Dear Shark Lovers,
This edition of Shark Bytes is going to be a condensed version of September and October as Chris & I departed Cape Town in the last week of September for a month long trip to Namibia.
I have to try and scratch my brain now to remember what we saw in September! The Namibia trip is still fresh though so for those of you are interested in hearing about our safari can read below and link back to our blogs.
The Last Month of the Season
September can often be a tough month where shark sightings can go either way and we often have bad weather to contend with.
In years gone by the sharks would mostly have departed by the middle of the month, sometimes earlier but in the last two seasons there has definitely been a shift whereby last season we were still seeing them up to 10 October and this season they were in good numbers right to the end of September.
There has also been a shift at the beginning of the season where we have had good numbers of sharks a full two months earlier than usual. The reasons are not clear but we are hoping that it is not to do with the dwindling inshore populations of soupfin and smooth hound sharks due to commercial fishing. These prey species make up the bulk of the great white shark’s summer diet and it would make sense that if pickings are slim they would hang around Seal Island for other options.
Another slight change we have picked up on is the decrease of predatory events in September, again in the last 2 years. In past seasons we would really struggle to get the sharks up to the boat even though we would be seeing a fairly high amount of predatory events.
This season, and again last season, the predatory events were on the decrease, with at best a couple of events each morning. But, strangely, we were still seeing good numbers of sharks up at the boat. These patterns are certainly very hard to understand but I feel sure that the sharks know exactly what is going on!
I have been promising to write a special note about Deux Rossi, a very special female shark we have been privileged to see this season and last. There are a number of things that make her special.
The first is her length of time that she spends at Seal Island. Most sharks use Seal Island as a feeding station spending 3-5 days here on average. Even though a young seal can sustain a shark for up to 1 month they appear to be feeding as often as they can and whenever they have the opportunity. They will then leave Seal Island and other sharks will move in.
Deux Rossi is different… in 2011 she stayed a full three months and again this season she stayed with us for 3.5 months whereby we recorded her at White Pointer each day.
Her behaviour is also very different in that she will circle below the boat for most of the day and only approaches on very deep passes. When she does approach the bait she is normally very sneaky and comes up with high speed. Then she does the most surprising thing… all other sharks will actively try to take the bait, but when Deux Rossi approaches with that high speed she merely bumps the bait with her mouth closed, not even trying to take the bait. This bizarre and unusual shark behaviour has us completely flummoxed. Initially we were thinking that she had an injury to her jaw because she never seemed to open her month but after many hours of scrutiny we could see no obvious problem. We now almost want to settle on the fact that she could be playing with us.
This is obviously a huge statement to make about a shark but whether it is true or not it certainly makes our hearts on White Pointer very warm indeed!
Just about every guest who came out with us in the peak season got to see Deux Rossi so she now has very big fan club especially since she is such a magic shark to dive with, and everyone loves her story.
Her timings were very similar to the 2011 season so June 2014 will certainly see us on the lookout for her. A big thank you to Deux Rossi for being one of the highlights of 2013. Safe Travels and until 2014 …
The End of the Season
As already mentioned the shark activity around the boat was very good for September.
The last trip that Chris & I did was on 23 September and we had a total of six sharks in less than two hours. Right up to this point the shark numbers for good and they were staying around the boat with good interactions.
During the last week of September Apex hosted Dr Alessandro De Maddalena's 13th Expedition to Seal Island. The group had good numbers of sharks right to the end of the month, albeit with limited natural predation activity.
The crew was set to keep running trips into October when the dreaded South Easterly winds began to blow. This wind is an absolute curse for us. It creates a very unpleasant sea, dirties the water and often has a negative impact on shark behavior.
So, it literally blew us off the water and so ended a fantastic 2013 Great White shark season in False Bay!
Whales and Dolphins
September is peak season for the Southern Right Whales along the South African coast. The Southern Rights migrate from Antarctica each year to give birth and mate in the shallow bays. False Bay is one of the bays that they use. As such we normally have a great chance of seeing them on the way to Seal Island and also on our way back to Simons Town.
September was fantastic and we had sightings on most trips.
The humpback whales were also in abundance making it the busiest year we can remember for them in False Bay.
