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Shark Bytes

August 2006 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Thursday, 31 August 2006

Sharks have been big news in Cape Town the last 2 weeks after there was a shark attack by a great white shark on a local life guard. The accident happened at Muizenberg beach (10 kilometers from Seal Island) during a life guard training exercise. The mock rescue was taking place 200 meters offshore when a great white investigated a 25 year old lifeguard who sadly lost his foot in the encounter. I always believe in taking positives out of all situations so I guess the positive here is that the victim survived, and will make a full recovery.


In reporting the attack the media, in my opinion, have been completely irresponsible in reporting the event and once again have used the event to sell newspapers rather than to report a news event. It never ceases to amaze me the kind of “shark experts” that the various newspapers and radio stations manage to hunt down. Of course these so-called experts give the most sensational of statements and comments and the latest is that the culling of large great white sharks should be implemented. The authorities in charge of making these decisions are not considering measures such as this but because of the media’s sensational reporting the sharks are being condemned and this is all that the general public gets to hear.


I cannot stress enough to all of you not to take the media seriously when reading about shark attacks and to make special note of who is making comments! As unfortunate as sharks attacks are, I do believe that having the great white sharks patrol our shores is a privilege and we should do all that we can to conserve them.


I do feel that the recent shark attack is an indication that the white shark season at Seal Island is beginning to come to a close. Ever since Chris first starting working at Seal Island he has found the sharks to leave around the month of September and move to the inshore areas. We have various theories on this and we believe it mainly has to do with the sharks preferring to prey on other marine species such as other sharks and summer fish rather than the difficult to catch and potentially dangerous cape fur seals at Seal Island.


For the first time on today’s trip we did not get any sharks up to the boat, although we knew they were in the area because we had seen them hunting seals earlier in the day. This is another sure sign that the change is taking place.


When I wrote last month I spoke about how the predatory activity had been very sporadic but that it seemed to be picking up momentum. Well, August has been no different. We did have a few very busy days but just as it would seem to be building up to that intense amount of hunting we would have very bad weather come in and this seemed to break the whole cycle down again. From the middle of the month we had very low activity and in the last week we experienced the first summer gales, The South Easterly wind. When we went out for the first time after the bad wind I really expected to see almost nothing especially since when the summer wind starts to blow the sharks seem to leave. Well, we ended up having one of the busiest mornings of the season. It was also one of those days where we got lucky on many occasions to be close to the events and saw no few than 5 initial breaches on a seal, including one spectacular miss by a 3,5 meter shark. This shark put so much into this attack that it propelled itself a full 2 meters out of the water but at the same time missed the seal by a good 3 meters!


We have had very good days of shark around the boat. We briefly saw “Schumi” at the end of July and then got to see her on a good number of occasions this month as well. She certainly reminded me why we had named her Schumi as she is one of those sharks that is so fast around the boat. We really have to be on the ball when she is around. It is actually very easy to hurt the sharks in this situation if one is not careful and diligent. At all times we try to keep the bait away from them. If they do manage to get it they can easily hit the boat or become entangled in the bait line, so it is our number one priority to keep everything away from them.

we could see him from a few meters off already gathering up the pace for a concerted effort

There is another shark we have got to know well this season that I do not think I have mentioned yet this year. We have seen him in May, June, July and now August. He is a 3,3 meter (10 foot) male and very identifiable as he has a number of bad injuries, probably the result of heavy contact with a boat. We have called him “Stoute” which means “Naughty” in Afrikaans. He is in the same league as Schumi but probably more determined. In fact on a number of occasions this month we actually took the bait out of the water when he was around as we felt that he was too determined for his own good. On almost all encounters with him he half breached on the bait and we could see him from a few meters off already gathering up the pace for a concerted effort. Very impressive but we felt it was best not to give him the opportunity to hurt himself.


On the opposite end of the scale we had two encounters with a supremely relaxed large female shark of about 3.8 (12 foot) meters. She behaved very similarly to “Rasta” and would on many occasions voluntarily put her head out of the water to look at us. Half of her left pectoral fin is missing. It is completely healed so it would be a good few years old. My point is that we have not seen her before, but will certainly recognize her again if we are fortunate enough to be graced with her presence.


We have also had fantastic cetacean encounters this month with a couple of good sighting of Brydes whales, as well as witnessing a rather unique encounter that Rob had with a young humpback. Humpback whales are less common in False Bay so it is always exciting when we see them. On one particular day Rob spotted one at Seal Island whilst he was on anchor. To everyone’s surprise the whale approached his boat on its own accord and proceeded to rub itself on the hull of the boat. It did not stop there and unbelievable continually had its head out of the water, meters from everyone on the boat, looking directly at them. It must have been a very special experience for all those onboard!


This time of the year also signals the return of the Southern Right whales to False Bay. They migrate from Antarctica to False Bay where they use the shelter and shallows of the bay to calf as well as to breed. Although it is a great experience to see them from a boat one can easily see them from the shoreline so anyone in Cape Town who feels like taking a drive, False Bay is a good bet if you would like to see a few whales.


I am going to end off with a rather unique experience that we had at the end of the month. We had not seen any sharks around the boat (a few days ago) so we started back to Simons Town early hoping to pick up on a whale sighting whilst on the way home. It was a beautiful flat day and as we were sitting a few hundred meters off watching and listening to a group of whales we had a 5 meter (yes a 5 meter!) great white shark pop up next to our boat. 5 meters is about 18 foot. What makes is even more special is that Chris had actually seen her at Seal Island in June and could easily recognize her due to a chink out of her tail. Since the June sighting she had gained fresh bite marks, possibly from mating.


The encounter was very short but we all got a fantastic look at her. This is the second largest shark I have ever seen and I have to say that it was way too short! I had to keep playing it back in my mind to believe that I actually saw such a big shark.


We will be leaving for a trip to Etosha National Park in a few days and I have a feeling that the season may be over by the time we return. If it is, I feel that we had a perfect swansong for the season seeing this big beauty!


Until next month,


Best wishes

Monique Fallows


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