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Shark Bytes

June 2013 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

A Humpback whale breaching in False Bay, Cape Town.

Posted on Sunday, 30 June 2013

Dear Shark Lovers,

 

Greeting from an action packed June at Seal Island.

It seems as though the predation events are already kicking off and exciting news for the crew and repeat guests is the return of 2 well known Seal Island shark regulars.

I will also be reporting back on The Sardine Run Expeditions from early June and I will also be sharing another amazing Orca encounter we had at the end of May.

 

Great White Predation Activity at Seal Island

The predatory events at Seal Island normally begin on an intense basis early to mid-July with sporadic activity from mid-May. But, this activity is variable and seems most likely to depend on the current weather conditions and seal activity.

In the middle of May we saw an abrupt change from observing mostly scavenge feeding events at the north end of the Island to active hunting events on young cape fur seals that are either departing or returning from their own feeding sorties. This activity has mostly been on the southern side of Seal Island which has also meant that all our anchoring has taken place here as the north side of the Island, a mere 400 meters way, has been almost like a shark desert! It’s amazing to me how localised the shark activity can be.

We have had mostly north wind conditions this month which produces ideal hunting conditions for the sharks and has probably also contributed to the increase in hunting.

On 11 June we had a superb day, recording 25 predatory events in total making this one of our busiest days ever in early June. 

From this point on we have recorded events on each morning and we are averaging 10 per day.

Some events have been hugely spectacular and we have also had a couple of very interesting events.

 

 

Two Spectacular Events in One Morning 

On 23 June we saw what may be 2 of the most spectacular events of the season. The predatory events can take place in an instant, sometime a breach lasts just under a second. In other words you need to be looking in the right place at the right moment. We always try to make sure that our guests are watching the right places to try and give them the best chance of seeing these events.

On this particular morning we had 2 amazing events within a few minutes of each other.

Just as we arrived we saw an on-going event on a young of the year seal. The seal managed to avoid this shark but only 100 meters away it was under attack by a second shark. The seal evaded this one as well but very sadly it moved off another 200 meters and fell prey to a third sharks that was hunting in the area. It’s really tough to see nature in such a raw form but we try to be as respectful as possible to both predator and prey and merely observe what naturally takes place.

This final event was quite a sight. The shark obviously had a confident lock on the seal and it breached about 3 meters clear of the water and caught the seal on this first attempt. This gigantic leap out of the water was as high as a shark ever goes and it was truly draw dropping to see this 3.5 meter shark in action.

It was still early dawn so there are no images I’m afraid …

Just a few minutes after this event we picked up on a group of about 4 or 5 young seals making their way back to the Island. They were about to cross over the area where we had just seen 3 events so the chances were good that a hunting shark was close by.

Sure enough as we were all watching from about 80 meters away, an absolutely massive 4.5 meter shark half breached through the middle of the group and successfully caught one of the seals. It was so big I am not convinced that it could launch itself the whole way out! As its head emerged out of the water I could already see how large it was and that really thick “neck” that makes those really big sharks appear that they have no throat shortly followed… it’s very rare to see such a big shark and this is by far the biggest we have seen this season. It was only for a brief few seconds but we were all in awe…

 

A Larger Shark Steals a Kill

The predatory events at Seal Island are normally extremely fast, everything from the strike, to the kill, to the consumption is rapid, there is no messing around and definitely no playing with their food.

One of the reasons for this is that there is a high concentration of sharks at Seal Island during these peak hunting periods. Larger sharks are dominant over smaller sharks and if a meal is not consumed quick enough there is a fair chance of losing a meal to a larger shark.  

On this particular event a small shark, just under 3 meters, did a full breach attack on a young seal, narrowly missing it. A heated chase ensued on the surface with the small shark putting a lot of energy into the hunt. The chase continued for longer than normal and eventually a shark successfully caught the seal.

It was immediately apparent that this was a larger shark and after looking at some of Chris’s images we were able to learn that a larger shark took over the predation event from the smaller shark, and successfully made the final kill. 

We probably only observe these kind of situations a handful of times a season and each time they are extremely fascinating.

I would imagine that because the chase was so long and so much water was being splashed around by the smaller shark and seal this other larger shark had heard the commotion under water and came to investigate. From this point it would have asserted its dominance over the smaller shark and won over the event and the meal.

A tough day for the younger shark, and I am sure a lesson well learnt that it will one day use to its own benefit.

 

 

Just as we arrived we saw an on-going event on a young of the year seal. The seal managed to avoid this shark but only 100 meters away it was under attack by a second shark.

Amber Returns!

I know that a lot of regular guests over the last 5 years that have been lucky enough to see “Amber” the female Seal Island shark will be very happy to hear that she has returned for the 2013 season, and her fifth year at Seal Island.

I was unfortunately not on board to see her but Poenas was ecstatic to relay the good news to Chris & I. Amber has a very distinctive white flash on her left flank, just below her pelvic fin. This makes her easy to identify. From a behaviour point of view, she is famous for doing deep vertical approaches on either the bait or decoy, not at all shy about showing off her beautiful snow white under belly.

She was seen for 2 days and both days she gave the crew and guests a magnificent show as she majestically did her thing around the boat.

Poenas recorded her at just over 4 meters and also noted that she had a very impressive girth … maybe she had found herself a whale carcass in recent times …!

In the 2012 season we only saw her very briefly on 1 trip, so it was great to see her in full form.

 

The Famous "Deux Rossi" 

Duex Rossi was by far the shark of the season in 2012. We recorded her most days at Seal Island for a period of around 3 months. This is highly unusual as most sharks spend only a few days, a week at most hunting at Seal Island. Once they have fuelled their reserves it appears they move from the Island and may return a few weeks or even months later. So, the fact that Duex Rossi stayed so long meant that we really got to know her as well as many guests leaving with great memories of her.

