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Shark Bytes

August 2002 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Saturday, 31 August 2002

In July 2000 we experienced an event that we believe few people in the world have ever witnessed. A whale carcass had drifted into False Bay and after some persuasion from our side the authorities decided to tow the carcass to Seal Island to let the sharks consume it. This was something we had only ever dreamed of and for it to happened during the height of the shark season was even more unbelievable. The blubber on the 10-ton Brydes whale was to last a mere 16 hours as up to 28 different white sharks feasted on this energy rich buffet. The sharks were never happier as were the seals that were no longer on the menu.


The chances of this happening again seemed pretty remote, but on the 15th of this month we got a call that a whale carcass was drifting close to shore. We immeadiatly raced over (although I must admit that I had my doubts that it could actually be the real deal). Not only did we arrive to a Southern Right whale carcass, but the Navy had already secured a towrope and was leaving to tow the carcass to Seal Island. We could not believe our luck for this to happen twice in two years. Even luckier, was Dr Rocky Strong who was also present for the last carcass!


By the time the carcass arrived at the Island a large amount of sea-birds had gathered around and when we were closer we found them to be Northern Giant Petrels, pelagic birds that very rarely come into the Bay. This led us to believe that the carcass had drifted into the Bay from the open ocean and the birds had followed. Sadly, it appeared that the whale had been a victim of a boat strike.


We weren’t quite sure what to expect this time as the sharks had been very slow in the last few days and we didn’t believe there to be many sharks in the area. While being towed to the Island a very nice and rather strong smelling chum-slick that leeched out of it, creating somewhat of a super-highway for sharks to follow to their free meal.


On the first afternoon we observed roughly 15 different white sharks feeding. These seem to have been the sharks that were already in the area as we had been seeing them the last few days. I am glad to report that Black/white/black was among them as at the last whale carcass.


As dusk faded into night we very unwillingly left for home. The sharks were still feeding very actively, taking 50 pound chunks at one time and vigorously shaking and thrashing in the water in an attempt to remove the blubber chunks. Our expectations were not high as to what the following morning would hold. In 2000 almost two thirds of the whale had already been consumed and all the blubber was gone. But, when we arrived on the second morning this time there was still a very large amount of whale left and only a small dent was evident.


Day 2 differed from Day 1 in that a couple much larger sharks had found the whale and had begun feeding. Most sharks were in the 4m + size range. At least 2 were larger than 4.5 meters and one shark was roughly 5 meters, the largest shark I had ever seen. A couple of our locals also turned up including “Two Chinks”, “Donga Head” and “Chris Stals”. What was interesting was that the normally very strict hierarchy system seemed to break down. The sharks seemed to have no problem feeding simultaneously next to one another. Even occasionally touching each other seemed to have no adverse effect. There was also much interest in the boat and on many occasions the sharks would mouth the dive-step and the motors. These same behavioral situations happened in 2000.


The sharks continued to feed throughout the day, but towards late afternoon the sharks were over-fed and extremely satiated. But, it seemed as though the idea of such a grand meal was to attractive and as full as they were they still continued to ramp up the whale and feebly attempt a few mouth-fulls! It was very comical to watch these sharks, who are usually so in control of their environment, acting almost like little kids who had broken into the cookie jar. They just seemed so out of control as they bumped around with virtually no purpose or speed.


By day 3 the carcass still had a good bit of meat on it and we arrived to the most spectacular site of all as a 5,5-meter female was taking her meal. I thought I was very privileged to see the 5 meter shark the day before, but this Lady of the Sea was something else who commanded a presence like nothing I had seen before. As our boat drifted away from the carcass she followed and made 8 glorious passes around the boat, so close we could have touched her!

On the first afternoon we observed roughly 15 different white sharks feeding.

Not only was she very lengthy, but her girth just put her into another league. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought her a baby whale, although none of her shark like gracefulness was lost. What an extremely precious and beautiful animal we are privileged to have roaming our oceans.


Despite her presence, other sharks continued to feed including “Notch Fin”. (At 4 meters he was one of the smaller sharks about.)


Although the sharks were making good progress on the whale it was only on day 6 that the carcass,to our surprise, actually sunk. Perhaps one fifth only remained. When the sharks came to inspect us most of them had white fat-stains on their noses from feeding on the submerged carcass. This left us to mentally visualize the sharks as they burrowed into the carcass to extract tiny morsels of whale meat.


In the six days we saw roughly 35 different sharks feeding and a good 15 of these over 4 meters.


What differed from 2000 was the veracity of feeding. In 2000 more sharks gathered over a shorter period causing the most amazing scenes such as 2 sharks feeding belly-up, pectoral fins touching; one shark actually continued to feed as another accidentally bite his head leaving 2 teeth behind!


What didn’t change was the size of the sharks, all much larger than we ever normally see. This is good news for the species that there are these sexually mature animals still around, but leaves us to wonder where they actually are for most of the time. There are so many unanswered questions that add to the mystery of these super predators!


After our experience of 2000 we expected the activity to be extremely low after this heavy feeding bout.  To our surprise the very next day after the whale sunk we had 6 predatory events with only one unsuccessful attempt. During the feeding the seals had become very relaxed and had ventured from the safety of the reefs. Almost all of the P’s were on seals that were caught unaware.


Even once the seals had tightened up their security there was a lot of predatory activity. On the 24th we had 17 predations, one of our busiest days of the whole season.


Towards the end of the month we have noticed that far fewer sharks are in the area and we are hoping that this does not mean the end of the season, especially seeing that the South East is beginning to rear her ugly head ….

August stats:

AP’s: 58

P’s: 59

Success rate: 50%

Breached on decoy: 2 (very low!)

Largest shark: 5,5 meters 18/08

Smallest shark: 2,2 meters

Most frequently seen shark: Donga Head   3 occassions


Well, I hope that everyone has enjoyed hearing about that very special event and let’s hope that sharks benefited from this huge meal.


Best wishes



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