Posted on Tuesday, 20 September 2016
The 2016 Shark Season at Seal Island has certainly kept us guessing and the latest surprise is an early end to the season. Our last shark day at The Island was 26 August.
That being said we did have great shark action during the month; a tremendous presence of anchovy bringing with it a whole host of avian and cetacean predators and we celebrated 20 years at Seal Island!
Predation Activity & Breaches
2016 has been a low number year; low in terms of numbers of sharks seen, and also low in the amount of predatory events we have recorded. This is of course a direct result of there being less great white sharks in the area this season.
We had a very intense period in late July/early August where we witnessed some extremely spectacular events but after this period we found most events to be very short in duration. In many cases where the shark misses the seal on the first attempt a chase on the ocean surface will ensue with the seal attempting to use agility to evade the great white shark. In order to do this the seal will try get behind the head or the tail of the shark and in this manner the shark cannot line up its prey. This ultimately means an intense chase on the surface with incredible twists, turn and lunges.
This past season however, there have been very few of these types of chases. Most have been what we call “one hit wonders”. If you were lucky enough to be looking in the right place at the right time you would see a super predator flying through the air in full predatory mode. But if you weren’t, remnants of a splash were all you were likely to see! It’s hard to understand why but this season there were very few follow up attacks although outwardly there didn’t appear to be anything different to have caused this change in behaviour.
I certainly believe each shark has their own hunting strategy and perhaps the sharks that were around Seal Island these past few months just weren’t into long chases.
One event does stand out and again it involved a large shark estimated at about 4 meters with the hunt taking place on a windy South East day. I spoke about a similar event involving a protracted chase by a large shark in July with similar sea conditions.
We were fortunate in this case that the shark went for an incoming group of seals we were monitoring just 100 meters away from us. We were able to watch as again this shark powered through the water in a flat out chase on the surface. The chase was long and the seal did many evasive jumps but in the end it was to make a fatal mistake. This event was another great example of how the shark used its power and speed coupled with obvious determination to be successful. It was a brutal display of why the great white shark is one of the top predators in the ocean.
As we have defined our modus operandi over the years we have found it a far more authentic experience to spend our time trying to observe the natural hunting behaviour rather than spending too much time towing the seal decoy. On a few mornings this month there was low seal activity so we gave our decoy a little time behind the boat. We were rewarded with some amazing breaches but I have to make special mention of the best decoy breach I’ve seen in the last 6 to 7 years. The sky was breathtakingly moody and the shark chose to breach as if aiming for the heavens resulting in a truly phenomenal sight. I am known on occasion to be prone to rather loud and excitable expressions of emotions out there and I can tell you that I let out a ripper following this breach!
Shy Guy Sighted Again
I mentioned the return of “Shy Guy” to Seal Island last month for the 13th year so I’d also like to let you all know he was still present in the early part of August. We recorded him hunting a total of 4 times over a 2 week period so this season brought us a great bit of data on this large male shark that we have seen over so many years.
Cage Diving The Highlight of the Month
August is historically a month where we see more of the predatory activity and less activity of the sharks around the boat. But this past August I would say as a whole the cage diving activity has been the highlight of the month.
Again, we haven’t seen high numbers of sharks but the sharks we have seen were interactive and keen on staying around the boat.
Our Afternoon Trips especially seem to have had some great cage diving opportunities and with some beautiful weather there really have been some awesome trips. There is nothing like coming face to face with a great white shark underwater (within the protection of a cage!) and for many people this is a life highlight.
The most noteworthy trip was in the middle of the month where a total of 7 sharks were recorded but most importantly it was the intensity of those 7 sharks. Throughout the trip there were between 2 and 3 sharks going for the baits at a time and at one point our crew said 5 different sharks could be seen at the same time. Wow, I have to say I am a little bit jealous at being stuck in the office instead of being on that trip!
The Season Comes to a Close
There will normally be a slow wind down to the season at Seal Island with certain behaviour indicating that the movement of the sharks around the Island will start shifting to the inshore environment. We think the sharks move closer to shore as the change of seasons from Winter to Spring brings alternative prey items into False Bay such as migratory game fish and other species of sharks.
Typically we will see sharks not consuming the entire seal when making a successful kill and evidence of regurgitations.
We didn’t see many abandoned seal carcasses but there were a number of regurgitations. Shortly after seeing these we had our first missed shark trip. This is always a difficult trip as you don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen and as such both crew and guests are somewhat unprepared.
The season has ended about 3 weeks earlier than what we would expect but as the cliché goes, nature is nature and there is nothing we can do to control it.
Anchovy, Dolphins, Gannets & Brydes Whales
It has been a long while since seeing such a huge biomass present in False Bay at this time of the year. Shoals of anchovy have been the calling card for big schools of Common dolphins, sometimes numbering up to 800 strong, hundreds of Cape Gannets and prolific Brydes whales. All species have been working together and as a result we have seen some exciting bait ball activity. The strong presence of this marine life has really added to our guests’ experience in False Bay and on many days we were able to see the Marine Big 5.
20 Years At Seal Island
The 22nd of August marked a very significant day in our lives, it was 20 years to the day that Chris first went out to Seal Island in a tiny rubber inflatable boat and found great white sharks here.
If you’d like to read a little of the story behind this and Chris’s reflections please read his blog: 20 Years of Flying Sharks At Seal Island.
I am extremely proud of everything Chris has achieved at Seal Island but most importantly for remaining as passionate about the sharks as he was on day 1. And lastly let us not forget our huge gratitude to the sharks that have given us this opportunity of such an incredible journey over the last 2 decades.
Shark Meat linked to Alzheimer’s disease
Dr Neil Hammerschlag is a shark scientist whom I greatly admire. It is rare to find a scientist who tirelessly involves themselves in projects that have a directly positive effect and aids conservation towards the species they are working with.
Neil has been involved in many such shark projects and he and his team’s latest achievement is of being able to link the high levels of neurotoxins found in shark meat to Alzheimer’s disease. Decreasing the demand is proving to be one of the most effective conservation tools we have available to us today and this study goes a long way in that regard.
To read more about this study: http://rsmas.miami.edu/news-events/press-releases/2016/study-finds-shark-fins-meat-contain-high-levels-of-neurotoxins-linked-to-al/
Latest African Elephant Census
I feel it is very important to draw your attention to some disturbing news regarding African Elephants. There is a lot that has been written about, and spoken about, regarding the dramatic rise in Elephant poaching in Africa. For an update on the latest census just concluded please read here.
For decades, calculating the number of elephants in Africa has largely been guesswork -- until now.
As we head into the off season Chris & I will be heading into the African Bush for our annual getaway. This time round we will be spending 6 weeks in Namibia and Zimbabwe where we will be taking in the National Parks of Etosha, Hwange, Gonarazhou and Mano Pools.
For those of you who are wanting to see sharks over this period the season in Gansbaai is year round as permits here allow operators a working area of both the seal colony and inshore areas. The all-round season here means we always have a shark option for you!
In closing I want to make special mention of the amazing guests we were fortunate enough to host on White Pointer 2 this year. There were many returning friends but also so many new friends made. It made my heart very warm indeed to see how almost all guests this season truly appreciated the sight, no matter how big or small, of a great white shark.
Our crew and office staff has also been brilliant and a big thank you to everyone who made the 2016 season a success!
We’ll be back online in November where I hope to share some African Bush stories with you all.
To read our last three Shark Bytes click on the link below:
July 2016 Shark Bytes
June 2016 Shark Bytes
May 2016 Shark Bytes