We had one unique encounter with them where they completely surrounded the boat and gave an awesome spy hopping display for over an hour. It was a phenomenal encounter which seemed to leave a greater impression on the guests than the sharks did!
We also came across a few small schools of common dolphins which were great, not having seen them too often since late May.
As we head into our low season at Seal Island and the great white sharks return inshore to feed on their summer prey species our Great white shark trips sadly come to an end.
But, if you still want to have a good chance of seeing and diving with Great White sharks this summer Gansbaai is a great option for seeing sharks close to shore in their area. Let us know if you wish to book.
Off the Sea and Into the Bush
When our great white shark season comes to an end Chris & I almost immediately head off on safari to spend time in the bush, our other great love in life!
This year we chose to spend a month in Namibia.
We spent the first two weeks in Etosha National Park and the last two weeks in Kaokaland.
Below are two excerpts but if you’d like to read the full trips reports please view our blogs here:
Etosha National Park
Honey badgers are certainly one of our favourite animals. They have huge character which is portrayed by their macho gait and they willingness to take on lions! You don’t see them too often but we have spent time with fairly habituated honey badgers that have made their home at Halali Restcamp.
We were expecting to see them here but were not so much expecting the 4 separate sightings we had of different individuals in the bush whilst out on game drives.
We think this was mostly due to how dry the bush was, making it easier to see them and also making all wildlife more concentrated in certain areas.
You can see on Chris images how huge their claws are. These images were taken as we watched them foraging and digging for food which could have ranged from scorpions to mice.
Our other sightings came from in the restcamp. These guys were more bold than ever. Normally they would come out after everyone has gone to bed and previously we would lie in our tent listening to them tipping over all the rubbish bins.
This time round they would start their campsite foraging early evening and were sometimes still present just as the sun was coming up the next morning.
But, the best experiences was of watching them playing on two difference occasions.
One evening we were making our way up to the waterhole when we came across two young male honey badgers playing in the pathway.
We watched them for over 20 minutes are they growled and cavorted and chased each other down the path. Occasionally if the one honey badger managed to get out of its brother’s grasp it would turn and chase towards those of us that were watching them. They were not being aggressive in any way to us, but they certainly wanted to play…. Those claws were a little intimidating though!
On our last night in Halali we again came across 4 honey badgers on the path leading up to the waterhole. These 4 were also having a huge playfight and we followed them as they ran down the path together towards the campsite.
Once they arrived in camp they immediately dived into a make-shift honey- badger- swimming- pool! This was of course a leaking water pipe that had spilled into a depression in the ground. The honey badgers were diving in and out and splashing about, it was a magic and heart-warming sight. Once the swim was over they raced into one of cleaners’ storeroom and continued “the game”. Only once they had completely tired each other out did they even think to start roaming the camp in search of food!
Even though these were habituated animals seeing them and spending time with them was one of the highlights of our month-long trip!
A Magical Experience: The Desert Elephants
As it got later in the day the small elephant herd climbed up the river bank and walked into the mountainous habitat that surrounds the river bed. Chris is very good at anticipating animal movement and behaviour and he felt there was a small chance they would walk around the base of the mountain and then across a magnificent desert plain.
In order to get a good view we drove around the back of the mountain and then climbed up a small koppie (small rocky outcrop) and waited.
They are naturally wary of anything different so we had to wedge ourselves between the rocks and remain completely still. As we looked at the beautiful sight below us we hoped like crazy that the elephants would walk this path.
After waiting an hour and half we could not believe it when the first elephant came slowly around the corner. They stopped perhaps only 40 meters below us and continued to feed for the next hour or so completely unaware of our presence.
Once they had finished they proceeded to walk across the dramatic desert plain that we were so hoping they would do!
We could not imagine that we would have another experience to top that but just as we were driving off we spotted the lone bull as he too was about to walk up the valley gorge.
The light was only getting better as Chris climbed up another koppie and spent a magical 20 minutes watching him from above.
Wow, wow, wow … I think it will take a lot to beat this truly special experience we were privileged to have with these desert elephants...
So, that’s all our news from the past two months.
Dates for all our 2014 Expeditions have been finalised so we hope that you will be keen to join us and the sharks next year. Check out all the info here.
Until next month