Shark Bytes March 2019
Posted on Thursday, 18 April 2019
I can scarcely believe the first quarter of 2019 is finished. It has been a great start to the year with some fantastic shark diving at Seal Island, an adventure to The Central Kalahari Game Reserve and a new shark destination visited, French Polynesia!
SEAL ISLAND, FALSE BAY NEWS
With the arrival of the Sevengill sharks to Seal Island we have had an extremely busy summer at Seal Island. So far we have had a 99% success rate with seeing sharks on our trips since September 2018 with the most number of Sevengills recorded on a trip being 22 different individuals. These kind of numbers have surpassed our greatest expectations and we are thrilled at being able to offer our guests such an exciting shark experience. For the most part the Sevengill sharks are highly interactive and spend long time periods around the boat and cage so both cage divers and surface viewers are getting very good views. On most trips we are seeing between 6 and 10 different sharks.
At the peak of our summer, in late December and January, we were even recording Bronze whaler sharks to our boat. These sharks are generally warmer water species and we were seeing them when we had temperatures above 19 degrees Celsius at Seal Island.
Another highlight has been observing the seal pupping season at Seal Island. This is when Seal Island is at its absolute capacity. The adult males arrive en mass from the offshore feeding grounds for the breeding season which takes place at roughly the same time as the pupping season when literally thousands of seal pups are born.
With the high presence of Sevengill sharks at Seal Island we were on the lookout for any possible predation events, especially on the tiny seal pups which one would think to be a very easy meal for a large shark such as a Sevengill. Although no surface predatory events were recorded we feel fairly certain that the Sevengill sharks would have been scavenging dead seal pups that would have sunk to the bottom of the sea bed.
An interesting observation was of a 1.9 m long Sevengill shark covered in deep scratches along its side. As this was not a sexually mature animal (according to its size) our thinking is that the scratches could have come from a seal, indicating a possible predatory attack by the Sevengill. Sevengill sharks are primarily known to be scavenge hunters and the only observation of a Sevengill catching and consuming a live seal came from our vessel last season. Our crew are constantly vigilant for any possible predatory behaviour especially since the arrival of Sevengill sharks en mass to Seal Island is new behaviour and we are extremely interested in observing what takes place with this change in predator species.
As the water temperatures begin to cool and we start to move into our autumn months in Cape Town we are starting to come across schools of Common Dolphin. At this time of the year large shoals of bait fish (mostly anchovy) come into False Bay and this bio mass serves to feed a large suite of predators ranging from Dolphins to whales to Cape Gannets and shear waters.
In the last 10 days or so, dolphin schools of up to 600 animals have been spotted on more than half of our shark trips. I love this time of the year as False Bay truly offers amazing opportunities to see a varied amount of mega fauna!
If the last 3 seasons are anything to go by we should start to expect the first returning Great white sharks to Seal Island in June. In the meantime we are very happy to have the Sevengill sharks keep us company at Seal Island!
THE CENTRAL KALAHARI GAME RESERVE
Although camping in Africa’s wild game reserve brings incredible adventure it is not always glamorous, and so Chris & I were reminded after a particularly challenging trip to the CKGR this past January. The rewards were great, if not hard worked for…
An excerpt is below and a link to the Full Blog is here.
“I have often written that one of my absolute highlights of being in the bush is just lying in our tent at night listening to the night bush sounds. Jackals howl, hyena’s cackle, gecko’s bark and lions roar! You don’t need to see them, one’s heightened senses brings them close in your mind’s eye.
We had a pretty quiet time of sounds at night on this trip but our second to last night was to prove the highlight. At around 11AM a lone lioness could be heard calling a long way off and she had obviously attracted the attention of her male counterpart who was in our neck of the woods. For the next 2 hours we monitored his movements as he seemed to approach closer and closer to our campsite.
At about 1AM he stopped about 100 meters away from our tent where he proceeded with a long and drawn out roaring session in his efforts to locate her.
It’s hard to imagine that living in this high tech world of 2019, that one can be in a little tent in a very wild and remote place and be able to feel and experience almost exactly what humans that existed tens of thousands of years ago would have felt.
