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Shark Bytes

March 2003 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Monday, 31 March 2003



We have had a fantastic shark month where we have been “playing” with a whole host of different shark species.

We started the month with what I can only recall as the most exhilarating shark dive I have ever had. With perfect weather and very small swell we headed off Cape Point in search of the Agulhas current and the pelagic sharks that cruise the blue depths.

After we had activated our sound equipment and put out our sardine scent trail we found ourselves waiting a good 2 hours before the first Mako showed up. The first moments of when a shark arrives are always the craziest. Pandemonium prevails on the boat as people scramble for the bait, camera’s, wetsuits, snorkels, weight belts etc etc… This is usually the best time to actually see the shark as he is usually at his most bold and aggressive towards the bait. After he has sussed out the scene and he establishes where the bait is we get into the water and just enjoy seeing this magnificent animal as they gently cruise through the silky blue water.

On this particular day 3 mako sharks, all in the 2-meter range, arrived in very quick succession. Chris and I entered the water and had a very brief look as the 3 sharks skirted around the bait.

Mako sharks are lone hunters and we have found that when they are together they are very aware of each other’s presence. In fact it is very similar to the way white sharks behave around one another. Usually the smaller sharks will give way to the larger sharks. In this case the 3 sharks were around the same size, but there was still one dominant shark. The third shark left very quickly, but the other two remained for a good forty minutes.

The bait always remains the main focal point for them and they do large circular laps around this. If one shark got too close to the other, we were treated to seeing amazing bursts of speed as one would make way for the other. The mako is presumed to be the fastest shark in the ocean. It is estimated that they can reach speeds of 60 kilometres per hour.

Now, I mentioned that is was one of the most exhilarating dives with sharks and I can only put it to you that when you are so passionate about sharks the ultimate experience is just to witness them in their own environment. They are so perfect in their make-up that they move like fine tuned fighter planes set off in a magnificent cobalt blue colour. These sharks are so much in control and exuded so much confidence yet they do not threaten us in any way when we are in the water with them.

On our way back we thought we would stop at an area called Bellow’s Rock, which is about 2 miles from Cape Point. It is very seldom that there is virtually no swell around Cape Point so it was a very good opportunity to put out a scent trail and see what came up. 

Well, we didn’t have to wait long for a 2 meter smooth Hammerhead to come to us. He was very feisty and gave a great show in trying to eat chunks of our bait. Once the Hammerhead tired of us, two small Bronze Whalers, about 1,5 meters, (Copper sharks) came up.  We always heard reports of fishermen seeing Bronze whalers at Cape Point, but we had never actually seen them here.

With the weather being so good, we went in search of our friends the following day again. The water temperature was warmer than usual. This can bring with it different species of ocean life. On our way out we came across flying fish and one such flying fish continued to fly at eye level to one of our guests on board for a good few meters. It was very comical to see and I think that this was the most impressive thing seen by the gentleman the whole day!

We drifted a good few hours again with no luck until we passed through a rapid change in water conditions. Two mako’s around 2 meters immediately showed up around our boat. 

Our guests were quick enough to gear up and get in the water with the sharks. It is a great feeling to see how touched people are when they experience being in the water with these sharks. I guess it is a very special experience for a person to be able to go on a boat for one day and see a Mako shark in its natural environment.

Being our off-season we thought we would make the most of our time and do a trip up our East coast. A friend of ours had told us of a small bay that seemed to be a nursery for hammerheads.

So, we towed our boat up and prayed for good weather! We were in luck as the weather was good and the sharks were excellent.

As we approached this Bay that we were told about, all we could see were the dorsal fins of sharks as they basked in the sun. As we got closer we were able to identify that they were Smooth hammerheads, and hundreds of them! Their sizes ranged from 60cm to 2 meters and we presume that is a nursery for young pups. The adults occur off shore in the region and the pups are known to form nurseries in shore. In fact they are also said to be found as close in as the surf line.

We found their behaviour to be very erratic. Of the four days that we spent with them, each day was different. On each particular day they were either very keen on the bait or they were not at all. In fact, they even behaved differently depending on where in the bay we sat. In one area we could see them all around us, but they would not come to our bait! We then moved further down and the sharks here showed slightly more interest.


By the last day we seemed to understand the best area and had an incredible dive with them.

The sea was very rough and we think this may have played a part in exciting them. Actually to say that they were excited was an understatement! They were around us like flies (not that we minded!) and we had to keep looking 180 degrees to fend them off. They were particularly interested in Chris’s yellow fins so he had some extra work to do there.

They showed quite a bit of threatened behaviour towards us as they would drop their pectoral fins and a few times we watched them as they would shake their “hammer” heads very fast from side to side.

Their hammer is a fascinating feature that distinguishes this shark from other families. In fact it is so strange and just plain weird that most of my time with these sharks was spent scrutinising this piece of apparatus. 

Hammerheads are said to be one of the most highly advanced of all sharks and the hammer is speculated to have two functions.

The first is to aid locomotion when chasing prey. The head serves as a bow plane that increases lift and manoeuvrability especially to make narrow turns when closing in on prey. One of their favourite prey items are stingrays and they also use the hammer to pin them to the ground.

The head is also said to enhance electro receptive, olfactory and visual perception as the sense organ is spread over a broader area.

So the hammer has some very fancy functions, but I can tell you that they are also magnificently beautiful sharks that command the same presence in the water as do all sharks.

We also spent some time in the water with bronze whalers which turned out to be rather tricky. We had no problem in getting them up to the boat, but as soon as we got into the water they darted off. We eventually decided to just wait in the water and for them to build up courage.

They became much more confidant after a while and we eventually had 16 of them around us! They are schooling sharks and we found that they would arrive together and then suddenly leave together.

Unfortunately both the species have been hit by severe over fishing, not only by commercials but also sport fishermen.

These sharks are not protected species and are not likely to become protected any time soon. 

I had a large number of responses regarding January shark bytes about the decreasing shark populations. Most responses were of complete surprise.  This really goes to show how important it is to educate people of this dire situation.

I read an interesting article in Shark Diver Magazine about shark fin soup.

The journalist asked an unsuspecting shopkeeper why people eat it even though it is not supposed to taste good.

The answer was that because it is so expensive it is a sign of status and wealth.

Isn’t it disappointing to hear that worldwide shark populations are being wiped out to satisfy human ego?

A small way in which people can start to help sharks is to choose not to frequent restaurants, shops etc that sell shark products. There are many alternatives to other choices of seafood that are fished in a responsible manner.

So, keep those “seafood watch cards” handy,


Until next month,


Best wishes


PS. If anyone would like to receive the seafood watch card please let me know.


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