Posted on Saturday, 2 August 2014
Dear Shark Lovers,
I must have jinxed Seal Island when I wrote about having our best June ever! In future I think I shall be very careful about being over excited as this July has certainly had its up’s and down’s and perhaps one of our slowest July’s in our history. As I often say…. There is no such thing as a shark expert!
Old Friends Return
I’ll start off with the good news first and that is the return of one of Seal Island’s most loved sharks, “Cuz”. This is now the 12th year we have recorded him at Seal Island, a record he now shares with the equally famous “Shy Guy”. Cuz has been seen by hundreds of guests over the years and I know that many of you who follow Shark Bytes will be just happy to hear of Cuz’s return as we were.
In years gone by Cuz was probably one of the most interactive sharks we have ever had around the boat and on top of this he was incredibly relaxed and often doing crazy manoeuvres that included sticking his head out of the water to look at everyone.
In 2013 he only briefly came to the boat and our 2 sightings of him this month were both on hunting events. We have noticed that as bigger and older sharks they tend to pay less attention to the boats as perhaps they have the attitude of been there, done that, or maybe it is that they have become so attuned to energy conservation that they are only interested in hunting at Seal Island and nothing else distracts them. Having baits pulled away from you all the time certainly does not make you want to keep going back for more.
The first Cuzsighting was actually by one of the other boats at a predation event. We were in another area around the Island so we could not get there in time. Both Chris and I were disappointed at not seeing him but just the knowledge that he was alive and well and back at Seal Island made us extremely excited and happy! This particular event was a successful kill.
About 2 hours later we had just thrown our anchor when a predation event took place about 80 meters from our boat. Chris was able to take some photographs and the shark passed virtually under the boat with his successful seal kill. It was only a few days later when Chris was processing his images that he noticed the tell-tale notch out of the dorsal fin indicating that it was Cuz making his secondsuccessful kill of the day. First of all we whooped with excitement that we had actually seen Cuz with our own eyes… and it is not too often that we can record a definite data point of 2 successful seal kills on the same morning by the same shark. We can only hope, as we always do, that Cuz will make it back in 2015 and that he travels safe during the upcoming year ahead…
Shy Guy over the years has often been noted at being present at Seal Island at similar time periods to Cuz and in July they were recorded about 10 days apart. For those of you who don’t recall Shy Guy is a male that we have seen hunting at Seal Island the last 12 years but he is not a shark that comes up to the boat. Although we have only seen him once this month it’s great to know that he has been present both in June and July. Interestingly he normally hunts in a particular area of the Island and on both occasions it was virtually in the same spot. An interesting observation that we believe warrants further investigation!
Colossus is another large male shark that has been made famous on Shark Week as he has appeared in a number of Air Jaws shows. There will be a 5th Air Jaws show which will be the lead show this coming Sunday in the US at 8pm called “Air Jaws: Fin of Fury” where Colossus will again be featured. Look out for it on Sunday 10 August on Discovery Channel. So, it is with very good timing that we had our first confirmed sighting for 2014 of Colossus on 23 July, hunting a seal very close to Seal Island. He was actually sighted just after Shy Guy had been seen hunting so it was definitely a bumper day at Seal Island for our well known sharks…
At the time we had a number of regular guests on the boat so everyone was able to appreciate and understand why it was so exciting for us all to see these 2 sharks together.
At the beginning of the month we still had a few of this season’s regular sharks and “Pinkie”, “Zamalek”, “MagNoona” and “Scarlet” all put in some great appearances.
Pinkie, a feisty 3 meter male, was a definite highlight of the Month when he decided one afternoon to repeatedly breach on the bait. We had good water visibility so it was very easy to see him approaching the bait and give all the guests and photographers a heads up on board. Below is an IPhone video of Pinkie doing his thing… it will give you an idea of how predictable he was that day!
And Then The Big Surprise...
Everything was going along perfectly, we had good weather, the shark numbers were high and we were having fantastic trips. Chris & I did an afternoon trip on 8 July where we recorded nine sharks in total for the trip and then the very next morning we arrived to a completely dead Seal Island where we barely scraped seeing one shark up at the boat. It took us completely by surprise as we definitely did not see this coming. There was no apparent change in the water; there was no big weather to cause any sort of major upheaval, in fact no big reason to cause such a sudden change.
