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Shark Bytes

April 2005 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Saturday, 30 April 2005

Hello Shark Lovers


Our main focus this month has been undertaking as many pelagic trips as possible. Last month I wrote about how many blue sharks we had been seeing with relatively few mako sharks. Our wait time for sharks was minimal, averaging around twenty minutes which is phenomenal for pelagic sharks. By the end of the day we were usually finishing with no less than ten blue sharks. This past month has been completely different. Our wait time reached normal levels of 90 minutes plus, and on most trips a mako shark was the first to appear. We were then waiting even longer for a blue shark and if we were lucky we were seeing two different blues on each trip. It just goes to show how much of a constantly changing environment the open ocean can be.


Before this change took place Cape Town experienced a severe storm. We normally get our rains from a Northerly wind, and only rarely does it rain when the wind comes from the South. This is called a Black Southeaster and on this occasion winds speeds of 50 knots plus were recorded as well flooding the result of tremendous rain. Chris & I had entertained ourselves by watching the waves pound a certain harbour in False Bay, called Kalk Bay. The wind was onshore here and the huge waves that were running into the harbour wall resulted in spectacular sights as thousands on litres of water were sprayed into the air and around the Lighthouse. One tourist was so enthralled that as he stood filming the waves buckets of water sprayed over him, and his camera. I guess he had not heard of saltwater damage!

After this storm passed the group of blue sharks that we were encountering in the deep moved on and a new size class of tuna, along with the mako sharks, moved in.


Throughout this pelagic shark season the visibility has been way down as well as the water being more of a green colour rather than the usual inky, velvet blue that we have grown accustomed to. This month the water has at least been showing signs of becoming blue and in fact on the last trip it seemed to be at the standards that we are used to. The result has been some fantastic dives and great encounters with mako sharks. In particular we witnessed some interesting behaviour. On one trip we had started the day off with a mako shark that would stay around the boat for ten minutes then leave for half an hour and then return again. After two hours a new, larger mako arrived that seemed to be more confidant and definitely more dominant. Despite this, a cheeky and rather small blue shark arrived and decided that the tuna bait must be consumed at all costs. While the mako was attempting to eat some tuna this very brave blue shark bit her on the pectoral fin, not once but twice! It did not do much to deter the mako but very much surprised us. We have observed that when there are at least 5 or more blue sharks around the boat mako’s seen very hesitant to come close to the bait, and if they do try and approach the blue sharks will muscle them out the way. In other parts of the world mako’s have been observed to be more dominant over blue sharks. Most of the mako’s that we encounter are between 80cm and 1,5 meters in length. Considering they can get to a maximum of 4 meters they are relatively young animals. Our thoughts are that these small mako’s are wary of the sheer numbers of blue sharks that are present in the same small space. 


On our next trip we had on board three Russian guests. 


After waiting for two hours a small blue shark arrived at our boat. Chris & two of the guests were enjoying their dive with this shark when a large female mako decided to pay us a visit. Usually when a new shark arrives it can be fairly excited as it has heard the struggling fish sounds that we use to attract sharks as well as can smell the bait in the water. We reckoned that this most beautiful mako was a little over 2 meters. She is the second largest mako that we have dived with and although she is only half a meter larger than the average size we see she was significantly more confidant and bolder.


The blue shark that was around the boat before was extremely wary of her and spent the rest of the afternoon at a consistently safe distance behind the mako at all times, quite the opposite to how we have observed mako’s and blues interact before.


While Chris was photographing her she showed incredible interest in his camera strobes. He took some really interesting close-ups that you can all have a look at on Photo’s of The Month. At the end of the trip the Russians said it had been the best experience of their lives seeing not only this incredible predator, but also a school of a thousand strong common dolphins that we came across on the way home. They were feeding on bait fish and in turn the Cape Gannet’s (birds) were feeding on the ball of fish that they were pushing to the surface. We turned the engines off and just listened to the dolphins’ movements as they exploded through the water and then the background noises as the gannets dived into the bait ball. As we looked around us there was just a huge mass of churned water, excited dolphins and falling birds…it was quite a sight…


On our last pelagic trip we headed out on a beautifully flat and calm day. Within 40 minutes of waiting for sharks an absolutely tiny mako of about 80cm arrived. Shortfin mako’s are between 60 and 70 centimeters at birth so this would mean that this shark was in its first or second year of life. About two years ago we dived with a mako of the same size and jokingly named it a “Fake-O”. Just like this one the shark we saw last Saturday was incredibly charismatic. She was whizzing around the back of the boat, showing great bursts of speed, as well as constantly putting her head out of the water and gaping at the motors. We have no idea as to why she might be doing this, and unfortunately within 10 minutes she had left the boat and we did not see her again. She did not show any interest in the tuna bait we had out. I suppose the fact that the bait was bigger than her had something to do with it. She would have most definitely been more accustomed to feeding on bait fish.


Most people want to see big sharks but I think that very small sharks have the same sort of appeal.


Exciting news about the great white sharks at Seal Island is that we visited the Island a few times and saw white sharks on each trip. Some of them have even been predating on seals and on one morning we observed and recorded four separate attacks. This is very high predatory activity for the so-called intermediate season and we even saw one magnificent breach. No matter how many times I see a breach I can never get my mind around how such an immensely large animal can propel itself so high out of the water. The roll of film is still in Chris’s camera but if it turns out OK I’ll put it up on Photo’s Of The Month.


I know I explain this every year but for those who have not heard this before the area where we work with the Great white sharks is an area around a small Island that is home to 60 000 cape fur seals. During the summer months in Cape Town, which is October to April it seems as if the white shark prefer to feed on the migratory fish species that come into false bay as well as the different shark species that follow the fish (bronze whalers, ragged-tooths, hammerheads, smooth-hound shark etc). The fish and sharks move around False Bay and we more often than not do not see any white sharks at Seal Island. In the winter month’s the water temperature in False Bay cools down dramatically to between 12 and 14 degrees (Celsius). This is too cold for the migratory fish and sharks and they migrate up the South African east coast. The white shark therefore only have the option to feed on the seals that are in False Bay and this is when we are able to observe the very unique predator/prey interaction that takes place at Seal Island. The water temperature is already cooling down and we are experiencing all the normal seasonal changes so it could be that some of the white sharks will be returning over the coming weeks.


As most of you know we not only photograph sharks we also specialise in taking small groups to observe sharks and try to pass on our knowledge of the area and shark behaviour. Our season is relatively short and we are usually fully booked months in advance. This year we have unfortunately had a few groups cancel at the last moment and now have a few weeks open. We would like to offer the opportunity to all Shark bytes Readers of a 20% discounted rate for the following dates:

5 June to 14 June

17 to 26 July

7 to 16 August


These are the peak months to view white sharks and a fantastic opportunity to all those who have expressed interest to us in visiting Seal Island one day. If anyone is interested please reply to this email and we will forward more information to you. 


We also have a new feature on our site where you can send free reality cards with our shark images to your friends. You just need to follow the link from our home page.


On Photo’s of the Month there are some new mako shark images of the large female that we dived with as well as some storm images and dolphins. Hope you enjoy!


Until next month…


Best wishes

Monique Fallows


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