August 2017 Shark Bytes
Posted on Wednesday, 13 September 2017
I’m afraid I am going to cut right to the chase and let you all know that momentum definitely did not keep building at Seal Island in August as we had hoped it would. In fact the opposite has occurred and sadly the False Bay Great white shark cage diving season has come to an abrupt and very early end.
However, this doesn’t mean we’ve been idle and with a lot of flexibility and change of plans we still managed to make August a fantastic shark month.
SEAL ISLAND, FALSE BAY
Although we were seeing great whites in July the numbers of different sharks were very low and not our normal size class of shark. In early August we began to worry that the same 5 sharks we were seeing may soon depart the Island, and then what?
After working at Seal Island for the past 2 decades we have well documented the fact that each shark will hunt at Seal Island for a few days/weeks but when they depart a new batch of sharks will invariably replace them.
The 2017 season has been completely different to any other season we have had but we still expected, and hoped, that a new batch of sharks would be coming to Seal Island as they normally would at some point. This did not happen and when the 5 sharks we were seeing became 3, then 1, we knew the end of the season was close. By early August we were down to zero meaning an at best 2 month season for 2017. When communicating the situation to our clients some elected to still go out as even if we do not see great whites the huge variety of other marine wildlife in False Bay is very special and we still hoped that a few more sharks would find their way to Seal Island.
Our season is normally 8 months in length so it really leaves us wondering what on earth has happened this year. There are many theories being thrown around but from our side we well know how unpredictable nature, and especially Great white sharks can be. We also know that season to season things can be very different and we don’t feel we should be jumping to too many conclusions just yet. It certainly is human nature to want to have a reason for everything but sometimes things are just cyclical and we could just have had a weird downturn in Seal Island shark visitors.
In 2018 we could easily find that everything swings back to “normal” again. I guess we should be asking ourselves the question “What is normal?” in this day and age! As such we are planning for 2018 to be a normal season.
SEVEN GILL COW SHARKS AT SEAL ISLAND AND OTHER WILDLIFE SIGHTINGS
It always amazes me how when something changes it leaves a gap open for something else. In the absence of the Great whites we have had some surprise visitors to our bait and the boat and you may be as surprised as we were when I tell you it was Seven gill cow sharks!
On most of our trips from mid-August we have had a number for cow sharks coming up to the boat and sometimes up to 3 different sharks on a trip. They don’t stay around for long periods like the great whites do but many of our guests have been able to view them from the cage and have still been very excited to have a great view of these prehistoric looking sharks.
We have also seen a number of very large short-tailed devil rays that have also been coming up to the baits. A little surprising too as this is a species we normally see during the late summer months at Seal Island.
False Bay has also been very fruitful in terms of other marine wildlife. Good numbers of Southern Right whales have been spotted along with a few humpback whales and a few medium sized common dolphin schools.
All in all False Bay is still certainly delivering from a natural history point of view. We just hope that our Great white sharks come back to this Wildlife Eden soon.
After a 6 week absence of the Great whites in the Gansbaai area a slow return of a few sharks from about mid-August began to trickle back in. The theory, which we believe is the correct one, is the flight response after a number of Orca predations on Great white sharks here. In case you missed this news you can read about it in more detail here.
Gansbaai shark diving has also felt the brunt of a lot of bad weather and big swell which has made it difficult to get out to sea so it has also been very trying times for everyone there.
Although the shark activity is definitely not fireworks, and I believe the odd trip with no sharks is still happening, I am relieved that at least some sharks are being sighted. If the orcas stay away and don’t cause any more problems we would expect that the numbers of sharks will keep building and hopefully return to normal soon.
With the Seal Island and Gansbaai woes, Mossel Bay has definitely been the star of the show this winter! It seems as though in this period of time there has been a bit of an eastward shift in the great white sharks over the past few months as Mossel Bay is having terrific sightings.
As a general rule Mossel Bay normally sees small great white sharks but of late they are recording all size classes of sharks.
Mossel Bay also records predatory events of Great white sharks on cape fur seals but normally on a much smaller scale to Seal Island.
The whole set up here is completely different. For starters the seal colony is much smaller being 4,000 compared to 65,000 at Seal Island. The topography around the island here is also totally different to Seal Island and there doesn’t seem to be a definite path the seals travel in and out from in large numbers.
With the problems in False Bay we decided to change plans and move to Mossel Bay with a number of groups and expeditions we had booked with us in August. We have a great working relationship with the operator here and with their hospitality we ended up having some fantastic trips and some great photographic opportunities. As a result our second Natural Predation Specialty Expedition and The Great White Trail Expedition were great successes.
Mossel Bay being a different area provided different photographic opportunities. Seal Island, Mossel Bay is extremely close to the shoreline and only 800m from the beach. Tall blocks of apartments and houses provide a different backdrop and really show how close a super predator such as the Great white shark can co-exists with humans.
An observation that stood out quite dramatically was that some of the predations we saw seemed to be far more brutal than the gentlemanly kills we see at Seal Island. The biggest difference was of course the size of seals the sharks were predating on. At Seal Island there is most definitely a preference for the young of the year seals. But here in Mossel Bay it seems as if any size seal will do, sub adults included.
One of the highlights from our numerous trips in Mossel Bay was the timing of our trip with a low pressure system and the resulting big swell. The direction of the swell was perfect for the open ocean swell to come directly into the bay and on a direct path to slam into the seal colony. One afternoon we sat watching in amazement as some of the waves appeared to wash over the entire Island. It was for sure a tough day for the seals and many of them left the sanctuary of the island and hauled out for the day on the shore.
The following morning the Island was spectacular with giant waves battering the Island with the seals dotted amongst the spray. We couldn’t tear ourselves away and spent the whole morning photographing this wild weather… not even the great white sharks could tempt us away!
In closing Chris & I would like to thank our amazing office staff and crew who still ran excellent trips over what has been a very tough season. We also want to thank all our guests who really understood that nature can be unpredictable and made the most of all the sightings we had. We understand that for many of you it’s a life dream to see a great white shark and that it’s a privilege for all of us at Apex to give people this opportunity and we thank you for this.
In a few weeks’ time Chris & I will be departing for a month in South Georgia where we are sure an epic adventure awaits! As such there won’t be a September Shark Bytes but we’ll be back for October. And don’t forget that Great white shark trips are still possible to book through Apex in Gansbaai and Mossel Bay year round.