She returned to Seal Island on 12 June and we have since seen her each day of June. We are really hoping that she will decide to stay for most of the season again.

She is about 3.4 meters meaning she has not grown too much in the last 8 months since we have seen her, but she still behaves in the exact same manner as always.

 She is very very sneaky around the bait and constantly keeps us on our toes. She approaches the bait from under the boat making it very difficult to pick up on her and it’s usually a panicky moment trying to keep the bait away from her!

She’ll then leave for about 10 minutes and try the same thing again, and does this repeatedly for a couple of hours.

She has been on top form this month and I can truly say that I, as well as Chris & the crew are thrilled to have her back at Seal Island.

 

A 4.5 Meter Male 

It is most definitely worth a very quick mention that we had a highly impressive and extremely large 4.5 meter male visit us at the boat just before the end of June. Males reach maturity at around 3.8 meters and sadly it is pretty rare to see them even at this size. So, you can imagine how excited and impressed we were to be visited by this unbelievable creature. He did a number of turns on our bait so we all got a great look at him and were left in complete awe!

 

Humpback Whales

During the last week of June the Humpback whale sightings have been the best I can ever remember in False Bay. We recorded them every day and a number of groups at a time.

On one particular afternoon we raced passed a feeding Southern Right whales (which is very rare by the way!) to a pair of humpback whales that were amorously slapping their tails around.

Shortly after we reached them the both dived deep and a moment later, in absolute perfect synchrony, they breached elegantly out of the water directly towards us. We were all watching the exact spot so it was a thrillingly beautiful sight. 

 

 

Orca Sighting 21st May

Please read the full report here.

Excerpt is below for those with time constraints!

 

“Chris had just said that it was time to go home when on the roof I spotted some larger splashes about 2 miles away. Having spent a lot of time on the sea our eyes can fairly easily pick up on different splashes and what they may mean. These were too big for dolphins but before I could get ahead of myself and call out “Orca” (!) I shouted for Chris to check them out.

We couldn’t be sure so we approached closer and I felt my disappointment as it appeared to just be another small pod of dolphins. But then ….. a very large dorsal fin appeared above the sea surface followed by a huge 4 ton male Orca, and then the rest of the pod could be seen as they calved out of the water towards us.

It was the same pod of between 9 to 12 Orcas that we saw on 18 April and they were most defiantly on the dolphin hunt. I can only describe the pod as Trojan horses galloping off to war, racing full throttle towards us, such was the scene as they moved with great purpose towards the dolphins.

You cannot image the shouts of excitement when we realised what we had come across! It all happened so fast, we were moving with them and then they suddenly turned up a gear and went into full hunting mode as soon as they caught up with the dolphin school.

The first orca breached into the school of unaware dolphins, followed by a complete onslaught of orcas breaching and attacking everywhere. Everyone on the boat was screaming to look somewhere different and in the manic panic on board we decided to stick with the 3 orcas we know best from this pod, an Adult female (Nandi), a sub adult male (Shaka) and a juvenile (Dingaan). The adult female is most likely the mother of these 2 and they probably hunt together regularly.

All around us the orcas were splitting off into different hunting groups, unfortunately we could not keep track of them all but we did pick a very interesting hunting situation.

Nandi led the chase with Dingaan at her side. Shaka was some way back but very quickly turned on his speed and in no time he was joining the hunt. They had fairly easily isolated one dolphin from the pod and were now just keeping up with it and almost herding it. We were wondering why they were not finishing things off when a very interesting observation took place.

There was a slight hesitation from both Nandi and Shaka where they seemed to hold back just slightly and then little Dingaan burst from the blocks with a sudden injection of high speed and made the final kill.

It was very obvious that Nandi and Shaka had been teaching Dingaan and then gave him the go ahead to finish things off. It was also clear to see how keen this little orca was to get involved and was very excited to have been given this opportunity.

It was a highly impressive display of intelligence and communication between 3 animals and this to me, and all on board, was the most unbelievable thing to observe and understand. It was even more impressive than a handful of orcas breaching clear of the water all around us which we had seen only 15 minutes before, if that is even possible!” 

 

 

2013 Sardine Run

Read the full report here.

“There’s no getting around the Sardine Run being a tough expedition …

So many factors have to come together under the right conditions in order to experience what has become one of the Holy Grail’s of natural history.

Each year from May to July the sardines move within the Agulhas Current as a thin band of current stretches up the south coast of South Africa. 

This huge moving bio mass of sardines becomes a very important feeding event at this time of the year for a variety of predators. Of particular importance are young of the year Common Dolphins as this is their first major feeding opportunity after being weaned off their mother’s milk. Mega pods of up to 15,000 common dolphin can be present to participate.

Other predators that partake are Bronze Whaler, Dusky and Black Tip sharks; Brydes whales and sometimes up to 15,000 Cape Gannets.

The coming together of large numbers of all these predators makes for spectacular feeding events. It is mostly the dolphins that so skilfully ball the baitfish which gives the sharks an easy feeding opportunity and also create an opportunity for the Cape Gannets to rain down into the ball and to gauge themselves as well.” 

 

OTHER NEWS

There are just 3 spots left on our 22 to 29 August Great White Trail Expedition which takes you to all 3 Great White Shark locations in South Africa. Read full info here.

Don’t miss Chris speaking at The One & Only Hotel in Cape Town this July.

18 July 2013: Orca, Perfect Predator, False Bay and Beyond

23 July 2013: False Bay’s legendary Great White Sharks

Full info on these 2 Dinner/Talk evenings here.

 

Until next month!

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

Tags:

Orcas, Marine Life, Great White Shark Predation

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