Posted on Friday, 11 December 2015
Chris & I have been away for most of October and November so this latest Shark Bytes has more of the safari theme to it, and I hope that you will enjoy reading about our Wild Dog and Elephant encounters.
Before I get onto the wild dogs there is some ocean news ……….For the last 4 or 5 years there has been a very interesting coming together of large numbers of Humpback whales off the Atlantic Ocean of Cape Town. We are not sure why this aggregation occurs but it seems to be of a social nature.
Our Skipper, David was running a number of Sport-fishing charters off Hout Bay over our Seal island offseason period and he was coming across 80 Humpback whales altogether. Other boats were seeing as many as 200 congregated. It must surely have been an impressive sight! We were unfortunately away at the time but we hope to be able to witness this behaviour should it take place next year.
There have been a handful of Orca sightings in the last 6 weeks in the area stretching from Cape Agulhas to Cape Point. Marine Dynamics in Gansbaai had sightings two days in a row back in early November. It was a group of 2 orcas, both with rolled over dorsal fins.
A friend of ours had seen 2 orcas with rolled over dorsal fins at Cape Point in March this year. We compared the photographs and it appears that these were not the same animals. This is disconcerting news as we have learned from Dr Ingrid Visser that rolled over dorsal fins in wild orca are often as a result of injuries sustained, normally from bullet wounds.
The Orcas in our area are most often recorded offshore, feeding on tuna longlines, and we have heard confirmed reports of fishermen shooting them in order to chase them off. Our concern is that a number of injured orcas have been spotted in the last year so it must be happening on a frequent basis. We have been told that it is highly unlikely for an orca to survive these kinds of injuries.
White Pointer 2 was chartered for a Pelagic Bird watching trip at the end of October (also while we were away) and whilst spending time behind a fishing trawler watching birds, a pod of 5 orca popped up behind the boat. They disappeared shortly after this but it is always extremely exciting to see these animals.
A friend of ours also recently sighted a large male orca at Cape Town, dorsal fin standing proudly tall, so this was yet another individual. I must admit I was just a tiny bit jealous at having missed all these orca sightings!
False Bay News
As you all know it is offseason for Great White sharks at Seal Island. At this time of the year the sharks switch from feeding on young Cape Fur seals and move closer inshore where they are patrolling for larger gamefish and other species of sharks such as Soup Fin and Smooth Hound sharks. These sharks pose less of threat to the Great Whites compared to the seals, and their energy rich livers provide a very good meal.
We therefore expect to see high numbers of sharks in the inshore area this time of the year and the Shark Spotting programme in False Bay is normally at its busiest.
I have had a quick check on their website and have been surprised to see how low the sightings have been. Since the start of October they have a total of 8 sightings!
Could this be yet another El Nino effect?
El Nino events are measured by how much warmer the surface water temperatures are in a specific area of the equatorial Pacific, compared to the long-term average. It has been well publicised that we are currently experiencing the strongest El Nino since 1997 and in the Top 3 strongest in the last 50 years. The average water surface temperature in the equatorial Pacific looks as if it is heading towards 1 degree Celsius above average, and the last 5 year period as a whole will be the warmest on average.
Effects are being felt around the world but in Southern Africa this means much drier conditions. Many areas of South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe are facing severe drought conditions. If I bring this back to Great White sharks there is a tie in.
During our South African spring and summer we normally experience strong and persistent South East wind; in fact you should remember me often moaning about this dreadful wind!
This wind may be a dry weather wind for us on Cape Town but it does bring rain to the northern parts of our country. As a possible effect from El Nino we have had very little, and very light South Easters and thus very little rain up North.
It also serves to stimulate the summer eco system in False Bay. If you are interested in learning more about how the wind affects the eco system in False Bay please refer to February 2015 Shark Bytes.
So, in conclusion… has El Nino affected our South Easter and in turn affected inshore Great White shark conditions? These are just random thoughts rambling around in mind but I do wonder!
It’s a funny thing… when we’re on the ocean we crave the bush, and when we’re in the bush we crave the ocean! I guess our two great passions for the sea and the land are in constant competition with each other and this creates opportunity for many adventures!
So, this past October at the end of our 2015 shark season Chris & I got all our camping kit together and loaded our 4x4 for a month long trip to Zimbabwe. This was to be our third visit to Zim and would take us on a route of 8,500 kilometres as we drove the entire length of 3 countries’ national roads as well as many dusty gravel roads.
A few extracts are below but you can read the full blog here.
The next encounter is not a graphic event so it’s safe to keep reading!
It’s about a hunting event we witnessed that shows how incredibly efficiently the pack works together. It was late afternoon but this time instead of sitting with them we decided to wait ahead to try and anticipate where a chase may possibly take place. Chris was spot on with the area he chose to wait and as we trained our binoculars on the pack of dogs they slowly made their way towards us. They shortly broke away from one another as each dog selected its own area of bush to flush. There were a number of impala and this time around they were the prey target.
Some interesting information about impala is that they will never issue a warning call when they spot a wild dog, they just start running. They know that their warning call will alert the dogs to their presence and quite frankly the best defence is to run out of the area undetected. Whilst springbok “pronk” to evade their hunters, impala “hobby horse”. This method allows them to cover a large amount of ground in just a few paces as well as reaching an impressive height as they propel themselves forward.
