Posted on Saturday, 30 November 2013
Dear Shark Lovers,
I am reminded every year about this time why it is a good idea to stay very far away from Cape Town as right now I am completely over this wind that has been blowing a gale for the past month!
Despite the wind we have still managed a few adventures and some time with various shark species…
Views of False Bay From Above
In the last two weeks of November we were shooting bits and pieces for a new Discovery Channel show. This gave us an opportunity to fly along the inshore waters of False Bay with the intention of surveying the number of Great white sharks close to shore.
We needed flat, clear water conditions for this and fortunately we had 1 day like this during the shoot. It was overcast but the sea was very flat and water visibility was unusually clear.
Chris & I took off from the Waterfront and in 10 minutes we were along the coast.
The first observation was an incredible amount of shoals of fish just behind the surfline and a little deeper off shore.
These shoals were made up of mullet and anchovy. Small pockets of fish were traveling all the way down from Muizenberg to Macassar. This is the start of the food chain and these shoals of fish are here amongst other things to feed on algal blooms that are stimulated by the strong south easterly winds. I guess I have to reluctantly admit that the wind is important for this very reason!
The bait fish then attract various species of predatory fish and other species of sharks, and eventually the Great white sharks who have a particular taste for these summer species of sharks that frequent False Bay.
A surprising sighting was that of about 40 to 50 huge short-tailed devil rays (Dasiatis brevicaudata) that were moving close too and amongst the shoals of mullet the whole way down the coast. We assume that they must be feeding on the baitfish as well.
We also spotted a large sunfish in Fish Hoek Bay and a small group of bottlenose dolphin just off Strandfontein.
With the good conditions it did not take too long to find the first Great White shark and in a short space of time we had spotted a total of four sharks, two of which were swimming very close together. They seemed to have a particular interest in a very small area that appeared to be just a very clean patch of water. We could not work out what they were doing but it kept the larger of the two animals in this small area for a good 10 minutes. Our chopper pilot was able to take us much lower in order to have a good look at the shark. It was larger than 4 meters and of a sizable girth. It was actually very curious with the prop wash that the chopper was throwing on the water and the shark came right up to the surface and just lazily held itself in position under the chopper.
It’s been just under two months since we last saw a Great White shark so we were very excited to see this shark from a different angle!
What was also of great interest is that we had four separate sightings of hammerhed sharks. One of these sightings was directly above an old wreck off the long sandy beach that recent large seas have uncovered and for the first time we were able to get a good look at this wreck as well. The hammerheads were presumably either small smooth or scalloped hammerehads and were 1.2-1.4m long.
Our next stop with the film crew was to work in the inshore areas off Gansbaai. We had a battle with the weather here as well and had to really make the most of the conditions when we had flat conditions. As often happens, all the shots were achieved in the one day that we had passable filming conditions.
In days gone by False Bay was always known to be the spot frequented by the largest Great white sharks in South Africa. In the last couple of seasons the operators in Gansbaai have also been sighting big female and male sharks.
During our four days stay in Gansbaai we were graced with the presence of a 4.4 meter female and an unidentified 4.8 +meter shark.
The 4.4 meter female was a satellite tagged shark that was tagged in Struisbaai in May 2012. The researchers were able to tell us that she had recently swam all the way to the southern part of Madagascar, before arriving to the Gansbaai area just a few days before. She really was an incredible shark with great behaviour around the boat. She was fairly slow swimming and relaxed so she was great for filming purposes. Sadly though the tag damage to her dorsal fin was to say the least very upsetting with the fin now starting to become deformed in several areas.
The other very large shark gave us a very quick look but it was enough to tell that this was an extremely large shark, possibly the biggest shark we have seen the entire year.
It came up in our slick on a decoy, displaying its huge dorsal fin which was so large it looked like a small sail! We were so hoping that it would come up to the boat to give us a better view. After a short wait it rose behind the boat and we got one very good look at an incredible animal. We conservatively estimated the shark to be about 4.8 meters long. The shark was also very broad around the gills which always makes them look even bigger than what they may be.
Unfortunately it just came up to the bait that one time, but wow, what a sight!
We have spent a number of mornings at Sunrise and Strandfontein Beach helping the teknet fishing crews here to release sharks, rays and protected fish species that they may catch in their nets.
For those of you who don’t know this type of fishing involves rowing a boat out to sea and dropping a net as they go. The fishing crew then needs to manually pull the net back onto the beach by pulling on both sides. It is a traditional form of fishing that has taken place for generations but one which unfortunately has a very high rate of by catch.
They are targeting species such as mullet, kabeljou, elf etc but often various species of sharks and rays are also caught.
The sharks are typically bronze whaler sharks but on occasion ragged-tooth, common thresher and smooth hound sharks are also caught.
Except for the Ragged-tooth sharks, all the other species are not protected in South Africa and it would be legal for the fishermen to kill and sell them. However, Chris has been working with these crews since the mid 80’s and by understanding the importance of apex predators in the food chain, they choose to release the sharks and rays unharmed.
They have caught a number of large bronze whaler sharks this month, all successfully released…
Talks by Chris This Month
Chris is doing a couple of talks this coming month.
If you keen to attend any of the evenings you can find more info below:
30 Nov and 1 Dec: Canon SA expo, JHB: http://www.csaexpo.co.za/expo-presentations.html
5 December: Old Mutual Sub Aqua Club: http://www.omsac.co.za/event/orca-supreme-predator/
12 December: Wavescape Slide Night: http://www.wavescapefilmfestival.co.za/slide-night/
Hope to see some of you there!
Chris & I will be visiting Antarctica this coming Festive season so I am sure we will have a great report back for you all in January.
Before we depart on 18 December we are hoping to sneak in a few Pelagic trips to dive with the mako and blue sharks. Poenas will still be running trips while we are away so take advantage of the best time of year for these trips!