September 2012 Shark Bytes
Posted on Sunday, 30 September 2012
Typically September is a very quiet shark month and bearing in mind we had a very slow period in May and early June we could be forgiven for expecting that we might be in for another dip in sightings.
Well good news for us is that sightings have been excellent for virtually all of the month and we even had a fantastic breach on the 25th which is about as late as we can remember ever seeing this behavior at the island. On many days during the month we had between 6-10 sharks and activity around the boat was very good. What was surprising was the fact that the natural predation activity was surprisingly low based on the numbers of sharks at the island. In most years the late season means poor sightings of sharks around the boat but good numbers of natural predation which typically tail off by mid September by which time the sharks have moved inshore. September 2012 was exactly the opposite!
Of interest this September has been the fact that we have had very little SE wind which is usually the bane of our lives. These onshore winds stimulate near shore activity by creating productive feeding conditions for smaller bait fish which in turn attract bigger fish and smaller shark species and then ultimately attract the great whites themselves. This same pattern repeats itself all along the South African coast line where white sharks occur around seal colonies.
This September also saw unusually high bait fish activity close to the island which attracted a predatory fish to the area which is locally known as a snoek Thrysites atun (very barracuda looking), these fish were being caught by the thousands by many commercial line fishing boats and being so close to the island the sharks were no doubt also snacking on these roughly 3 feet long fish. The result of this is that I think the sharks stayed around seal island a little longer than normal as they had both fish and seals in abundant supply very close together. The other interesting thing was the shark behavior around our boat. Anyone who has been on our boat will know that we never purposefully feed the sharks and pride ourselves on loosing very few baits to them. It is easier for us to keep our fish away from the sharks than the fishermen who are not expecting them to be under their boats. As such the sharks manage to steal a fair amount of fish from the commercial fishing boats.
What this meant is that the sharks that were visiting our boat were more keen than usual to get the snoek we were using as bait and as such were rushing the bait handlers at the back of the boat to the point where it was unsettling as they would do rapid vertical lunges and not stop until right next to the boat. The guests thought it was great but for us a little bit too much energy from a very big predator.
Other wildlife also teemed within the bay whilst the snoek and bait fish was plentiful and we had a week of excellent dolphin activity with some of the schools numbering over 2000 dolphins, an amazing sight to behold. We had a few great encounters with humpback whales as well as good numbers of Brydes whales.
One not so good thing was that we noticed an abnormal amount of seals on Seal Island with netting on them which they get entangled in and if not freed suffer a slow and painful end. Fortunately almost all of these were freed of netting.
During September we had several great days with some familiar sharks, the most noticeable and regular of these visitors was a shark we call Deux Rossi. At 3.4 m (roughly 11ft) she is not a noticeably large shark BUT she has a massive personality. She recklessly charges at baits doing spectacular half breaches and lunges and pity the bait handler who does not have his or her wits about them. She has two large white patches that we refer to as rosettes on both sides of her dorsal fin and as such is very easy to identify when she makes her appearance at our boat. She has been around Seal Island since July but has been seen very regularly in September.
It was then fitting that when Chris and I decided to take the boat out alone on Chris’s 40th birthday on the 21st and just spend time together doing what we love so much, just being with nature, that the first and only shark that paid us a visit was none other than the shark of the season Deux Rossi. Chris and I laughed and giggled at each other as we took turns to be terrified on the bait line as this master bait thief put us through our paces. There could not have been a better way for us to have celebrated Chris’s milestone.