Posted on Thursday, 31 July 2008
Dear Shark Lovers!
Ok, I just want to start this update by saying, I Love Sharks! The Great white shark is just the most amazing animal and there is nothing better in this world than on a beautiful winter’s day watching these magnificent animals as they gently cruise around the boat. From that statement I guess it is obvious that we have had a great month of sharks and for the first time in a good while I do not need to complain about the weather.
After the worst weather we have ever had in June we have gone into the best weather we have had in July for a good while.
There were a number of bad days at the beginning of the month but towards the end we managed to do a record 24 days in a row... fantastic but also exhausting work!
July is usually the month I look forward to the most in our season as we tend to see a good mixture of sharks around the boat and also at some stage the intense predation activity will start to kick in.
Up until this point we have been seeing fairly high numbers of sharks around the boat indicating that the great whites are in the Seal Island area but we have not been seeing high numbers of predatory events. Usually around mid July we expect this to change but July 2008 has yet to see that intense hunting behavior that we are used to. I think what is playing an important part in this is the lack of incoming number 2 seals.
A number 2 is basically a young of the year cape fur seal and it is this size seal that is preyed upon 90% of the time. We do think there is a good reason for this.
Seal Island is a breading seal colony of about 40 000 adult cape fur seals. These seals are not able to feed in the area around the Island. Firstly there is the threat of sharks and secondly there is not much here for them. They need to venture further out into False Bay and beyond Cape Point where they are able to feed on bait fish such as sardines, anchovies, pilchards and various other things.
The majority of adult seals tend to return to the Island in large groups and in the very early hours, so under the guise of darkness. The young seals fall off the back of these groups and return a number of hours later, in the pre dawn and just a first light. We guess that a single, smaller seal would be a far easier seal to catch rather that a moving mass of large experienced seals.
For the whole of July we have just had very few numbers of these seals returning at optimum hunting time for the great white and as such our predatory event numbers are way down. We certainly have been seeing predations but what is also interesting is that the success rate of the sharks is way down at about 35%, the norm being 50%.
One area of particular concern to Chris and I as well as the other operators at Seal Island is that we are seeing more and more boats coming to Seal Island to watch these predatory events and we fear that the increased boat activity is having an impact.
It has taken us years to learn about how best to behave at Seal Island and to do our best not to purposefully harm the unique behavior here. The area is so extremely sensitive that if you are not 100% watchful one can easily interfere with an ongoing predatory event or even disturb the path of an incoming seal. I know that we sometimes, in a completely unintentional way, may pose a problem but it is something we are aware of constantly. The other boats that visit the area do not have our knowledge and experience and whilst with many of the boats it is probably unintentional that they block an incoming seal or change the out come of an event it is nonetheless a problem. It is also just a matter of time before there is an accident, whether is be shark, seal or people related.
One step in the right direction to managing this problem is the new law just passed by Marine and Coastal Management that prohibits any unlicensed vessel from approcahing within 80 meters of a predatory event. We hope this will in some way help the situation as they are now patrolling the area.
On a more positive note we have had so may Shark Bytes readers as well as past guests on the boat with us this month. It has been amazing to share the sharks with other people who also have a passion for this great fish!
I am also amazed at what an impact my stories and Chris images of Cruella have had. I have had so many guests arrive and wanting to know if they will see Cruella! We have actually seen her throughout July but interestingly she has behaved quite different as to what she was doing in June.
If you remember in June’s newsletter I had said how entirely different this shark was around the boat compared with any other sharks we have known. This behavior coincided with very poor visibility and a complete lack of predatory events. This may have had something to do with Cruella’s extreme behavior in terms of trying to get the bait from us… and was perhaps her way of hunting?
There has been more predation this month than in June so I am sure she has also been feeding. In fact we noted her on two attempted predations, meaning she was not successful, but I am sure that she has had her share of successful outcomes when we haven’t been there.
When we have seen her around the boat she has been completely uninterested in the bait and has only looked at the decoy, usually making one to two passes before leaving…I for one cannot understand this shark.
We have seen very few large sharks in the last while but a fair number of small sharks. The smallest shark we have seen is just around 2 meters (7 feet) and what was very exciting for us is that we recognize her from the 2007 season. She has grown only very slightly, but is in good shape. We have also become acquainted with two other small sharks. One small male has a very rounded fin due to an old injury and we have another male that has lost two thirds of its right pectoral fin. I would suspect both injuries are due to contact with boats.
We did notice that the shark with the missing pectoral fin is very shy and very wary when around the boat. He has also shown great flexibility in the use of his dorsal fin and I think it would make sense that he needs to use his dorsal fin to compensate on fine movements and balance which is where a pectoral fin is greatly needed.
We have also seen ShyGuy, as usual on a successful kill. He is so easy to identify with his upper tail injury and it seems his success rate is very high. It may also be that due to his ease of being identified we just see him more often. And in true ShyGuy style he did not come up to the boat! We have been seeing him for 5 years now and only once has he graced us with a closer look when he spent a couple of minutes around the boat in 2006. They say girls like mysterious guys…I can vouch that it is the same for sharks!
We are now approaching the last 6 weeks of our season so as long as the weather allows us we will be out there making the most of it.
It has been a different, if not interesting season so far and I look forward as to what August will hold.
Be sure to check out Photo’s of The Month..