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Shark Bytes

January & February 2009 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Saturday, 28 February 2009

The beginning of 2010 has seen Chris & I doing a lot of travelling and with more to come this newsletter is therefore going to be a double dose of news. It might be pretty lengthy but look out for updates on a number of very successful Pelagic shark trips, a safari trip to Botswana and upcoming trips to Mexico and California. I also tackle the unfortunate news about a fatal shark attack in Cape Town last month.

 

Pelagic Shark Trips

After a very slow start to the Mako and Blue shark season (due to bad weather) we have completed 10 very successful trips since Christmas. The summer months in Cape Town usually means that the Agulhas Current is moving close to Cape Point and the water temperature is normally around 21 to 23 degrees Celsius. This close warm water can be productive for high numbers of sharks and also a chance to see species other than Makos and Blues. Not needing to travel too far from Cape Point is also a bonus.

We have really worked on improving our techniques for finding sharks and of course learning constantly by keeping data on every trip we have ever done we have now been able to bring our average waiting time for sharks to around to 20 minutes.  On all our trips we have been seeing high numbers of blue sharks and makos on all but one trip. What has been fantastic is that on most trips we have seen one or more makos and on 1 trip we even had sightings of 5 different makos, all of them very happy to spend time around the boat and allowing good views for all the divers.

The size of the sharks has varied greatly. One of the highlights of the all the trips for me was seeing a tiny, new born 45cm blue shark. When the shark first arrived we actually thought it was a pelagic trigger fish but after a better view it has now become the smallest blue we have ever seen. So many people want to see big sharks but I actually love the little ones, which are almost as rare as the very large sharks. Anyway, this little chap was very excited around the bait and stayed with us for at least an hour. As it got more comfortable around the boat it would come right up to the dive step and this is where we observed that it already had a tiny pilot fish accompanying the shark, I guess they are buddies for life now!

We have also seen a number of large blue sharks. These were in the 2 meter to 2.5 meter range. Although these are not massive blues they are large for the size that we seem to encounter. It was interesting to note that 90% of them were male and as all of them were very relaxed and curious they were fantastic to dive with.

As already mentioned the mako sightings have also been very good and the size range we have been seeing are from 90cm (!) to about 2 meters. It is always really exciting when the makos arrive. They move so differently to the blues and are more robotic and of course much faster. The makos are always tricky and unpredictable with regards to how long they will stay around the boat. But, we have had good luck and on all trips so far views from the boat and the cage have been fantastic.

We have also had our share of other shark species sightings. Twice we have had bronze whalers at the boat and the most exciting was a sighting of a 2.5 meter smooth hammerhead. We see the hammerheads on about 5 % of our pelagic trips and normally at this time of the year. Unfortunately all these 3 species were pretty shy so the divers were not able to see them. However, viewing from the boat was exciting!

As always the bird sightings have been fantastic and we have also had great encounters with both Common dolphin and a school of about 300 Dusky dolphin. We have not seen the Dusky’s in large numbers for about 3 years so this encounter was particularly rewarding.

On a very sad note we have come across the shark longlining vessels working the Cape Point area in our last 2 trips. For various reasons we have not seen these boats in our area for the last 2 seasons and it is indeed very worrying that they seem to be working our area again. We have noticed a tremendous increase in the numbers of pelagic sharks encountered in the absence of these fishing vessels and we are now very concerned as to what impact increased fishing will have on the sharks in our area. For those who do not know shark longline fishing is, unbelievably, legal in South Africa and there are absolutely no restrictions on the size and number of sharks that can be caught. Marine & Coastal Management issued these licences in 2000 with no idea of what the shark stocks are like.

Australia has realised the importance of stopping this devastating fishing practice and various groups are lobbying for the protection of the mako shark. Scientists here have shown that the mako shark population is declining at a very rapid rate. One of the causes for this is due to new evidence that some mako sharks that have been tagged are not migrating large distances and are instead staying in isolated areas making them very vulnerable to over fishing. These sharks seem to be site dependant meaning that if you wipe out the sharks from area they are gone forever.

Hopefully at some stage someone tasked with conserving South African Pelagic Shark stocks will realise that the current way of allowing the unrestricted slaughter of sharks is very short sighted and can only mean disaster for the species. With an average of 1000+ makos and blues per fishing trip these boats are simply raping the ocean of Apex Predators. 

On a happier note we have had a particularly nice group of guests and divers with us over the past weeks and it has been great having such enthusiastic people on board! We also had Vanessa Williams and her family join us on the boat and they were also really excited to see the sharks as well as the bottlenose dolphins that we came across    

4 young male lions brought down and killed an adult male buffalo, weighing about 900

A Great Time Spent in Botswana

Chris was very fortunate to be invited by the Wilderness Safari guides to spend 8 days in the Okavango Delta at Xigera, Duma Tau and Mombo camps. Wilderness Safaris is a safari company that owns a number of high end lodges in some of the very best game viewing areas in Botswana, as well as South Africa, Namibia and Zambia. Chris had a fantastic time with them and not only was the game viewing and behaviour outstanding but the guides were phenomenal in their knowledge and spotting! In 8 days they come across all of the Big Five animals but they also had sightings of Wild Dogs and great birds including the famous Pel’s fishing owl. Two major highlights were of a crocodile sharing a buffalo kill with lions and a unique relationship between a wild dog, a jackal and a hyena.

