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Shark Bytes

September 2006 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Saturday, 30 September 2006

Dear Shark Lovers!

 

This is going to be a short newsletter as I do not have a lot of sharky news to pass on.

 

At the very end of August Chris & I hosted our annual Etosha National Park trip in Namibia. This was my first time back to the Park in 2 years and needless to say it was fantastic to be back in a place that holds a very special spot in my heart.

 

Not only did we have excellent sightings over the 10 days we also had a very enthusiastic and fun group. Along with all the antelope and such we saw over 100 different bird species, lions, elephants along with the two major highlights being a leopard sighting next to the road and a horned adder (snake). Not to mention breathtaking red ball sunrises and sunsets!

 

When we returned to Cape Town on September 10th we found that the shark activity at Seal Island had dropped dramatically. Whilst we were away Rob still had a few good trips seeing both predatory activity and sharks around the boat. On the first trip we undertook after returning from Etosha we actually had a good morning and saw four predatory events. Luckily for ourselves and our guests on board we got to see the sharks very well at each encounter including a three minute chase where the seal eventually eluded the shark. In another interesting event we saw a small white shark attack and mortally wound a fully grown cow seal. Unfortunately for the seal she was not killed out right and the shark was very wary of coming back for the death blow. For 45 minutes the shark circled the seal where after it mercifully ended it.

 

We did a trip the following day as well but this time round we failed to see a shark. Although we did not see the sharks we still observed interesting behavior.  We found a whole carcass of a fully grown cow seal that had died due to injuries sustained by a white shark. We have no idea why the shark did not actually consume the carcass. We then radioed the research vessel that was at the Island to let them know what we found. Ironically they had found the same thing, although the carcass they had was only half a full grown seal. We also noticed on the Island that there were two other large seals with white shark bites.

 

It seems as though the sharks have surprised us again and we have no idea why they would suddenly attack larger seals even though we observed large numbers of young seals returning to the Island at the same time.

 

We are well into spring now and as the waters in False Bay warm up we are sure that the sightings of sharks inshore will increase again, especially as we are no longer seeing white sharks at Seal Island.

 

Looking back on the season I have to conclude that is was a very different season to years gone by.

 

We had excellent sightings of sharks up at the boat during May and June. July was unusually quiet and in the middle of the month we recorded very low predatory activity and battled to get sharks up to the boat. August had a good mixture of predatory sightings as well as good sharks up at the boat. I did feel though that season didn’t really get going this year as it had done in the past 3 years. We often felt that all the conditions perfect for white shark hunting behavior on the seals would build and build and then just before it got going we would experience bad weather that seemed to disrupt the whole process. 

 

 

This does say to me that even after working with these animals for years and years we still know very little about them.

 

There were undoubtedly 3 star sharks for me this season. Two of our well known sharks, February and Linford were just spectacular. They had both grown into very large sharks (4,2 and 4,3 meters) and were very interactive around the boat. Usually large sharks don’t tend to stay around for long periods but we had more than a handful of good sightings with these two. The third shark is a shark that we came to know only this year and that was “Stoute”. We have a very good feeling that the larger sharks probably do not frequent Seal Island as much as the teenage sharks due to changes in their diet. So, it is good for us to know that we will hopefully recognize these new youngsters next year.

 

There are unfortunately a few favorites that we did not see this year. One of these is a large male we named “Wonky Tail” (no guesses why!). We had seen him frequently in years gone by on successful seal kills because he was so easy to identify.

 

I also have to regretfully pass on the news that for the first time since 1997 we did not have a sighting of an extraordinary shark, the famous “Rasta”. People probably think that I am crazy to say this about an individual shark; but I love this shark! I truly believe that she is one of the great animals that are presently roaming our planet and it has been such a privilege to have had so many interactions with her. When we saw her last year we estimated her to be well over 4,4 meters (14 feet) and deep down we did not expect to see her this year. As mentioned we stop seeing large sharks at Seal Island as they probably enter a different phase in their life which takes them to different places and where their focus is probably reproduction and a change in their diet.

 

I do believe she is still alive, although our paths may not cross again…

 

In closing I would like to make mention of the tragic passing of Steve Irwin. 

 

Although he had crazy ways of doing so, he reached thousands of children and adults alike. He had tremendous passion for wildlife and conservation and it is a great loss to the environment that such a charismatic person in no longer here to pass on his knowledge and enthusiasm. May he rest in peace…

 

Now that the white shark season is over for 2006 we are getting final preparations together for our next adventure. This next voyage will take us to a remote atoll in the middle of the Mozambique Channel and of course our focus will be sharks!

 

We will be away for 6 weeks so I will write our next posting at the end of November.

 

There are no sharks on Photo’s of the Month but we have put up a selection from Etosha. Hope you enjoy.

 

Until then,

 

Best wishes

Monique Fallows

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