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Shark Bytes

Adapt or Die Corona

written by Chris Fallows

Two Great White sharks l Apex Shark Expeditions

Posted on Monday, 11 May 2020

All of us are currently facing uncertainties about what the future may hold after the Coronavirus pandemic in 2020. Perhaps more so than ever, it is a time to draw inspiration from nature. When you consider the reality of it, nature has been facing their own unknown fate and lockdown since the first human footfall altered their respective niches centuries ago.


If nothing else, Nature has taught us Resilience and adaptability. 


I’d like to share with you a few examples of what we have seen over the past three decades of working with sharks and other wildlife and what we can learn in terms of adapting, surviving, and coming out stronger.

Most of us have a bit more time to read during the Covid-19 lockdown, so I welcome you, and invite you to share this with your followers too.

The environment is interdependent on each species so in order to survive we need to look after all the components. The Great whites kill the seals, the scraps and left overs feed the birds and so it goes.

The Cape fur seals at Seal Island in False Bay are THE most stressed seals in the world. I am not joking, we did the research and it’s a fact.

So how do these animals react to a daily onslaught from the oceans most famous predator?

They adapt. They leave the island in well organized groups. Meaning, they choose their social partners carefully. They are constantly alert and use herd dilution strategies to detect and confuse approaching sharks.

The seals have also learnt that the cloak of darkness provides cover and for the bulk of the population the onset of nightfall is when they leave the island in mass as they know what’s difficult by day in terms of isolating a single prey item, within a jostling group is infinitely more difficult at night.

Some seals have also learnt how to turn the tables on the sharks themselves and over the years we have seen seals feeding on at least five different species of sharks. On case in point that graphically illustrated this adaptability was a sub adult Cape fur seal that I watched catch kill and consume the livers and stomachs of at least 5 blue sharks in a short space of time. Here was a seal that clearly knew which sharks he would be a meal for and which were a meal for him.


When one leaves..........

In the Great Whites hiatus from Seal Island another apex predator has moved into the area in the larger sharks’ absence. The dinosaur like seven gill sharks have now filled this niche and instead of actively hunting the fast and agile seals, they simply scavenge and feed on the sick or dead. Like an undertaker they know that with 64 000 seals on the island, opportunity is never far away.


Orca & False Bay

Up until 2009 we had never seen an orca in False Bay and then with the incredible mega pods of dolphin that had appeared so much more frequently at around the same time, we suddenly saw orcas, seven different pods in fact!

What was special about these orcas was that they were dolphin specialists and now with this bountiful supply of dolphins, they had a new hunting area in False Bay where they could ply their trade. By the end of 2016 dolphin numbers were down and suddenly the orcas that we had seen for the past 7 years disappeared.


Huge Yellowfin Tuna

More recently in December 2019, incredibly for the first time in four decades we had large yellowfin tuna inside Simonstown bay. Perfect wind conditions pushed warm offshore water and bait fish deep into this bay and quickly these predators moved with it. For just two days the yellowfin tuna made the most of these optimal conditions. If you weren’t 40 years or older you would never have seen this before, simply amazing.


A Wild dog, a Hyena & Two Jackals 


Moving a little further afield, perhaps one of the greatest examples I ever witnessed of adaption and working together with unlikely partners was the incredibly bizarre hunting party made up of a single female wild dog, two jackals and a hyena that I witnessed on several occasions at Botswana’s Mombo camp. It was humbling, enthralling and magical, all at once. It was perhaps the best case I had ever seen of if we put our differences aside, we can get along and be successful. Kind of like seeing Donald Trump, Kim Jong Un, and Vladimir Putin all going singing together in the rain!


Nature Bounces Back

In just the past few weeks of global lockdowns and social distancing, where once heaving tourist destinations are now quiet, nature has already seized the moment.

Will this last? No, probably not.


But, what has been raised is the global consciousness of the impact we are as humans are having on Planet Earth, and the positive effects changing our behavior does and can have. More and more we are seeing people deriving pleasure from seeing nature bounce back.

This new wave of nature centric appreciation is taking place in a time where we ourselves are for once feeling these same vulnerabilities that animals do, and this may well translate into changing habits.

It is indeed hopeful that in these trying times, those that can adapt to the challenges we now face in terms of economic and personal survival, will be greatly rewarded by a far greater percentage of the world seeking to find new ways to connect and see nature in the future.

Better still, with empirical evidence of how cleaner living, green energy and changed lifestyles can lead to a far healthier Planet, an experiment that would never have been possible had it not been forced upon us by Covid -19, may just be what the world needed to stimulate changing bad habits and making us more conscious of creating good ones.

Further reading on scientific findings and observations on sharks and what we have learnt from them visit: Conservation  and for some light and inspiring wildlife stories from our interactions around the world.




apex shark expeditions, Chris Fallows, Conservation, False Bay, fish, Great White Shark, Marine Life

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