Posted on Tuesday, 24 February 2015
The two February 2015 expeditions marked the 14th year that these expeditions have been run by Apex and once again the key feature of this trip was to find as many different species of sharks as possible whilst still also enjoying any other marine life encountered along the way.
The first 10 day expedition was with Dr Alessandro de Maddalena who hosts various expeditions with Apex each year. Alessandro’s focus is not only on offering guests incredible interactions with sharks, that Apex provides, but also giving lectures after each day’s sea outing that educate guests on all aspects of shark biology and behavior.
After doing an absolutely fantastic pelagic shark dive off Cape Point where we saw no less than 25 blue sharks and one of the biggest mako sharks we have seen in the past few years several members of the group also did a seven gill cow shark dive that provided many great photographic opportunities.
We then departed Cape Town and headed east to the Southern Cape coast where we stayed as always at the Mudlark lodge which provided many sumptuous dinners.
After a safety briefing, lecture and stowing of large amounts of camera gear we boarded Apex’s 28ft roving expedition vessel White Pointer 1.
We headed out of the river and through the at times treacherous sand bar and started to scope out our preferred shark dive sites. Visibility was ok at 6-7 m but not yet perfect. On our first day we saw many smooth hammerheads as well as a few small bronze whalers and one curious ragged tooth.
With the approach of westerly winds the water started cleaning up and the following days provided clear water and guests had incredible dives on our secret 3m deep reef with numerous very curious ragged tooth sharks. On day four we were greeted with a yellowfin tuna and bronze whaler bait ball that whilst spectacular lasted only a few minutes but got everybody quite excited, especially as visibility was around 15m+. Once again we dived with the numerous ragged tooths and had a few visits from the local spotted gulley sharks and smaller endemic species.
On our final diving day we went further into the west and encountered good bait ball activity, this time with sardines and around 300 or so common dolphin and even a hungry Brydes whale. For a five day expedition it was amazing what we managed to see in a relatively short space of time whilst at sea and the weather was fantastic.
Of special interest this year was the more regular presence of extremely large Zambezi (bull) sharks in the river. This is probably due to the fact that fantastic catches of spotted grunter have been made and also due to the degradation of so many of South Africa’s other estuaries that the sharks no longer enter.
Where we stay is the location of a lot of research that was conducted by the S.A Shark Conservancy who did a tremendous amount to get these sharks protected. This was a very good move as sadly several fishermen we spoke to wanted to kill these magnificent animals as they were stealing the spotted grunter that the fishermen were catching on light tackle for sport. I really hope that in time to come people will realize what a privilege it is to have these sharks in the river, the importance they play in an eco-system and the fact that these sharks are here because it is a healthy system.
We started our second expedition a day after Alessandro’s group departed. As with the first group we had a few familiar faces in the second group and it is always great when guests return.
On day one we headed out in choppy conditions and were lucky to get two hammerheads that were very keen to approach our vessel and several guests got some lovely Go Pro footage from the boat.
For the following five days we really had a very mixed bag of weather and wind and unfortunately the water visibility deteriorated as a result. When we did get to sea we saw ragged tooth sharks, many hammerheads (up to 50 on our last day) as well as bronze whalers and a spotted gulley shark.
On the weather affected days guests enjoyed excursions to nearby De Hoop nature reserve, a local wine farm and also Africa’s largest olive farm. En route we encountered a puff adder that we all got great pictures of and also helped it out of the road and to safer ground.
Every evening two guests also joined us on our evening fishing trips and most were rewarded with great views of the Zambezi shark as they attempted to steal the fish we were catching. Amazingly whilst many people collect bait, kite board and enjoy the river through many other recreational pursuits these Zambezi sharks pay them no attention.
We did also see a large 2.7m Zambezi hooked and landed by a fishermen who then tagged the shark. We attended the landing of the shark and were relieved to hear that the fishermen had no intention of killing it, trust me we would have intervened had they wanted to.
Sadly it was gut hooked, never great for any shark and this can certainly be life threatening but on the plus side it did swim away strongly and was landed and released within 15 minutes. I am sure that this angler had no intention to hurt the shark but it is important for people to realize that it is illegal to catch or attempt to catch these animals in the Breede River and there is a massive fine if convicted. Legalities aside it was amazing to see just how truly magnificent this shark was when you could look at it in detail. It was the first time I had ever had a look at a Zambezi out of the water and I was so in awe of its tremendous bulk when compared to other Carcharinid’s.
After six days in the Southern Cape we headed back to Cape Town and focused on seeing as many local sharks as we could. Whilst it is certainly not peak great white shark season we had a couple of great days. One trip brought four great white sharks, two of which were very interactive. We also had two groups of roughly 300-400 common dolphin both feeding on bait fish.
Another trip saw more fantastic dolphin sightings and a total of five great white sharks, most being interactive around the boat.
Guests also enjoyed a good dive with the seven gill cow sharks where over twenty encounters were had as well as many sightings of some of the smaller species.
One of the great surprises on the trip was an extremely windy day that kept us off the water. Our very enthusiastic guests decided to try a sheltered spot to look for the beautiful array of small cat shark species found that can be found in our area. The water visibility was terrible at best but as the dive was so shallow we all very easily had great views of the many striped catsharks in the kelp forest. They were joined by a few puff adder shy sharks and a brown shy shark. Whilst we were all enjoying these smaller species a large dark shape rolled in… It was a huge and magnificent short tailed devil ray! These rays are approximately 2.5 meters wide and we got to enjoy a total of three different rays during the dive. They were completely unfazed by our presence and we could often at times duck down and glide along with them.
All in all both trips were successful with most species seen being a first for the guests. The first expedition saw a total of nine shark species and the second group has seen eight species so far.
In conjunction with the sharks seen we saw three dolphin species, bryde’s whales, two different types of bait balls and those who had an interest in Africa’s land animals got to see a great selection of wildlife in the parks and neighboring areas we visited on any weather affected days.
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To read our 2014 Sharks of Southern Africa trip report click here.