with very windy conditions so far this summer and it has made getting off Cape Point for the Mako & Blue shark dive challenging.
Finally between Christmas and New Year we got a small gap and Poenas was able to do a number of Pelagic Trips. The warm Agulhas Current comes a lot closer to Cape Point this time of the year and we can get water temperatures of up to 23deg C. This means there is always a chance of something a little different in the chum slick.
Large numbers of blue sharks (15 – 20 per trip) were present on all trips and the wait time for the first shark to arrive was normally in the first 20 minutes. We have also seen mako sharks on all trips as well. On 1 trip Poenas had 3 mako sharks including a 2.8 meter animal. This is the second largest mako we have seen making it a very exciting encounter for all those on board.
Chris & I have only been home 10 days but have managed to get offshore twice. Again, we have had a great number of blue sharks who have arrived quickly to the boat and mako sharks on all trips.
The most exciting sighting so far this month was a large smooth hammerhead estimated at just under 3 meters. If we are very lucky we may see 1 or 2 hammerheads per season and it is normally when the water temp is at its warmest (22/23C). Interestingly, they are always large, sexually mature animals.
This hammerhead was amazing to dive with and stayed around the boat for a good 20 minutes giving everyone on board a fantastic experience.
The wind is blowing yet again but hopefully we will get a few more breaks in the weeks to follow.
You can read our full trip report from South America and Antarctica here but some excerpts are below.
FIRST STOP… PUERTO MADRYN!
Chris had been invited as a Special Interest Guest speaker on board Crystal Cruises, Symphony, that would be cruising down to Antarctica this past December.
Before we boarded the 18 day cruise we were lucky enough to spend a week with our good friend who works with the famous beach stranding Orcas at Punta Norte in Peninsula Valdez, Argentina.
The dolphins that are most commonly seen here this time of the year are the very playful and interactive Dusky Dolphins. We had amazing weather on all days we were at sea and each time found the dolphins in pretty much the same area. The schools we found were between 5 and 30 individual animals and as we spent a number of hours with them each day we watched them go through different moods of behaviour.
There was a lot of mating behaviour taking place which would be a lot of intense chasing of the female followed by jubilant playing which included incredibly spectacular multiple summersaulting dolphins, of course which resulted us screaming in delight! This would be followed by resting and slow cruising next to the boat… each day brought such amazing encounters with the dolphins and I have to say that Dusky Dolphins are now my favourite dolphin…. Sorry Commons!
So, although we did not find Orcas we still had an amazing time with the local wildlife here and a big thank you to Juan Copello for hosting us.
Our next stop was to board The Crystal Symphony and head for The Falkland Islands and then on to Antarctica…
One of the many highlights of the trip is to bird watch from the ship on the sea traveling days. Many species of Pelagic sea birds that we do not see too often in Cape Town will follow the boats and it’s a great opportunity to admire them whilst they beautifully soar behind the back of the ship.
We had great numbers of Giant Petrels as well as 3 of the Great Albatross species (Wandering, Northern and Southern Royal). These albatross have the largest wing-span of any flying bird (3.8m wide) and it is just a privilege to watch them as they majestically soar effortlessly from swell to swell. They use the updraft from the swells to fly without any effort and in fact one bird has recorded circumnavigating the globe in 27 days, amazing!
The Antarctic Peninsula
We continued deeper into to the Antarctic Peninsula where the weather continued to get better and better. As we entered the Gerlache Straights and the NeuMeyer Channel we experienced clear blue skies, bright sunshine and not a ripple on the surface of the ocean…where we really in Antarctica??
We were surrounded by icebergs and bergy bits of various shapes and sizes and flanked on the shore by huge and ever extending glaciers with marshmallow like textures and deep blue colours in the ice. It is a very difficult kind of beauty to describe as you have to be there to experience it. The size of everything is so immense and without any reference to normality you really need to think about how abnormally huge everything around you really is.
The spectacular scenery aside, the absolute highlight of the trip was a grounded iceberg and the little ecosystem it subsequently created. Because the iceberg had grounded itself it meant that the water flowed around it creating eddies and currents which in turn caused upwelling’s and nutrient rich waters. This attracted thousands of Aldelie and Gentoo penguins who began feeding in huge rafts around the iceberg. Others were resting on other icebergs close by giving us the classic “penguin on an iceberg” moment. Dozens of humpback whales also arrived and a number of Antarctic minke whales were also present. It was an unreal sight as we took in the perfect conditions with the vast amount of wildlife feeding around a perfect scene. Wow, what an experience and even without Chris’s images the scene is engraved in my memory for ever.
The Chilean Fjords
Once we departed Antarctica for Cape Horn and the coast of Chile I felt as if the trip was over, but cruising the Chilean fjords was another amazing highlight.
As we sailed up the Beagle Channel and entered the fjords the vegetation became beautiful green Magellanic rain forest. This scenery would have been amazing on its own but shortly we came across a number of Glaciers that have pushed themselves through the forests and down to the ocean where they eventually carve out. It definitely felt like Jurassic Park and if a Pterodactyl had come swooping down it certainly would not have been out of place.
As you can tell the bug of the Deep South has well and truly bitten and we are already working on a plan to get back down there at the end of the year!
In the next few weeks we have a number of Pelagic Sharks trips on the go and throughout Feb we are very excited to be hosting two Sharks of Southern African Expeditions, so may good weather prevail and plenty of sharks be dived with!
Regarding expeditions later this year, we have just one spot left on our Sardine Run Expedition and 1 spot left on our Predation Specialty Expedition. Just pop me a mail if you’d like more info.
All images can be viewed on Photos of The Month.
Until next month..