The only possible reason we could come up with was that the Great Whites perhaps had found an alternate prey source and had better feeding opportunities at another area. We know that 10 tonnes of Vaalhaai (soupfin sharks) were caught by commercial fishing vessels at the mouth of False Bay at this time. Smaller shark species do make up a percentage of the Great white sharks diet so perhaps these sharks were present in False Bay at various locations as well and this possibly led to the great whites leaving Seal Island for a few days.
After a few quiet days sightings began picking up and we even had some busy predation mornings with events of 17 and 18 total events recorded, what we would expect for normal hunting behaviour in July. And of course we thought that activity would keep building…
Big Swell and Fascinating Shark Adaption
Big swell which often follows a cold front is also often associated with a drop in activity. The swell direction is also important as sometimes the big swell can be a westerly directly and miss False Bay all together. A Southerly direction is not good as it brings the swell directly into the Bay. Around the 20th we had a giant swell hitting Seal Island. At one point we had a set of 4 swells that I was almost sure were going to break on us and we were halfway between the Island and York Shoal…. It was awesomely impressive to not only see the size of the swell but also the mood of the Island.
The seals were all huddled together 2 thirds of the way up the Island and even still, the odd wave was still catching them.
Active predatory events fell to zero but I want to mention our observation here as it is absolutely fascinating.
The big swell acted like a giant “Island clean up” with many dead, weak and sick seals washed off the Island and ending up floating in the Island’s own wash off. The sharks were attune to this opportunity almost immediately and we began observing scavenge feeding events. In fact we recorded 8 scavenge events in one morning. I find it so interesting at how quickly they adapted to a situation so it makes a lot of sense to me that our down turn in sightings could be attributed to the sharks finding a better option elsewhere.
And Things Kept Getting Quieter...
It is July, our peak month of our season, so we were still expecting activity to pick up to normal levels in the last 2 weeks. After all the sharks were hardly hunting in June even though they were present in high numbers so surely they had to start feeding on seals at some point?
Well, I can now say that activity did not reach any levels of what we would expect if it were a normal year although we did see patches of predation events on some mornings.
Some events have been good and we should never lose sight of the fact that to see any sort of hunting behaviour in nature is a phenomenal sight. Seal Island has spoilt us and we need to get put everything in perspective! All our guests have really made the most of the activity we have seen and there have still been some great photo opportunities, especially on a number of scavenge events and some spectacular predations.
Shark sightings around the boat have also been slow in the last two weeks but as we have had long stay guests we have managed to cage dive all those who have wanted during their stay and we have still had great looks of sharks at various times.
Of particular interest is that operators in Gansbaai have also had poor shark sightings during the last two weeks of July. There are no sharks being seen around Dyer Island and the odd sightings they are getting are all in the inshore area.
Whale and Dolphin Sightings
On a high note we have had excellent common dolphin sightings and it has been great to make the most of seeing the dolphins when the shark action has been a little slow. The school has been a big as 800 – 1000 dolphins and they are joined by a fair number of cape gannets as well.
One of our July highlights was watching the school of 800 dolphin and 40,000 cape cormorants gorging themselves on a sardine bait ball right nest to Seal Island. A small group of maybe 80 dolphin managed to ball a shoal of sardines and as this was only about 800 meters from the Island and the Cape cormorants that nest here were able to pick up on the activity. They definitely got the best of it before the rest of the dolphin school arrived and we watched them trying to eat as much as they could, as fast as they could. Looking at the images some cormorants were trying to eat at least 3 sardines at a time… it was a truly amazing sight!
We have also seen a number of Brydes whales and also a handful of early Southern Right whale sightings. It really has been lovely to have these gentle giants back in the Bay!
Short Term Crew Needed
We are looking for a short term crew member for the next 4 – 6 weeks. This would be for someone currently based in Cape Town and who has guiding and sea experience. Please email us with your cv if you are interested.
As we head into August your guess is as good as mine as to what we shall see but we certainly look forward to being out on the water…
Until next month…