Posted on Monday, 31 July 2006
Dear Shark Lovers
I hope you have never heard it mentioned that Chris & I are shark experts because there is no such thing!
We have had such a strange shark month that once again the sharks have proved that nobody really knows about them at all.
Historically July is the busiest month at Seal Island for seeing an intense amount of predatory behavior of great white sharks trying to catch seals.
At the end of June we were starting to see signs that the sharks looked like they would be entering into this intense feeding mode and we wrongly assumed that by the middle of the month activity would be peaking.
The beginning of the month started out great and we were consistently seeing a couple of predations in the morning and having good sharks up at the boat. The visibility for Seal Island was also better than normal and Chris managed to take a couple of good underwater images as well as enjoying a couple of good dives in the cage with very obliging sharks!
We have a guest/friend that has been spending time with us at Seal Island every year for the last 4 years and his arrival has in the past coincided with the start of the intense predations.
Every morning when we arrived we expected activity to start, but observed very little, even May and June had been busier. The only obvious explanation we could think of was that even though there were a lot of sharks in the area there was very little seal movement. It makes sense that if the prey is missing the predator cannot hunt. This is a good explanation but we cannot find a reason for the seals movement to be down.
Back in 2000 we discovered that the huge numbers of seals leave the Island after sunset in pursuit of their fishing grounds. The seals leave in their thousands and we suspect that leaving in the dark may be preferable against the threat of possible attacks by sharks. We do however have a sneaky suspicion that the white sharks may be hunting at night. Although we have seen evidence of predations at night we have yet to see it for ourselves. This is what is so exciting about wildlife...there is always so much to learn!
We surmised that perhaps most of the seals were returning back to the Island during these dark hours, we certainly were not seeing them return in the early dawn hours.
Two mornings ago we arrived at the Island and already could see the signs that a few successful hunting events had taken place before our arrival.
There is a particular smell that we have observed with all successful kills and we use this as an indicator of possible activity. The smell, which is not a bad smell, is so unique that Chris & I are immediately able to pick up on it. There is also usually a large slick left on the water surface which is another good indicator.
When we saw these signs I immediately had a gut feel that things had changed and the life-and-death game had for unknown reasons begun.
On this morning we witnessed 17 different events. On a number of occasions we had 2 events happening simultaneously and it was difficult to decide where to look. This was one of those morning where just about every event was a full breach followed by a chase on the surface with the seal trying to avoid the shark.
The following morning was even busier but on most of the events we did not even see a shark. The sharks were so accurate, and with the cloudy conditions apparently being perfect for them, they were successful in catching the seals in a remarkably short space of time. In fact their success rate for the day ended at being 17 out of 26 events (65%).
As spectacular as these events are; imagine a one ton animal breaching clear of the water after propelling a seal 6 foot into the air; Chris & I are constantly aware that this a real-life drama being played before our eyes. We have tremendous respect for both shark and seal and it is always in the back of my mind that as we get excited at what we are seeing, an animal is also dying. This is the reality of the situation and we always try our very best to keep a respectful distance of the events so as not to interfere in any way.
Getting sharks around our boat for closer viewing has been very up and down. We have had a few quiet days but also some fantastic days.
I am excited to tell you that we were lucky enough to see February once more and Linford twice more. These two have really been the standout sharks for the season. They are two immensely big sharks. February is at least 4,5 meters (15 foot) and Linford is just over 4 meters (13 foot). The larger sharks usually do not stay around the boat for very long but these two have been fantastic. Linford especially is very curious with the boat and on his own puts his head out of the water, perhaps for a better view? I usually sit on the engine and I wear red waterproof pants. I think he was quite taken with these red pants… On at least 10 occasions he came and stuck his head out to have a look!
February is just so impressive because of her sheer size. We had a very good interaction with her and got to closely examine her tremendous girth as she rolled past the boat. This is being very presumptuous of us, but looking at how big her lower abdominal area is we have a feeling that she might possibly be carrying pups. We of course cannot be sure of this, but she is a mature female, and it is a nice thought!
More exciting news is that one of our last well-known sharks that we had not seen yet this season was sighted for the first time 2 days ago. “Schumi” is a very confident female that we recorded 3 years ago and have now seen every year since. We really have to be extra vigilant about keeping the bait away from her as she can come at great speeds to try and get it. She looks in fantastic condition and it is comforting to know that another one of our special sharks has survived another year.
There is a shark that we have for the past 4 years seen at successful kills but has never come to the boat. It is very recognizable because of its tail fin that has a distinctive notch. Earlier in the month he visited our boat of the first time and we had a great view of him. We could more accurately guesstimate his size at 4 meters (13 foot) and also deduced that he is in fact a male. We have appropriately nick-named him “Shy Guy”. This visit was on about the 10 of July and we got the next sighting of him today (20 days later) on a successful kill.
After a rather unusual July we are looking forward to what August will bring.
I believe that it is Shark Week in The States at the moment so hope that American readers are enjoying some good shark documentaries.
I am sure that you have all noticed our new look newsletter. We have also uploaded a whole lot of new breaching great white shark images to our breaching page. On Photos of the Month page there is a good variety of underwater images as well as a great new breach and a spectacular predation.
Other news is that Chris will be visiting The Mall of America in Minnesota early next month where he will be giving a number of presentations on sharks in South Africa.
The program will be as follows:
Thursday 10 August: Presentation and auction at The Rotunda 1pm – 3pm.
Friday 11 August: 12:30pm Presentation in Starfish Beach (Underwater Adventures Aquarium)
Saturday 12 August: 12:30pm Presentation in Starfish Beach
Until next month,