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Shark Bytes

June 2006 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Friday, 30 June 2006

Dear Shark Lovers

 

June has always been one of the best months for great white shark activity at Seal Island and 2006 has been no exception.

Before I get onto white shark encounters I would like to tell you all about our last pelagic shark trip of the season. June is really the last month that we can run these trips due to a number of reasons. During our winter months the Agulas current moves a lot further off shore compared to where it moves during summer, making it distance wise out of our reach for a day trip. The other factor is weather. It is a lot more difficult to run a successful offshore trip during winter because of the prevailing north winds that blow. The wind blows against the current which can make the waters rough even at speeds of 10 knots plus.

On the day that we choose to go out we got lucky with perfect weather, and as we rounded Cape Point with flat seas and a beautiful sunrise the day promised to be a good one. When we approached 25 miles from Cape point we spotted the first Hake trawler and this brought our first highlight, a very good view and a number of passes from a Northern Royal Albatross.

Shortly afterwards we began our wait for sharks. Surprisingly we only had to wait 15 minutes for our first shark, a 1,5 meter (5 foot) mako! The week before Rob waited a good 4 hours for a mako so we thought that we may be in for the same treatment, but luckily not!

This shark did not stay for long, but a few moments after it departed a good size blue shark as well as a couple of 100lbs yellow fin tuna arrived.

While all this commotion was going on Chris & the guests were as quickly as possible trying to get suited up, cameras ready etc. With pelagic sharks one is never quite sure how long they will stay around the boat, and when they leave when the next shark will decide to pay us a visit. So, we try and get in the water as soon as possible to make the most of the opportunity.

Just as we were about to dive with the blue shark Chris spotted a large pod of pilot whales moving towards the boat. Within moments the pod was among us, and some of the individuals were really interested in the boat rolling several times onto their backs in curiosity to get a better look at the boat. These are highly carnivorous whales and as soon as the pilot whales came close both the blue shark and the tuna disappeared, I would suspect as merely a precautionary measure.

Once they had disappeared I really thought that this would be the end of our shark visitors for the day, but I was wrong!

After only a 20 minute wait we were graced with the presence of a large 2,5 meter (8 foot) female mako. This is the third biggest mako that we have seen off Cape Point and it came at a moment when we least expected to see one!

We could immediately see that there was something amiss with her jaw and after inspection of our video footage and still photographs it appeared that she either had a deformity or at one point had a broken jaw. This apparent “over bite” unfortunately made her look very ferocious as her head on approach was completely dominated by a mouth full of teeth.

Although she at first made many enquiring passes to Chris she was very relaxed and stayed with us for 3 hours, giving everyone a great interaction and a special experience with her in the water. 

On the long journey of 32 miles back to Cape Point we came across the pod of pilot whales again. Once more, they were very obliging and gave us very close passes next to the boat. Not long after we left the pilot whales one of our guests spotted  3 humpback whales who were also very friendly and surfaced around the boat a number of times, ending the day, and the pelagic season, on even a high note.

I know without doubt that this one day will be one of our highlights of the year!

Back to news from Seal Island, I can report an exceptional month for the number of sharks that have visited us around the boat once we were on anchor. On very good days we were seeing 15 plus different animals and on slow days we were seeing a minimum of 8 sharks. Although the predatory events that make Seal Island so unique are very exciting my favorite part of the day is to have the sharks up at the boat and just watch them as they gently cruise around, and if we are lucky, to watch them interact with each other.

On a number of occasions we had 3 and as many as 4 different shark around the boat at once. White sharks communicate with body language such as dropped pectoral fins, arched backs and mouth gaping. The bigger sharks dominate over smaller animals and we can often see this language on display, especially when the sea is flat and viewing conditions are optimal.

We have seen a couple more of our well know individuals. 

The most intriguing is a possible sighting of Chris’s all time favorite shark that we have named Black-white-Black. We have not seen him for the past few seasons but prior to this we recorded him on over 60 occasions. The shark that we have been seeing has the same behavioral characteristics as the BWB that we know but his size does not quite add up. I feel he should be bigger now, but Chris says that it is possible it could be him because male sharks grow slower than females. So, watch this space. Hopefully next month I can give you a confirmation. 

Earlier in the month we did an afternoon trip, which we don’t do very often. We had good sharks around the boat, but the most exciting was a visit from “Cuz”. He only made two passes so at the time we were not sure that it was him. Subsequently we have seen him a few more times and can definitely confirm that it is him!

February has graced us with her presence a few times, the most recently a few days ago. This was the best interaction that Chris & I have had with her so far this year. She was particularly interested in our boat engines (due to the electric pulse that they give off) which meant that we could get a very good view of her particularly large body. She is massive at 4,5 meters (nearly 15 feet) and probably weighs about 1200 -1400kg! She certainly has turned into a successfully healthy shark since we first saw her in early 2002.

On this same day a large male shark, we have named “Linford” was sighted for the first time this season. He is about 4,1 meters (13.5 feet) which makes him a sexually mature male, a rare sight for us. He really looks in good shape, and he is particularly well known for his relaxed behavior when he puts his head out of the water on his own accord to look at us! We first recorded him in 2000 when we observed him feeding on a whale carcass.

On the subject of size we had a week of sighting 3 tremendously large females. All three were in the 4,1 to 4,3 meter category. The great thing was that they were keen to stay around the boat. We often find that the large sharks usually only make 1 or 2 passes and then leave. But, these 3 were very happy to stay around.

Later in the month we saw 3 very small sharks. The smallest of these was only 1,8 meters (6 foot). I know that this does not sound very small but for a white shark it is! They pup at about 1,2 meters (just under 4 feet) so this makes these sharks only about 3 to 4 years old.

Initially white sharks start on a fish diet and as their teeth change with age their dental makeup makes them capable of feeding on seals. So, it is a fair assumption that these small sharks could be on their first seal hunting sorties.

The natural predations activity (shark attempting to hunt seals) has been very sporadic. One morning was very busy with 20 different events but on other mornings we have seen virtually none. We know that there are plenty of sharks around so it is only a matter of time before they kick into active feeding mode. 

We observed similar behavior in 2005 where we were seeing lots of sharks at the boat but little feeding. 

Of course I will keep you all updated at the end of July.

One a side note…Since writing this report a few days ago we have seen the return of a high number of large sharks. This week we had 4 bigger than 4 meter sharks around the boat at the same time. This produced the most intense behaviour around the boat that we can recall seeing. We really did not know where to look..It was just big sharks everywhere! We have also seen Scratchy once more and have had the return of Chanel, a 4,3 meter sharks that we recorded last year. We also witnessed her hunting a seal where she did a full breach right near the boat. I could not believe that such a big animal can launch itself so high out of the water!

On “Photos of the Month” on our website we have pilot whale images, the mako, a variety of breaches as well as Chanel’s breach and a portrait of Linford.

Hope you enjoy!

 

Until then best wishes

Monique Fallows

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