Posted on Saturday, 31 October 2009
Dear Shark Lovers!
October is historically our least sharky month of the year but apart from a little bit of shark news I also have some other nature related news to share with you all.
Seasonality of Sharks
We are frequently asked by many people why seeing sharks at Seal Island is so seasonal. When working with nature is becomes clear very early on that animals never do anything without a good reason. We believe that feeding and what prey items are available play a very important role in where Great whites can be found and what dictates their movements.
False Bay has a fairly unique situation where different currents and water temperatures can be found in the the bay at different times of the year bringing various species with it. In summer the warmer water from the Agulas current travels down the African east coast and brings with it a whole variety of migratory fish and shark species. We believe that these species pose far less of a threat to the sharks and are most probably far easier to catch that the Cape fur seals who will defend themselves aggresively during an attack.
The seals that are hunted by the Great whites in winter thus become a stable prey item for the Great whites when the summer species have left False Bay and prey choices are slim. It also makes it a whole lot easier for us to find large numbers of Great white sharks in a small area at certain times of the year.
Unfortunately, as we are limited to working around Seal Island, it makes life very difficult when the sharks are more widely spread for us to find them and ultimately difficult to provide a high quality Great white shark experience over the summer months (September to March)!
Ironically we know exactly where to find the sharks in summer away from the island but due to the perceived threat of shark cage diving causing shark attacks by us attracting sharks using a 5 kg tuna bait we are not allowed to work in these areas. Working in the same areas are commercial fishing boats, shark fishermen and beach sport fishermen who amongst other species actually target great whites. There is no logic to it and sadly so many of you who wish to see and be educated about these these magnificent animals in summer are deprived of this privilege because of ignorance.
So, we have pretty much resigned ourselves to only operating over peak months at Seal Island to give our guests the best experience.
Sadly some recent images have surfaced on the Net showing a large Great White hanging on a gantry in Mossel bay being used as a prop for a film shoot. We have got many images from people saddened to see this magnificent creature turned into a bloodied mess. This is sadly just one example of many dozens of great whites that the Natal Sharks Board kill each year either through their nets or drumlines. We do not often ask people to sign petitions but one worth signing to stop this harvesting of "protected" great whites and others in South Africa would be www.removethenets.com
On a more pleasant note we also use these months off to immerse ourselves in other aspects of nature and certainly find ways to keep ourselves occupied.
Treknet Fishing in False Bay
Every summer Chris & I spend a large amount of time with the “treknet fishermen” along Muizenberg beach and help to release various sharks, rays and protected fish species that are caught in the fishermen’s nets. This is a very aged form of fishing. A small wooden boat is rowed out from the beach to beyond the backline and a net is deployed. The net is then pulled in manually by a team of fishermen on the beach. Obviously the use of the net means that everything in its path is caught and there is tremendous by-catch. The type of fish that they are hoping to catch also unfortunately attracts sharks such as Bronze whalers (copper sharks), ragged-tooth’s, smooth hounds, guitar sharks and sometimes even thresher sharks. Apart from the ragged-tooths none of these species are protected and the fishermen by rights are allowed to catch and kill them. Chris has voluntarily worked with these groups for many years and through education the fishermen are most of the time very happy to release all the sharks and rays. Occasionally though they do need reminding of this and when towards the end of September we heard reports of early catches and a number of bronze whalers being killed we renewed our efforts with conservation persuasion! We always find that by spending time at the nets and chatting to the guys they become very happy to continue releasing all the sharks and rays. It is an amazing project as most of these fishermen are well below the breadline and even though a shark carcass is worth a small amount of money they are happy to forego this.
Between the end of September and the middle of October we released about 5 bronze whalers, 1 small ragged tooth and a large number of blue sting rays, bull rays and some protected fish species. Poenas, who many of you know as the Skipper on White Pointer, has also put in a lot of time to helping with this and I know you will enjoy seeing some of the photographs of him with the Raggie.
Whenever the conditions are good for catching sharks close to shore (interestingly there are certain conditions!) Chris & I will be there to continue with this project. It is truly rewarding to directly contribute towards helping these individual animals.
Once the Great white depart Seal Island we turn our focus to our trips to dive with Mako and Blue sharks off Cape Point a trip we started offering in South African waters in 1999. The dreaded South Easterly wind, which is the notorious strong summer wind in Cape Town, has made it impossible to venture off Cape Point and into the open ocean to dive with these sharks. We have however been able to do 2 pelagic bird watching trips and numerous blue sharks were sighted just swimming on the surface. Needless to say we are itching to get out and to spend time with these magnificent sharks. Any locals in Cape Town who are interested in the Pelagic trip should drop us an email so that I can send you all the info. The Pelagic trip is made even more special by being one of only a very few spots in the world where you have an almost 90% chance of seeing these sharks on any given day as well as a huge variety of other wildlife. It is also a truly educational experience with Chris and Poenas using "signs" in the water much like a game ranger follows spoor to find the sharks.