The two dogs that were heading in our direction zoned in on 2 impala that were just in front of them and in no time at all, we witnessed the impala hobby horsing directly towards us, followed by the 2 dogs that were hurtling down the road just behind them.
My heart was pumping with adrenalin and this heightened my senses. The sound of the dogs running just 20 meters from us was akin to racehorses on a racetrack as they pounded past. In a blur all four disappeared into the bush.
A few minutes later we heard terrific trumpeting of an elephant and of course immediately went to investigate. The 2 dogs had just brought down one of the impala very close to an elephant mom and young calf. The female elephant had gone into protective mode and this was the source of the ear piercing noise. I was quite surprised to see that the dogs took little notice as they began to feed. The feeding consisted of only a few mouthfuls before pack mentality kicked in… the meal was to be shared.
The dogs broke off in 2 different directions in search of the others. The dog we followed came upon the pups and their baby sitters and on hearing the news that a kill had been made the pups went crazy with excitement. The reunited dogs gathered together in a tight circle, chittering together with tails wagging madly. If you haven’t spent time with wild dogs before you need to listen to a YouTube clip so that you can understand the level of excitement. Listen here.
The hunter then led these members to the kill site that was a few hundred meters down the road. The pups had just started to feed as the second hunter dog was returning. However, instead of continuing to feed, the pups and adults all broke away from the carcass to greet and welcome back the returning dog. It was such a joyous reunion and very touching to witness as they had only been away from one another for about 20 minutes; it looked as if it could have been a lifetime!
They then all returned to the kill to feed even though the full pack had not reunited (there were a few dogs still missing). By this stage it was getting close to the end of dusk and we needed to get back to camp. As we were preparing to leave we heard a contact call in the distance. (This is also well worth listening too – you can do so here). It’s a single sound that can travel at long distances and enables pack members to locate one another.
Upon hearing the contact call all the dogs leapt up and immediately left the area in search of the others, no doubt to bring them back to feed.
That late afternoon encounter was such a perfect display of how a pack works together to ensure each member’s wellbeing and survival and was a privilege to witness.
The Boswell Circus
If you have read my previous blogs on our Mana Pools visit you will have heard me describe the most interesting way in which Boswell stands on his back legs.
As the dry season reaches its peak in Mana Pools tree foliage is browsed higher and higher making competition for food steep. Boswell has learnt to obtain maximum height by standing on his back legs and reaching high up with his trunk. There is also a bull elephant named “The Hyrax” who climbs the front of a tree trunk in order to gain the added height advantage. We’ve never been able to see him do this but we have seen him climbing an anthill which was equally bizarre!
Although we spent more time with Boswell on this trip than previously, we didn’t see him do his “trick” quite as much. But the time spent with him allowed us to observe very interesting social behaviour. It was also extremely peaceful and tranquil just sitting watching him under the beautiful canopy of trees or down on the floodplain.
Because Boswell is able to reach leaves and branches that other elephants are not able to he has an entourage that follows him around. These hangers-on are hoping to prosper from his hauls and as we found out, some are welcome and others not. When Boswell brings down a particularly big branch a laud crack echoing through the bush will be the calling card for other elephants to come, and sometimes they come running!
Very subtle body language takes place on a constant basis. Sometimes you have to really be looking for it to be aware that it’s even happening. This can vary from a slight body posture to the left or right; a tiny flick of a trunk or a low grumble. Other times it’s not as subtle and can be as obvious as Boswell pushing an unwanted guest with his back leg. The groupies are very patient and try very hard to steal the spoils. This often leads to comical scenes of a large elephant standing stock still with just the tiniest part of its trunk inching towards a reachable branch on the ground. If it’s successful it will normally grab the branch and run off away from the others so that it can eat in peace and without politics.
Another interesting observation is that Boswell certainly seemed to favour some elephants over others. We would often see him with a much smaller bull with short tusks that could come in and take any branch it wanted at will. Boswell was also often accompanies by a beautiful bull with curved tusks and the two would browse peacefully together. The Hyrax on the other hand always seemed to be an outcast and would have to stand on its own, almost as if he was placed in the corner for bad behaviour.
On another occasion Boswell had brought down a very large fig tree trunk and the resultant noise had called in bull elephants from everywhere. This time no one was allowed to share until a mother and calf came storming in. Boswell must have been an admirer as she and her calf were allowed to pick off leaves at will. Some very interesting social interactions indeed.
Even though we are not operating Great White shark dives at Seal Island, trips are still operating out of Gansbaai.
Chris & I have a number of Charters booked in Gansbaai at the end of December and we are looking forward to seeing a Great White shark again!
Chris & I have the great privilege of heading down to Antarctica in a few days’ time. We are both extremely excited and cannot wait for our 12 days down on the Ice.
Hopefully there will be lots of news to report in December. Wishing you all a Fantastic Festive Season!
To read our last three Shark Bytes click on the links below:
September 2015 Shark Bytes
August 2015 Shark Bytes
July 2015 Shark Bytes