The piercing lion roar rips so loudly and clearly through the still night air and reverberates into the ground so that you can feel the vibrations pulsing up at you (especially when your mattress has gone flat!).
In that moment, when you know he is so close, your breath catches in your throat, it goes completely dry and you dare not draw breath so that you can better listen for the following roar. Will he be closer this time or not?
Sweat starts to pool down your back as you dare not move in case a rustle of the sheets attracts his attention…
Its raw and real adrenalin reacting to ones most basic instinct for survival… I do sometimes feel it’s good to be reminded of our own vulnerability and that we are not the most important beings on the planet, there are many other beings out there that deserve our respect.”
French Polynesia with its idyllic beaches, beautiful clear blue and warm water along with sharks thrown in the mix has been a dream destination for Chris & I for many years. When Chris was invited to return as a Special Interest Speaker aboard Crystal Symphony it provided an incredible opportunity to visit this part of the world.
Tahiti is exactly half way around the world when travelling from Cape Town but the long journey did not deter us from going for a snorkel immediately upon arrival!
My first and lasting impression of French Polynesia is that its intense natural beauty lives up to all expectations, and more.
The hugely impressive volcanic islands of Moorea and Bora Bora rise up from the deep ocean floor and are covered in dense tropical forest. Lagoons with impossibly turquoise blue waters lie calm and protected in even gale force winds and palm tree clad beaches complete the picture perfect scene.
And, there are plenty of sharks here……
Did I also mention that the water temperature is 29 degrees Celsius (85 Fahrenheit)!!! Even on a 2 hour long snorkel a wet suit was not required.
French Polynesia is simply Heaven on Earth.
All shark species are protected in French Polynesia and snorkelling with Black tip sharks is a major draw card for visiting tourists. In fact there is an overwhelming feeling that the French Polynesians are extremely proud of their sharks and the very close and intimate experience one can have with them.
Throughout the day dozens of black tip sharks and sting rays can be found on a very shallow sand bar. In waist deep water people of just about any in-water skill level can snorkel with both of these special animals. Both the sharks and rays are unashamedly fed and it is quite acceptable to have dozens of tourists flopping around in the water surrounded by sharks and rays. Not only does this provide a fantastically unique marine experience it also brings in substantial income to the various islands in French Polynesia.
For a more private experience our dive guide took us just off the outer reef and within minutes we were surrounded by up to 20 different Black tip sharks. The water was as blue as I have ever seen it and water visibility was up to 50 meters, it was just incredible and these small sharks themselves can only be described as perfect and exquisite!
Before leaving Moorea we also had a very good dive with Lemon sharks (Negaprion acutidens), sighting a total of 8 different sharks on one dive. Two of the sharks were resident to Moorea and were well-known to our dive guide. Out of interest I asked how many lemon sharks were resident and the answer was 12. That is a very small number and one needs to consider if the sharks were not protected these sharks would be gone in less than a week. Therein lies the value in protecting sharks as once they are fished from an area, there are none to very few coming in to take their place.
During our two day stay in Bora Bora we decided to hire a kayak on both days and paddle out to areas that were not commercial snorkelling areas. The colour of the reef and the giant clams were sparklingly iridescent. In fact it was as if a young child was given free reign with a box of colour crayons and was told to go wild! The equally colourful and bright reef fish set off the scene even more. It’s hard to imagine if you have not seen it yourself that a world so beautiful can exists just beneath the surface.
The reef was also in excellent condition and as we had paddled out to areas where no one generally goes it was even more pristine.
The highlight was finding ourselves in some extremely skinny water just at the reef’s edge. At times small swells and breaking waves meant we had to duck underneath and hold on until the frothy water had passed. When the froth cleared we were amazed to see a number of black tip reef shark pups cruising just in front of us. There’s nothing quite like seeing a free swimming shark unexpectantly.
With the water so warm we stayed in for literally hours and it was with very heavy hearts that we had to sail onwards and leave behind magnificent French Polynesia.
(I do apologise for not having any underwater images to share….this was a trip with no underwater cameras and just a time to relax and enjoy! Much needed sometimes!)
Until next month!