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Shark Bytes

July 2011 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Sunday, 31 July 2011

Dear Shark Lovers,

 

July is in stark contrast to June and this time I am sitting down to write feeling excited about everything I have to tell you!

Right from the 1st of July the shark activity has been fantastic. The numbers of sharks around the boat started building each day which is normally a sure sign that the horizon looks positive.

“Cuz” was an absolute superstar in the first 10 days and we saw him almost every day. His behaviour was so interesting. We did not see him in 2010 and just once in 2009. On that occasion in 2009 he was not interactive around the boat so it was very unlike him. When I mentioned we had seen him at the end of June he was back to behaving the way we know him to be.

As I already mentioned, in July he was fabulous and just loved slowly cruising around the boat again, and again, and again. He loves coming close to the cage so our divers had a fabulous experience with him and those lucky enough to see him all fell in love with this particular Great White Shark!

Although he has not grown much in the last 2 years he is still looking in really good shape and I wonder if the next season we see him (fingers crossed!) he would have gone through a growth spurt.

 

We also had the return of the notorious “RoundFIn”. He is smallish male of about 3.2 meters and was one of the stand out sharks in 2009. In 2010 we only saw him once and again in July this year we had him around the boat once and also a great breach on the decoy.

I say Roundfin is notorious as he is very confident around the boat and really goes for the bait. He also broke two underwater housings (on pole cameras) in 2009, one of which belonged to Chris!

Roundfin was around the boat the same time as Cuz so I must say he was a little more relaxed than usual. However, as soon he had a bit of space to himself we were treated to the sneaky speed we are used to from him.

 

The third well know shark to return this July was “Bently”. She is a medium sized female we have seen for 3 seasons now. As her name suggest she has a dorsal fin that bends quite obviously to the right. She was at the Island for about 10 days so we had some great interactions with her too.

Another bit of good news is that our old friend “Shy Guy” was recorded hunting twice successfully, but as usual, no visit to the boat!

 

As early and middle of July got underway the numbers of shark kept increasing and we had a number of trips with 12 sharks recorded at the boat, quite something after our dismal June. One particular trip is worth mentioning where we saw 10 sharks at the boat, a breach on the decoy, a brydes whale, 400 common dolphin, 2 Southern Right whales, and the sea was as flat as a lake! All the guests on board were nature and shark lovers so I was thrilled they got to experience such an amazing array of wildlife.

 

Our premier trip of the year is our 10 Day Predation Specialty Expedition. As the name suggests we spend most of our focus over the 10 days looking for natural predatory events and as such we schedule the dates over what is historically the best time period for this.

We had a wonderful group of people join us this year and everyone was so excited for the 10 days to follow.

The first day out we had the roughest seas we have had for a while and we had to battle the first day out with 1 shark sighting... Days 2, 3 and 4 were nothing but gale force South Easter winds that kept us off the water. This is our summer wind so it is bizarre that we would have this strength of wind for so many days. Chris & I love wild weather and one of the positives to this “summer storm” meant we got to witness some massive waves breaking over Kalk Bay Harbour. It only happens like this once, maybe twice a year. This time it was spectacular and we all spent a good amount of time, not only freezing out in the elements but being blown away, quite literally, by watching the amazing force of nature at work.

This bad weather kept us off the water and Day 5 was another very rough day at sea. Even though we were having a tough time our group were so understanding about everything and still made the most of each shark sighting we had.

We started making up the missed morning trips in the afternoons and by the afternoon of Day 5 it seemed the sharks were back in numbers at Seal Island.

Over the course of the next 5 days we recorded an absolutely massive 238 natural predatory events, with our highest morning being 37 events.

I hope all of you can appreciate how intense this hunting behaviour was and that this type of natural history is hard pressed to be duplicated anywhere on the planet.

What was even more special is that some of the events we witnessed close hand were simply so spectacular that my throat hurt from the emotional outburst upon seeing a nearly one ton animal launching completely out the water, sometimes with a seal balancing on its nose as it tried to escape. In fact some of the events were some of the best we have ever seen with multiple breaches at an event. 

Seeing 37 events in one morning does not mean that there are 37 sharks at Seal Island. We believe that each shark will attempt to hunt a few times in a morning whether they are successful or not. To give you an idea, 3 seasons ago we recorded one shark make 2 successful kills within 10 minutes.

Other times we have seen a shark attacking a seal with entrails coming out of its gills, indicating that it had already fed not too long ago.

The sharks’ overall success rate was lower than normal but it is better to only look at this stat at the end of the season. Some days provide better conditions to increase their success and other days are better for the seals.

 

Everyone at Apex was thrilled that our group that had been so understanding on the tough days had been rewarded to be at Seal Island over a truly special and spectacular time.

We were not anchoring up too much over this period as we were more focused on the natural predation events but when we did we were still getting good sightings around the boat.

Our 2012 Trip is already sold out but we are opening bookings for 2013.

 

One of the most interesting things I have seen in a long time took place just to the west of the launch pad. We spotted a shark swimming on the surface with its dorsal fin completely exposed. Most people think of sharks swimming around with their dorsal fins sticking out all the time but this is not the case at all with great white sharks that tend to patrol a little deeper below.

As we approached for a closer look we put our stationary decoy out to see which shark this was. As the shark become aware of the decoy it must have thought it was a potential meal as it moved into almost top gear and made a very intentful lunge at the decoy. When it realised the decoy was not the meal it wanted, the shark carried on its way, dorsal fin still out, but still seemed to be in a very definite hunting mode. As we watch from about 80 meters away a small group of seal were passing just in front of the shark. From the roof of the boat we could watch as the shark picked up on the vibration of the seal movement, changed its swimming course directly towards the seals and then proceeded with a full-on attack on the group.

The seals got away but it was amazing to watch the whole event unfold right before us, and also to see the shark’s very definite reaction to the noise of the seals.

 

Chris & I also spent a couple of days in Gansbaai with shark researcher, Alison Towner. Gansbaai has also had a very unusual winter. At this time of the year the sharks should all be found in shark alley and around Dyer Island (seal colony). In late June the sharks all abruptly and literally over night left the seal colony and are now found camped close to shore in what is their normal “summer” area.

We were using some interesting equipment and when set down on the broken reef we spotted a lot of activity of other shark species including smooth hound sharks. We know the great whites feed on this species so this could be a clue as to why all the sharks have moved inshore already, almost 2 month early.

Based on this kind of behaviour, and our dismal June, I have absolutely no clue what will be in store for us in August.

 

On another note I hope that you all enjoyed Shark Week 2011. Apex was involved in facilitating both Ultimate Air Jaws and Great White Invasion so I hope that you all particularly enjoyed these shows.

We have been filming for Shark Week 2012, the 25th Anniversary of Shark Week, and we have managed to capture some phenomenal footage, so I can’t wait for you all to see it.

 

Wish us luck in August,

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

 

 

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