Shark Bytes October 2019
Posted on Tuesday, 19 November 2019
Wow, it seems as though the last couple of months have screamed past me since my last update in July. In our latest news I will be updating you on the recent shark sightings along the Coast as well as sharing our experiences with the Atlantic Great white sharks in Cape Cod, USA. There is also a report back on our annual African Bush pilgrimage to Mana Pools in Zimbabwe.
At the very end please look out for info on the upcoming Run/Walk for Elephants charity event in New York on 16 November.
Shark Sightings, Cape Town and further up the coast
From the end of July the Sevengill sharks began returning back to Seal Island and a steady increase in numbers of sharks was seen well into October.
Chris & I joined one of our shark diving trips to Seal Island in early October, just after we had returned from Zimbabwe. We had no less than 10 different individual Sevengill sharks! After being away for two months it was great to not only be back on the ocean, but also to be reminded as to just how amazing these sharks are. I think what I love most about them is that they are so interactive around the boat and cage, and most stay for long periods of time.
For anyone wanting an intense and engrossing shark encounter, these guys really fit the bill. The animals we saw were between 1.8 meters and 2.5 meters in length as well as having a very stocky build. They were very large animals indeed. The water visibility was about 5 meters and clean green in colour, so whilst in the cage, the diving experience and underwater viewing was excellent. Topside the viewing was also very good and the sharks were almost constantly up at the surface.
Towards the end of October the sightings slowed down a little but we expect more and more Sevengill sharks to pull into Seal Island to coincide with the Cape fur seal pupping and breeding season. We think the opportunity to scavenge feed on afterbirth, dead pups and other dead seals is the main draw card at Seal Island.
In 2018 our Sevengill shark numbers peaked over the December and January period along with a good number of Copper sharks (bronze whaler sharks) also being seen. With the onset of summer, warmer water will begin to come into False Bay bringing with it normally good to very good water clarity. Perfect conditions for Shark Diving this summer!
As we approach November we are very much looking forward to observing the seal colony on Seal Island. November and December are the breeding and pupping months and the seal colony numbers can rise up to 90,000 strong. This is also the time of year to see the adult males setting up their harems and great behaviour can be witnessed as they fight for dominance.
In October we also did our first Cape Point Shark Trip after a couple of months. At about 15 miles out good water visibility was found (about 10 meters visibility) along with a very inquisitive Blue Shark that stayed around for most of the trip. Dusky dolphins were also seen en route. Again, as summer approaches we expect the numbers of Mako and Blue sharks off Cape Point to increase and we are looking forward to doing more of these trips too.
In Gansbaai a small number of Great white sharks are still being spotted which is fantastic news, and long may it last. High numbers of Copper sharks are also being seen here. There have been a number of trips where Great white sharks were not seen but this seems to be normal activity as we head into October, November and December. What’s interesting to hear is that when numbers of copper sharks are very high, it seems to keep the Great white sharks away from the shark cage diving boats and they behave in a pretty wary and skittish manner.
In Mossel Bay, good numbers of Great white sharks are still being seen and for those who are specifically wanting to see a Great white shark, we have been recommending our guests to this area. Historically, Great white sightings decrease when the operator here is restricted to working further along the coast and inshore over the peak holiday season. For those of you visiting Cape Town over December and January and are looking for a good quality shark interaction/experience, I would really recommend the Sevengill shark dive at Seal Island. We depart from Simon’s Town which is only 45 minutes from Cape Town. Additionally, we are just a few minutes from Boulders Beach Penguin Colony and 15 minutes from Cape of Good Hope. So, you are able to really maximise your day.
Atlantic Great white sharks, Cape Cod, USA
Chris & I had the great privilege of visiting The Atlantic White Shark Conservancy in Cape Cod back in August. This was to be our first experience with Great white sharks in the USA’s East Coast and even though our stay was fairly short, we got to see some incredible behaviour and many sightings of Great white sharks.
The full blog can be read here. An excerpt is below:
“ … Our day with the research team dawned with perfect weather meaning sunlight, no swell and flat seas. The modus operandi here is to make use of a spotter plane to spot for sharks and then to guide the research boat on to the shark. Bait may not be used to attract the sharks so the team has really had to come up with an ingenious way of working with them and we were amazed at how successful they have been with their tagging and ID work despite these working limitations.
The research boat has been modified to include a “Pulpit” that reaches over the bow of the boat and from here Greg is able to tag and also use an extended pole camera in order to obtain shark ID footage. Everything is done in a non-invasive fashion which to me is so important for the sharks.
As we headed out the inlet, Wayne, our eye in the sky, had already seen 4 sharks just outside the harbor area. Within no time we were onto our first shark of the day. It was extremely exciting for us to see that dark shadow beneath the ocean surface…our first Cape Cod shark!
