May 2017 Shark Bytes
Posted on Monday, 26 June 2017
MAY 2017 SHARK BYTES
Dear Shark Lovers,
I wouldn’t say the sharks are back with a bang at Seal Island but I am thrilled to report that we are starting to see a slow trickle of great white sharks returning back to Seal Island for the 2017 False Bay season.
There are a lot of other interesting sightings and behaviour to report back on including the incredible news of Orcas predating on Great white sharks in Gansbaai; Sardine Run trip report from East London; mega pods of common dolphin in False Bay; Pilot Whales and fascinating species interaction off Cape Point and news on our winter visit to Svalbard in The Arctic.
GREAT WHITE SHARKS AT SEAL ISLAND
Not since 2003 have we had such a late start to our season at Seal Island and since we are used to our season starting in February the last few years it has left us pondering as to what is happening. Back in mid-April we did have a single sighting of a great white up at our boat but we have had to wait another month before the sightings became more regular.
Between the April sighting and the next May sighting we had a surprise visit from a couple of seven gill cow sharks coming up to the bait. These cow sharks were our first ever records at Seal Island but as exciting as this was it did seem to say that there were no great white sharks in the area if these guys were comfortable enough to show themselves.
On 10 May we arrived pre-dawn at Seal Island to witness 2 predatory events taking place at the same time, irrefutable proof that at least 2 great white sharks were in the area. Despite this sighting we still had to wait another 10 days for the next sighting. This was of a nearly 4 meter male that was an interactive shark around the boat and I hope you can appreciate the excitement of both guests and crew of finally getting such a great look at a shark!
From this point onwards we have seen sharks on most trips including this male shark on regular occasions. The numbers are not high but at this point just to see a shark is certainly something to be happy about. We are however finding that the sharks are not very interactive and sightings are fairly brief. Guests are at least getting a look at a great white shark and with good water visibility of 8 to 10 meters the cage divers are also getting brief glimpses.
I say that “guests are at least getting a look at a shark” because Gansbaai operators are also experiencing very lean shark times. I will talk about the Gansbaai situation a little later on in this Shark Bytes edition but it certainly has been very strange times indeed.
PREDATORY EVENTS AND INTRESTING SEAL BEHAVIOR
There have been predatory events on a lot of the morning trips and this is perhaps where guests are getting their best sightings of the Great whites. Considering how hard these are to see at any great white shark location in the world these events really have been a highlight.
The Seal behaviour over the last few months has been very interesting. In the absence of the sharks the seals have been displaying typical summer behaviour (ie when the sharks are not at Seal Island) in that they are spread out everywhere in the shallow waters around the Island as well as in the deep water areas. With no threat of sharks they have been incredibly relaxed. I did take some pleasure in the fact that at least the seals were experiencing a stress free time!
However, when the first few predatory events took place it was almost as if the seals were taken by complete surprise.
In no time at all the seal behavior changed completely and they have now reverted back to normal winter behavior. This is staying very close to the Island in the shallow areas, departing in fast and well-formed groups and taking extra precautions when returning home by diving deep and swimming along the bottom as soon as their breath hold will get them back to the safety of the launch pad.
I find it absolutely fascinating how fine the balance is in nature. Take one ingredient out and so many things change. This says to me more and more how vital conservation of an entire eco system is for the survival of any species in that system.
OTHER WILDLIFE IN FALSE BAY
With these uncertain times we have been advising our guests as to the shark situation and many have opted to take the chance of going out. At the end of the day no one is going to see a shark whilst sitting on land so why not enjoy a beautiful day out on the water.
False Bay has been alive with other wildlife and the highlights have been awesome sightings of large schools of common dolphin including a 2 week period with encounters of an absolutely spectacular mega pod consisting of about 2000 individuals.
There has also been a flush of a number of early arrival Southern Right Whales and on a couple of our trips we have even observed a number of the whales feeding which is uncommon to see in our waters. Traditionally the Southern Rights spend their time feeding down in the Antarctic waters and the shallow bays of our South African coast are normally utilised for giving birth to calves as well as breeding.
A number of Humpback whales have also been encountered and along with huge rafts of seals feeding throughout the Bay there really has been a huge amount of other impressive wildlife to enjoy.
I have to say that although most people have understandably been disappointed to not have seen a shark everyone has really appreciated the wildlife they did experience.
I think when we are faced with these kind of situations it is always a great reminder that we will never be able to control nature and sometimes we just have to accept what is, and make the most of what we have and we still do truly have a huge amount on offer in False Bay.
We have gotten very used to and expectant that in a half day trip we will see a Great white shark. The reality is that these sharks are incredibly rare and they live in what is for us as humans an extremely challenging and changing environment. We have to understand that we will not always get what we want!
I have been very impressed with all our guests that despite the situation they really have made the most of all the different wildlife we have seen and that a great time has still been had.
ORCA PREDATION ON GREAT WHITE SHARKS, GANSBAAI
We are often asked who is the greater predator between an Orca and a Great white shark. Well, sadly, I think we now have the answer.
In early May and over the space of just a few days a total of 3 dead great whites washed ashore near to Gansbaai. In each dissection scientists led by Alison Towner were able to confirm that all 3 sharks died as a result of an orca attack with the nutrient rich organs of liver and hearts having been removed.
The result was a mass exodus of virtually all of the great whites in the Gansbaai area.
They have been missing for almost a month now with only a few brief sightings here and there. As in False Bay the sharks that are coming up to the boats have not been interactive and have been extremely skittish.
This has been an extremely interesting situation to have occurred and as such I have written a thoughtful blog on how we believe these events, the False Bay situation and the individual orcas involved all tie together. Blog link: Orca Predation on Great White Sharks
FROM THE BLOG
There have been so many interesting happenings and sightings that there has been much inspiration to write a number of blogs! I hope you will enjoy reading them…
Apex Sardine Run: Week 1
A hugely successful first week on The Sardine Run at East London got underway on 22 May. The first day brought about an epic “shark baitball” with large Dusky sharks, bronze whaler sharks and a few black tip sharks were the participants.
Interspecies relationships off Cape Point: Pilot Whales and White Chin Petrels
Chris & I are out off Cape Point whenever the weather allows. We are encountering various exciting cetacean species on most trips and the more time we spend with them the more we are starting to become aware of the intricate relationships that exist between species.
Here Chris talks about the relationship between Pilot whales and white chin petrels (an open ocean sea bird).
A Winter Arctic Adventure with Polar Bears!
It has been a life’s dream for me to see a polar bear in the flesh. This past March we had the privilege of spending 10 days down in The Arctic. Just experiencing the Arctic in winter was an unexpected highlight…and then there were Polar Bears!
We are in the midst of a very serious drought in Cape Town so it has been a little difficult to celebrate the completely abnormally amazing weather we have had the past month. At the end of May we were still experiencing wind free days and temperatures in the mid to high twenty’s (Celsius). As this month’s Shark Bytes goes out Cape Town is being hit by a severely strong low pressure system. Winds of 50 knots plus and swells of 12 meters are lashing our coastline. And finally the rain has begun to fall…
But perhaps just as importantly for us we are hoping that the strong winds and swells are giving False Bay a huge shake up. Will this bring about the change we need? And after the storm will the sharks will be back in full force? We can only hope!
Until next month,