While staying at Mombo camp 4 young male lions brought down and killed an adult male buffalo, weighing about 900 kgs. This all happened right in front of one of the tents so that evening they were all able to sit on the balcony and watch an amazing spectacle. Firstly the 4 male lions were chased off by another pride of lions. Whilst this pride was feasting they noticed a very large 3 meter crocodile walk 150 meters from the river and proceed to help himself to the buffalo. The lions were of course very upset but no amount of snarling and paw swotting could deter the croc! Amazing, but alas no photos in the dark.

Another very unique sighting was to come across a wild dog that had been accepted by a family of jackals. The female wild dog proceeded to regurgitate and share her meals with the pups, and the jackal parents were also very welcoming to the dog. On top of this a lone hyena also invited herself in on this little group and the jackal and the hyena were observed loping after the wild dog as she hunted. This is the first time that this sort of relationship has been observed and recorded.

 

The Central Kalahari Game Reserve

I joined Chris for the next 2.5 weeks of the trip and we headed off into the Central Kalahari Game Reserve. For those of you who are familiar with the work of Mark and Delia Owens this is the area where they spent 7 years studying mainly brown hyena.

We have wanted to spend time here for many years and are now sorry that we did not do it sooner. Our visit was over the rainy season which meant that the Park was absolutely beautiful and when photo opportunities arose it gave rise to beautiful backgrounds.

Being over the peak of summer it was of course very hot. Some days it was more than 40 degrees Celsius. The fact that we did not have access to a shower or a working toilet made this extra challenging. I actually really enjoyed being so simple but it did also give new importance to baby wipes!

This park does not cater for huge groups of people and each large area usually only has one campsite, all without fences so we were completely in the wilderness. There were just no other people around and I don’t think we saw more than 20 other cars in 14 days. Seeing our first traffic lights after leaving the park was a strange feeling, and not necessarily good.

Our sightings of all animals were fantastic. We spotted cats on all days including lions, cheetah (on some days 3 different sightings of cheetah) and also a number of new bird species for us. Besides the predators it was also fantastic to just to sit and watch the plains game (springbok, gemsbok and wildebeest).

 

Fatal Shark Attack

While we were away there was a fatal shark attack at Fish Hoek beach, Cape Town on 13 January. Shark attacks are terrible for all concerned. Most of all our deepest sympathy goes to the Family and friends of Lloyd Skinner. Shark attacks are also terribly bad for sharks in general. Even though attacks are so rare it is news world wide and of course there are always calls to cull sharks etc. Fortunately the authorities in Cape Town do not think along these lines and are doing their best with pro active programmes such as The Shark Spotting programme. It is also inevitable that shark cage diving industry and chumming is blamed. I don’t want to get into a chumming debate but I do find it ironic that we do not operate with Great whites at this time of the year, nor do we chum at Seal Island when working with the Great whites.

I talked about how the Great whites move closer inshore in my last newsletter and this is unfortunately also in the area of water users. There is heavy fishing for other species of sharks such as smooth hound and soupfin sharks in South Africa. These species are one of the main prey items for the Great whites and Chris & I believe that the plummeting populations of these species must mean that the Great white has to work harder for its food and also possibly move into new areas to search for this prey. We feel that this issue needs to be addressed and tackled by the authorities. The continued demise of the white sharks summer food source will only lead to increased contact between Great whites and water users.

 

Upcoming Trips to Mexico & Monterey 

Now that we are back home we are busy with pelagic trips until the end of February. For those in Cape Town that would like to join a trip please let us know.

At the beginning of March we are very excited to be spending 10 days diving at Isla Mujeres. This is an island off Cancun in Mexico and we believe there is a good opportunity to dive with sailfish at this time of year. We have been waiting for an opportunity to dive with these magnificent gamefish for many years now and we hope that we will have good luck. Of course we will have a complete trip report for you all in March.

 

Monterey Bay Aquarium Visit 

Since we are close by we are very privileged to be invited to give a number of presentations at Monterey Bay Aquarium. Chris will be doing 3 presentations here on Saturday, 13 March. He will also be available for book signings afterwards. We hope that we will be able to meet some OF you here.

 

 

Apex Finally Joins Facebook

OK, so I must admit that I try to spend far more time out in the fresh air than on the computer but I do realise that Facebook is a great way for us to post new images and keep you all update with our shark and other experiences. So, we have taken the plunge and you can now join us on face book under APEX SHARK EXPEDITIONS.  We also hope that you will be able to share your images and comments with us too.

 

 

2010 Trips

It looks like the 2010 Great white shark season is going to be a very busy one for us especially with South Africa hosting the 2010 football World Cup. I know that South Africa is going to be very busy over that month (11 June to 11 July) but viewing is still peak in May and August so we hope that you will think of visiting us and spending time with the sharks over those periods. We are also hosting an Exclusive 10 day trip from 22 to 31 July. There is just 1 spots left. So, please contact us if you are interested in more info.

 

Well, that is all our news. We will hopefully have some exciting experiences to share after our visit to Isla Mujeres. Until then,

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

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