After obtaining ID footage we were then directed onto the next animal. This time the hydrophone was able to tell us it was already a tagged animal and re-sight information was gathered.
As we moved further south towards Monamoy we picked up on an extremely interactive animal. He seemed to love the pole camera and spent a good 20 minutes with us right on the surface and just below, the view of him was really excellent. As he began to lose interest in us he proceeded directly to the shoreline and into very shallow water. A number of large grey seals were in the surf and these seemed to be of obvious interest to him. He definitely seemed to be in hunting mode.
His routine was to make a straight line for the beach and then edge towards the seals. As soon as it became too shallow he would do a very quick about turn. Our thinking was that perhaps a pectoral fin or other part of his body would touch sand and this would be the que to get back out to deeper water. He did this multiple times, going in and out, testing for the right seal. I guess an opportunity didn’t present itself or the seals were too large so we never saw an actual chase but the intent was certainly there.
It was an incredible piece of behavior to witness and heart-pounding stuff when the shark was in such shallow water. It is definitely the shallowest I have ever seen a Great white go.
Over the course of the day we had approximately 12 different sharks close to the boat, 2 of which were tagged and 5 were already tagged adding to the re-sight information. At one point the spotter plane radioed down that he had 9 different sharks visible at one time and further norther another pilot had another 10 different sharks visibly, making it 19 in total. Now that is a lot of sharks! Having said that this is probably the North Atlantic stronghold of the species and with perhaps less than a thousand sharks it still makes them extremely rare animals where every animal in the population is important. ...”
Mana Pools, Zimbabwe
I know that way too often if you try to contact Chris & I, you will receive a message saying we are away and offline! As you know, we love being out in the African Bush and being away from the hustle and bustle of city life. One of our very special places is Mana Pools National Park in Zimbabwe. This time round it was a tough trip. Most of Zimbabwe is suffering from severe drought and there were a lot of sad sights to be seen. However, there was still that very special magic of Mana…
The link to the full blog can be read here. Excerpt below:
“Unique Feeding Techniques
Each early dawn morning gave rise to a new opportunity as the elephants were plentiful as they desperately looked for food. Mana Pools is home to some very unique elephant feeding behaviour amongst the bulls. As the tree canopy gets higher from browsing only the tallest and most ingenious elephants will get to feed.
In the past we have spent many hours with the famous Boswell. This bull elephant has learnt to stand on his two back legs and thus gives himself a tremendous advantage in terms of being able to reach higher into the trees. There was only one other bull doing this, going by the name of Fred Astaire.
On this visit we counted in the region of 6 different bulls now standing on their hind legs. It appears that a desperate situation has led to the necessity of learning an extremely important survival skill.
There are also two other bull elephants engaging in some creative feeding techniques.
The Hyrax has learnt to climb trees with his front legs thereby getting extra height in this manner. I have to say, when you stand back and watch The Hyrax in action, it is a truly bizarre sight!
And then there is another elephant (name unknown!) that seeks out tall anthills situated next to acacia trees. He actually climbs to the top of the anthill thus giving him extra height in this manner. It really is an incredible sight.
Other elephants have cottoned on to these adaptive bulls and they are often followed and surrounded by other elephants, both bulls and females. These askaris are hoping to benefit from large tree branches that are pulled down. Often times they are able to sneak in to grab a few stray branches but it is risky business. A lot of subtle elephant politics is at play and other times pure anger and aggression can be displayed towards the thief. Boswell is perhaps the most susceptible to this and we never saw him without a large posse of followers. …”
Run/Walk for Elephants Charity Event
On 16 November a 10km Run/Walk for Elephants fundraising event will be held in Central Park, New York. An event will also be held in Harare on the same day.
All proceeds will go towards The Zambezi Elephant Fund (ZEF) that will help them with ongoing conservation operations in the Zambezi Valley in 2020. ZEF is doing incredible work here and we really hope that many of you will be able to support this very important fundraising event.
Apex Shark Expeditions has run specialty Great White Shark predation and breaching trips for over a decade. Many of the world’s most famous breaching shark images have been taken during these expeditions and our personalized and small group sizes offer our guests the ONLY photographic and natural history opportunity like this available in South Africa.
Our expeditions, by virtue of the fact that our groups are small, allow us to be extremely flexible and mobile in terms of where we position ourselves each year so as to maximize our likelihood to see and photograph this behavior.
This highly flexible expedition recipe has resulted in us getting some remarkable images in the past few seasons despite the unpredictability in exactly where and when the best Great White Shark activity can be expected.
There are only 2 spots available. Hurry! Book now
In early December we will be travelling to South Australia with Rodney Fox Expeditions and are extremely excited to hopefully see some Australian Great white sharks. I look forward to reporting back then…