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Shark Bytes

March 2013 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Waves crashing into Kalk Bay Harbour.

Posted on Sunday, 31 March 2013

Dear Shark Lovers,

 

March has been a busy month with the return of the Great White Sharks to Seal Island, a very brave Short-tailed Devil Ray, a tragic event of stranded False Killer Whales on Noordhoek beach and a big storm at Kalk Bay Harbour.

 

Great White Sharks at Seal Island

After a long summer waiting for the Great Whites to return to Seal Island February and March have actually produced some really good shark sightings at the Island.

We started with some exploratory trips in early February and soon after that we were successfully running our first trips of the 2013 season.

These are early season trips so sightings would vary from 1 to 5 sharks per trip. As is often with nature some trips were quiet followed by a busy trip the following day, but on all trips all guests got good views of a great white shark.

There have been a few regularly seen sharks. Throughout February and March a 3.6 meter male has been visiting the boat. He is pretty feisty around the boat and as such the crew have nicknamed him “Al Capone”! He is a very exciting shark to see!

We have also had about 6 or 7 visits from a large 4 meter plus female. She is a beautiful shark with big white rosette blazes on both the left and right of her Dorsal Fin.

She is usually pretty slow moving and relaxed around the boat and will stay for extended periods. So, on these trips our guests have had great shark cage diving with the opportunity of seeing a really big female shark underwater, an impressive and fairly rare sight!

 

 

Scavenge Events

The start of the season always follows a general pattern in terms of the feeding behaviour of the Great white sharks.

They are not yet actively hunting the young cape fur seals. These seals are still too young to be leaving Seal Island to go and feed for themselves. They are still suckling their mother’s milk.

But, a different feeding opportunity is presented to the sharks and we think this is one of the reasons that we find a small number of Great white sharks at Seal Island at this time of the season.

There seems to be more sick and weak young seals this time of the year that drift off Seal Island. They do so off the Northern side of the Island as the prevailing Southerly winds wash them in this direction. Although these sick or already dead seals do not have a high fat content and thus do not give the sharks as much energy as a young healthy 6 month old seal, the sharks are using very little energy to predate on them. So, spending a small amount of energy for even a small reward is definitely worth their while.

We have observed and recorded a large amount of these scavenge events over both February and March, sometimes up to 8 in a morning and together with the data we have collected on this behaviour for the past decade or so since we first identified it we have been seen a very regular pattern of feeding behaviour. This is clearly based on seasonal opportunity developing in a very small quadrant of the island.

It is actually fascinating how localised the sharks are around Seal Island right now. We are only finding the sharks at the Northern side where as the Southern side, just 400 meters away, seems to be completely devoid of the presence of sharks. Just goes to show how focused the sharks are on what they are looking for and what they are wanting.

With regards to active predatory events (a shark chasing a live, healthy seal) there have been 2 events in March.

One took place nearly 2 miles from the Island. White Pointer was actually viewing a school of about 200 common dolphin at the time when 2 of our guests saw a shark do a full breach in pursuit of a seal … the seal got away after no follow up from the shark.

Also, one of our crew saw a full breach in the shallow area of the Seal Island channel whilst chasing a seal. Again, the seal got away, but slowly, slowly it seems the activity is starting to pick up.

On three or four occasions this month we have had the great pleasure of a visit at the boat from a very big Short-tailed Devil Ray.

A Very Brave Ray

On three or four occasions this month we have had the great pleasure of a visit at the boat from a very big Short-tailed Devil Ray. These rays are huge and can get up to 2 meters in diameter. It has obviously been attracted to the boat by the bait that we put out for the sharks and as such has also provided some unique cage views for our divers.

We think it is the same individual ray that has been visiting each time and interesting that the sharks pay no predatory interest in it at all. In fact they have pretty much ignored it on all occasions so we can only deduce that they can’t taste very good! The ray now goes by the name of “Raymond”, not to original I know! 

 

False Killer Whale Stranding Event

The chaotic stranding event of 55 False Killer whales on Long beach 4 years ago was fresh in my mind when we received an early morning phone call this past Sunday. 20 False Killer whales had been reported stranded on Noordhoek beach.

We immediately got our wetsuits and gear and raced for Noordhoek to see how we could help.

If you would like to read the full report please do so here.

 

Big Storm at Kalk Bay

Chris & I are definitely closet storm chases! Whilst bad weather means we have to cancel trips we do hope that when this happens the weather is bad enough to make it exciting if we have to be stuck on land! Chris spends a lot of time watching the weather and is good at predicting exciting and wild approaching storms by looking at wind and swell strength, direction and height as well as the intensity and length of the blow, state of the tides etc amongst other things.…

This past Easter weekend a big high pressure system approached Cape Town and with a big southerly swell and spring tide it looked like a Kalk Bay Harbour lashing was in the making. Chris always likens any possible storm to the last “biggie” of Easter 1993 and ironically this was Easter weekend 2003, 20 years later. It is very seldom that Spring tide, the right direction of a big swell and gale force S-SE winds all line up together but it looked good for this past weekend.

It can be hugely spectacular when all these elements come together. Big winds will build the swell further and as the waves crash against the harbour wall amazingly wild and exciting sights can be seen.

So, after watching the weather predictions for a few days Chris & I were really excited to see what Easter Saturday would bring. The sea did not disappoint as we watched nature at its wildest and dramatic best, with 80knot gusts being recorded at Cape Point with a 4.5m Southerly short period swell. (No boats were damaged in the storm). Although not nearly as spectacular in the end as the Easter ’93 storm it was still probably in the top 10 biggest in the past 20 years in terms of spectacular Kalk Bay harbour bashings.

 

 

The bad weather has however slowed down the shark activity the last few days but I am sure this will keep building again. Just today another mega pod of over 1000 dolphins has moved through the bay and coupled with fantastic activity in the Walker Bay area there appears to be a lot of bait fish around at present.

 

In April we will be doing the last of our Pelagic Shark trips for the summer and then most of the focus will be on the Great white sharks as well as the upcoming Sardine Run. If anyone is interested we still do have a few places left on both of our Sardine Run expeditions so don’t miss out on this truly spectacular event.

I look forward to sharing more of our experiences for you in April.

 

Until then,

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

Tags:

Marine Life, Great White Shark, Seal Island - False Bay

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