Chris & I did actually do 1 exploratory trip on our own to Seal Island at the end of September just to make 100% sure that the Great whites had in fact departed, which I can now confirm! On this trip we spotted some dolphins in the distance and when we approached closer we found that they were a small pod of Humpback dolphins. This is only the fourth time we have seen them so it was exciting to get quite close to them. The family unit was a mixture of adults and some very small juveniles. Chris captured some ID shots so we emailed the Whale & Dolphin watching operation in Gansbaai. We thought to do this as they have a resident pod that they see frequently come across. Some exciting news came back that this was positively identified as the same pod. In False Bay they were actually a fair distance from their normal spot. It just shows how positive it is to stay in touch with others in the industry and being able to share information. It was also great to see how genuinely excited Dyer Island Cruises were with the False Bay sighting!
Etosha National Park
Zero sharks and gale-force winds provided a good reason for Chris & I to spend a couple of weeks in Namibia. I have to say that Namibia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and one of the few places where you can truly get back to basics and be away from the computer, TV and the phone etc. We try and visit Etosha National Park each year after shark season and we find that it truly re-charges our batteries.
When going on a safari holiday it is never our intention to just look for the big cats and the big 5 animals. Spending time in wild areas is all about embracing all that is on offer. Over the years we have become keen bird watchers and are now also very much into all the plant life and vegetation. But I have to tell you that we spent one very rewarding afternoon on the famous Etosha Pan. This is a giant salt pan that is about 60km long. It is one of the very few places in the world where you can close your eyes and find that the silence is deafening. And I truly mean that…it was such a bizarre but also wonderful feeling to experience and was one of the highlights of the trip for me.
We also experienced a dramatic 3 day period with intense hunting behaviour. October is normally the best month to visit Etosha as it is at the very end of the Dry season. Virtually no water in the veld means that all the animals have to come to the water holes for their daily drink. Lion prides and other predators make the most of this situation for hunting opportunities and will lie in ambush around the water holes waiting for their prey to drink.
For 2 days we watched a pride of 11 lions stake out a waterhole and over this period we saw 7 chases, none successful. We arrived at the waterhole at first light on the 3rd day not really expecting to see any action as we were sure that the lions must have killed over night. To our surprise 1 lioness remained and it was soon obvious that her sole intention, and need, was to successfully hunt that day. Over a 6 hour period she chased 4 times and again was not successful on any occasion. Twice she was so close to a springbok that she was a hairs length away from an ankle tap and once she actually grabbed hold of a zebra who manage to kick her off at the last moment.
For those of you that know me on the boat I always shout for the seals. I fully realise that predators need to eat but I really do not like to see animals die and especially to suffer. So, I started out this 3 day battle fully wanting to see a chase but not an actual kill. After all the misses and seeing how hard this lioness was working just in order to feed herself and her pride I was, in the end, desperate for her to succeed. It was a fascinating range of emotions for me to go through. Watching this real life and death situation repeat itself over and over was one of the most dramatic events I have seen and both Chris & I gained even more respect for both predator and prey.
Associated Press Lawsuit
Many of you will be aware that we have been fighting a 5 year long lawsuit against media giants Associated Press International and Naspers (South Africa) over the extensive copyright infringement of our most valuable breaching shark image that is well known worldwide.
We were due to go to court at the end of October after the case got "postponed due to technicalities" last year and amidst final preparations AP approached us with an out of court settlement. After weighing up the risk and cost involved in going to court as well as the stress it places you under we have accepted their offer which is a landmark image copyright settlement in South Africa.
We wanted to thank all of you that helped so much in informing us of the over 125 mis-uses that we managed to attribute to AP and also to the support so many of you showed to us. It was this support that really motivated us to hang in there and stand up for what was right.
In the future we would very much like to help other photographers with any advice on our experience. So many large corporations abuse the right of photographers and it is good to know that sometimes the little guys can win!
Chris's New Book - Great White
Chris’s brand new coffee table book is now available in stores across The USA, Canada, The UK, Germany & Austria (in German), Australia and New Zealand, and also on Amazon.com.
Great White features spectacular imagery of sharks taken over the last 10 years and also features strong essays on various experiences and shark behaviour, especially regarding the Great white sharks at Seal Island.
We hope that many of you will be able to purchase and the enjoy the book and we also hope that young people who read the book will be inspired to follow their passion in life.
Every so often we feel it is important to revamp the website and put up a fresh look. Most of the changes are complete so we hope that you will all enjoy browsing the new www.apexpredtors.com ! We hope that you will find the new website easy and informative to use and welcome any suggestions as to how to make it even better. We also have a lot of new product for sale online including new posters, postcards, key rings, magnets, rulers and gift packs as well as new shark tee shirts. Perhaps you will find some nice sharky Christmas presents to purchase!
So, that’s all our news. I look forward to sharing more shark experiences next month and we have some exciting filming projects coming up soon that should be interesting to discuss, that is of course if the wind allows us a few trips out to sea!