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Shark Bytes

February 2004 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Sunday, 29 February 2004

If you would remember back to my last newsletter you would remember that we were about to leave on trip to explore possible shark spots in Mozambique again.


The area we were most excited about diving and exploring was St Lazarus Banks. These banks cover an area 250 square kilometers and from all accounts the area teemed with game fish especially dog-tooth tuna. We had also heard a few accounts of the area to be full of sharks. The banks are about 50 nautical miles from the nearest land point and after a nights sail we arrived to find the most incredible crystal clear blue water and endless visibility. The water was an intense blue that we had never seen before and we could only dream of seeing a shark in water like this. Although the shallowest point measured 8 meters, in the deeper areas that were 25m+ we were still able to make out the sandy bottom. The weather conditions were also superb and we just hoped for one shark to find its way up our chum-slick to the yacht. Well, I am very disappointed to say that this did not happen. Despite the beautiful conditions the area seemed to be dead. There was no bait fish on the surface, no presence of game fish and certainly no sharks. On average the water temperature was 29 degrees Celsius but on occasion was as warm as 31!! This is the warmest I have ever experienced and even for a 45 minute dive a wetsuit was not required. After only spending 4 days on the banks it is very difficult to give reasons for why we did not see sharks. It could have been that the water was too warm and there is a definite season for the sharks and game fish to be present. The other worrying factor is that when we headed back towards the Mainland of Mozambique to explore the many Islands that are littered along the coastline we came across three sets of long lines. This was just in the course that we were sailing which was a very small area. Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries and they are not able to patrol and defend their waters adequately. Last year permission was granted to a dive operator to aggressively attack and move off an illegal long lining vessel. A RPG missile was fired at the boat which has not been seen since. It seems like a whole lot more RPG’s are needed to sort this huge problem out as this area holds so much potential and for the sake of a few foreign longliners huge tracts of marine wilderness are being destroyed.


St Lazarus Banks is an area with extreme potential given its locality and we are hoping to return again at a different time of the year. We know as well as anyone that nature is unpredictable and that there is always new knowledge to be gained.


Even though we did not achieve what we wanted at St Lazarus we continued to have a good trip visiting a few small Islands. Most of these Islands are uninhabited as there is no fresh water, but on the Islands that are inhabited the locals survive by subsistence fishing. Early one morning I was sitting alone at the bow of the yacht watching the sunrise. In the distance I could hear a beautiful voice singing as a dhow approached us. It was just a local Mozambiquan starting his day and I thought to myself how simple life can be. For this person nowhere else in the world existed except his Island and the water surrounding it. At a larger Island we stopped a bigger dhow to ask to take a picture. As Chris was taking photographs they surprised us by pulling out their own camera and taking photo’s of us! Much laughter followed from both parties!


The reef along these Islands is very healthy and I really enjoyed the diving here. There was an abundance of colorful reef fish as well as a couple Potato Bass and Brindle Bass. We also did a fantastic wall dive which had many caves and beautiful fans and other coral.


For anyone wanting to go to an exotic adventurous location this area was fantastic for diving as well as a relaxed stay and we would highly recommend it.


I know this is supposed to be a shark newsletter so since I do not have any sharky news to pass on I thought it would a great opportunity to write about Maxine the Ragged-tooth shark!


Maxine currently lives at The Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town, specifically in the  I&J Predator Tank along with four other ragged-tooth sharks. She has been here for the past 9 years and has grown from 89 kilograms on her arrival to over 150 kilograms. In March this year she is due to be released back into the wild. But before I get any further she has quite a story to tell prior to her arrival at The Two Oceans Aquarium.

On average the water temperature was 29 degrees Celsius

In August 1995 she was caught in the Natal Sharks Board Nets (NSB) in Amanzimtoti. This area is South of Durban on the East coast of South Africa. For those who do not know the NSB nets are a series of staggered nets that are set along bathing beaches to prevent shark attacks. It is a highly contentious issue as hundreds of not only sharks, but dolphins and turtles are caught and killed (by drowning in the net) each year.


Even though Maxine was badly injured she was luckier than most as on average only 40% of ragged tooth sharks survive when caught in the nets.


She then traveled 1 369km south to Struisbaai and was re-caught, this time by an angler, 91 days later. The angler was participating in a tag-and-release tournament. Another party interested in the tournament was the Two Oceans Aquarium. Maxine was the size shark they were looking for, but it would take them 11 hours after Maxine’s capture until they could collect her. In the meantime Maxine had to be transported in the back of an open bakkie (pick-up) and put in a protected pool. She then had to be “manually swum” until she was strong enough to swim on her own. The angling team’s manager took on this job and by doing this water was passed over her gills and re-oxygenated her system.


Once safely in the Aquarium tank she still did not feed for three months. Only when a shoal of long-fin tuna was introduced did she begin on her road to recovery.


After hearing this story and the intended release of Maxine, Lesley Rochat, a Capetonian, developed the Save Our Seas Foundation Maxine, Science, Education and Awareness Programme (M-Sea).  It is an AfriOceans Conservation Alliance initiative (a non profit organisation founded by Lesley), in partnership with The Two Oceans Aquarium and sponsored by Save Our Seas Foundation.


With the ragged-tooth shark being the flagship species of the programme, Maxine has become an Ambassador for the promotion of sharks and ocean conservation in general. One of the aspects of the programme is an Education and Awareness Campaign aiming to change public perception that sharks are a danger to Man as well as to promote ocean conservation. Educational packs have been created for use at coastal schools and a permanent shark information display will be erected at The Two Oceans Aquarium. Information boards are also going to be put up at key sites along our coast.


Lesley is also in the process of making a one-hour documentary that will document Maxine’s life story.


The most current project of the programme is a long-term research project where Maxine will be tagged with both satellite and ultrasonic tags. Her release will coincide with the presence of a large number of wild raggies in the Struisbaai area and it is hoped that she will join them in their annual migration eastwards. The tags will aid in the research into shark behaviour, especially as to how captured sharks fare in the wild. Valuable informational is also hoped to be attained as to the migration patterns of ragged-tooth sharks along the South African Coast about which little is known.


You can follow Maxine's progress on the regularly updated AOCA website ( www.aoca.org.za ) that will serve as a communication channel while tracking Maxine via her acoustic tag and pop up satellite tags.  There will also be an an opportunity to take part in the competitions to guess where the satellite tags will surface months later.  At the same time the website will be updated by the film crew who will travel along her migratory path to document her progress and history. You can also learn more about Maxine and the Save Our Seas Foundation M-Sea Programme on the above website. There's also the option to adopt Maxine and become the proud parent of the most famous shark in the world! The Save Our Seas Foundation M-Sea Programme is endorsed by the World Conservation Union Shark Specialist Group (IUCN SSG).Many thanks to Lesley for the information she has supplied to me. I would also like to wish all the best for the programme and of course the successful release of Maxine.


Marine Safaris is the company that put our trip together. They also put together trips diving trips all over Africa which some of you may be interested in.


Until next month… (We do have some exciting trips planned in the next 30 days, but I will wait until we see something before giving the game away!)


Best wishes

Monique Fallows


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