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Shark Bytes

June 2009 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Dear Shark Lovers

 

Greetings from a pretty solid month of sharking at Seal Island!

 

From the beginning of June we started to feel that the Great whites where returning to Seal Island in good numbers this season. We have been averaging 8 sharks per trip and on some trips we have had between 12 to 14 different sharks. For most of the month we were lucky with good weather and sea conditions, this always makes a great difference in being able to view the sharks well.

 

Filming New Documentaries

We have had some interesting groups with us this month. The BBC has spent some time with us, focusing on filming high speed breaches and Discovery Channel has also been filming with the same focus. It has been interesting to watch over the years how the filming equipment has progressed. 10 years ago to capture a breach on a beta cam was exciting. This has now moved onto High definition and now onto super high speed where images are captured at 1000 plus frames per second. At this speed so much detail of the breach can be slowed down and view what our eyes cannot see at normal speeds. It is super impressive and really makes the breaches seem even more spectacular, if that is possible. These new cameras do have challenges with the main problem being that only 2 to 7 seconds can actually be captured. This is fairly workable for a breach on the decoy but very difficult to film natural predation events.

We have also been working on filming some very new and exciting angles but you will all have to look out for this new footage in 2010.

 

Exclusive 10 Day Expedition

We also hosted our first exclusive 10 day expedition in June. We were unfortunately hit with 3 days of bad weather in the middle of the trip but over the 10 day period we had some lovely sharks up at the boat and some sharks that we got to know pretty well. It was interesting to watch the build up of activity before a series of 2 rather severe cold fronts hit Cape Town. These days were flat calm and having a number of sharks around the boat, sometimes 3 at one time, gave us all some fantastic views and a number of very good cage dives. We encountered a number of very relaxed individuals which leads me to mention that there is nothing better than watching a Great white shark as it gently cruises around the boat.

So, each day activity was on the increase but after a 3 day break on the water due to very bad weather the activity was somewhat quiet. We had a large rolling swell come directly into False Bay and as noted in the past this really seems to have a dramatic effect on shark activity, and not in a good way! It also unfortunately brings with it poor water visibility.

On the last day of our trip we had very milky water in at Seal Island and although the water was very dirty the sharks were spending a lot of time swimming on the surface. It was very easy to spot them as their dark dorsal surface would contrast directly with the milky water. From the point of spotting them in the distance we had great fun in trying to attract them to our boat, which in most cases we managed to do successfully.

 

Predation Activity

Although we have been seeing good numbers of sharks around the boat and breaches on the decoy, the predation activity has been on the quiet side. This is generally what we have been seeing the last 3 seasons in June so right now I would say that activity is pretty normal. There have been very few “number 2” seals observed returning back to the Island in the early morning. As the young of the year seals are almost 90% of the seals that are predated upon by the sharks this would give a good reason for the lack of predatory events. The black-backed kelp gulls also seem very aware of the lack of feeding opportunities and have not as yet taken up their customary position in “the gallery”. This is an elevated area on the Island which just so happens to watch over the busiest predation area, allowing them the best position to pick up on any events. Very sharp birds indeed.

Cetacean Sightings

We have had a good variety of whale sightings this month and aside from viewing a lot of Brydes whales on our way to and from Seal Island we have also had early sightings of the first Southern Right Whales. These whales normally arrive in False Bay late July to early August. They migrate from Antarctica, where they have been feeding over the summer months, and come into protected False Bay to breed and calf in the shallows.

We also had a very good encounter with 2 Humpback whales. These sightings are not normally predictable and are quite uncommon. We spotted 2 humpbacks fairly close to us at the Island where we were anchored within a few hundred meters of them.

They then submerged and popped up right behind the boat for a better look at us, and circled us twice more. All those on board really enjoyed seeing them!

 

Old Favourites Return

I always like to save the best news for last and I am almost jumping out of my skin to tell you all about who has returned.

Firstly “Amber” has been a great ambassador for her species and we have seen her throughout the month of June. It is so interesting that she so often does these vertical approaches to the decoy. The great whites do not do this very often but she seems pretty happy for us all to see her beautiful snow white under belly as she does these spectacular arrivals to the boat.

I am sure that some of you will remember me talking about a small male we named last year, called “Round fin”. Many of our guests will remember him as he was somewhat of a crowd pleaser! Most sharks are cautious around the boat and can sometimes be difficult to bring in closer, but Round Fin is a different sort of character. His normal entrance is a half to full breach on the bait and even though he is a small shark at around 2.2 meters he is a handful. We always have to be very careful when dealing with him as if he does grab to bait it is very easy for him to hurt himself if he were to swim into the engines etc. We were really over the moon to see this particular shark return to Seal Island. As he so readily takes baits he is certainly a prime target for poaches and longliners.

In the last 5 days of the month we also had 2 very special sharks return after both had not been sighted during the 2008 season.

The first is a female shark we call “Bumps”. She has a large external growth on the right side of her mouth and is always a pleasantly relaxed shark around the boat. She seems to have gone through a growth spurt and is significantly larger and girthier than when we last saw her. She is now in great condition but still 4 to 5 years away from reaching maturity. We have now seen her twice around the boat and once she has breached on the decoy.

Now the best news for last is that one of our very favourites, “Cuz” made a grand appearance. We first observed Cuz back in 2004 and it was easy not to forget him. He is very relaxed and very interactive with the baits around the boat. His signature move is to do a protracted thwart-induced-surface gape. This is a rare event to see and basically if the shark misses the bait it can sometimes proceed slowly on the surface gaping as it swims…it is really fascinating to watch, and as I mentioned , rare. Now Cuz will often do this which makes him very unique and a lot like “Rasta” (who we have not seen for many years now). When we saw him a few days ago his behaviour was just like always!

We were pretty worried about him when we did not see him last season so this makes his return that much sweeter. Although he does not appear to have grown too much in 2 years he is in good shape and even though we may not see him again, one special sighting has made us very happy indeed!

Only today Chris actually saw Cuz successfully hunt a young seal after a very protracted 5 minute chase on the surface. Cuz has been seen on several predations during the years and he certainly is a very competent hunter.

 

Chris has taken a number of good images this month so please check out the link to Photos of the Month.

I am looking forward to writing again at the end of July with more shark news from Seal Island!

Until then,

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

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