Posted on Wednesday, 19 August 2015
We can finally breathe a sigh of relief as the sharks remembered that they are supposed to spend the winter months at Seal Island, phew! They have been in hunting mode as well as gracing us with their presence around the boat so there have been many great experiences and sightings this past July.
Sunrise Over False Bay and What It Signifies
One of the highlights of the day for me is heading out of Simon's Town harbour in the pre-dawn and taking in the many beautiful sunrises as well as feeling the air of expectation of what the morning will bring.
Light and wispy pre frontal clouds often produce red and orange skies that capture the imagination of a sky on fire. Seal Island is such a fragile place in which to work; conditions are constantly changing and this in turn makes the shark behaviour very unpredictable; not an ideal situation when trying to show people natural events! But, as I mentioned above, this is part of the allure of Seal Island…. we always hold great expectations of what we could possibly see. There is nothing quite like witnessing the life and death struggle that take place at Seal Island, South Africa as the Great white shark takes on an equally formidable predator, the cape fur seal.
These spectacularly raw events coupled with the challenge of capturing this in a photograph or on film as well as the complete awesomeness of the Great white shark is what keeps many of our regular guests coming back year after year. Once all this quietens down and the sun is higher in the sky, just watching these huge sharks as they gently cruise around the boat exposes a totally different but as spectacular side to them.
The first week in July saw the sharks slowly beginning to hunt and as many as 13 events were being seen each trip. Although the shark numbers sighted around the boat were not high, we still managed to dive everyone. I did find it interesting that there was a difference between the morning and afternoon trips whereby the mornings were seeing good predatory events and slowish sharks around the boat, but getting back out there in the afternoons, the sharks were active and more plentiful. I always find it fascinating how activity can be so different from trip to trip.
There is always a 2 to 4 week period during the season where the predatory behaviour reaches its peak and is super intense. It normally happens between mid-July and mid-August but this season it took place in early July. As I keep saying, the 2015 season has been so different to years gone by.
The challenge with photographing predatory events is not that you don’t get to see it very often, it’s more a case of seeing it happen all around you but you struggle to be in the right spot and capture it. You either don’t get to an event on time, or there’s just an initial hit and no follow up, or the shark doesn’t jump the right way… the list is endless. You need a lot of luck, and experience I suppose, to be in the right place at the right time, not to mention the time out there to increase your chances of all the ingredients coming together.
Chris and the team managed to get it right on many events over this time period, and two incredible events were witnessed at close hand.
The frequency of events was also equally impressive and we were recording between 15 and 20 events per day. There is one moment that stands out most clearly in my mind this past month of 2 predation events going on simultaneously just 50 meters apart from each other. The first event begun and we took the boat closer to be able to observe it just as the second event started. I was skippering the boat and began the task of trying to deal with the mayhem of excited shouts and trying to decide on which event to focus on. This was no easy task when one half of the boat was shouting to look at their event, while the other half was screaming about a spectacular lunge they had just seen. I found myself stuck between the 2 events trying to make a decision on how whether to go left or right, it’s the kind of stress I can definitely handle and would like more often!
I ended up keeping us in the middle and being close enough for both events. As these things often happen, there was a particularly loud shout that caused everyone to look in one direction and be totally distracted while the most spectacular lunge happened on the other event! It was for sure an adrenalin fuelled few minutes that I will not forget in a while.
The busy predation activity carried over to the start of our first Predation Specialty Expedition and we had a couple of days of 22 and 25 events before we were struck with bad weather.
Bad weather always has an effect. The build up to a cold front normally stimulates increased predatory events but as the winds blow through and swings round to the South East we then get a down turn in activity.
As we headed into our second Predation Specialty Expedition we saw less predation. There were very few seals coming back to Seal Island in the early morning hours and this obviously decreased the chances for the sharks to hunt. But, we did see the best 3 breaches on the decoy of the season. A breach on the decoy is always a truly phenomenal sight to behold. On all 3 I had my eyes firmly on the decoy and got to see every inch of the shark as it blasted out of the water… wow, wow, wow!
A 4.5 Meter Female
Whilst the predation activity tailed off we saw increased numbers of sharks around the boat and we were seeing up to 7 sharks per trip. About a quarter of the sharks were all very large animals of just over 3.8 meters and up to an extremely impressive 4.5 meter female.
The 4.5 meter female is a shark we call “Jigsaw”. We had seen her earlier in the season and it was great to spend more time with her towards the end of July.
We also had the return of a regular Seal Island shark, “Scarlet”. We first came across Scarlet last season at Seal Island. She is just over 4 meters in length and last year had fresh propeller cut marks on her dorsal fin as well as the top third of her left pectoral fin cut off.
Seeing her again this past July on a number of trips meant we got a great view of her. She appears to be in great condition, has a big girth on her, and her injuries have healed remarkably well.
False Bay Activity
Not only have the sharks been great at Seal Island, False Bay has also been alive with baitfish and the activity associated with this. Most days when heading back home to Simon's Town we have come across huge shoals of anchovy which in turn attracted flocks of terns, large rafts of up to 50 penguins strong and plenty of Brydes whales. Sometimes we were seeing as many as 8 Brydes whales in a small area, as well as number of humpback whales that were on their annual migration route.
We have also started to come across the first few Southern Right whales coming into the Bay as they also return on their annual migration from Antarctica.
False Bay never fails to impressive me with its wide array of marine wildlife, there is always the potential of seeing some form of marine wildlife with every mile that we travel out there!
Jimi has begun a Seal Island Great white shark ID project and he sets out his goals and objectives here. If you’ve been out with us before and have some clear dorsal fin ID shots please get in touch with us.
Kirsty has also done some homework on the History of False Bay. I did share a lot of sympathy as I learnt how much the South Easter wind affected early explorers; at least we are not alone! And if you read the blog you can find out exactly how False Bay got its name…
My newsletter is a little late this month; I’ll put it down to a busy last 3 weeks on the water and look forward to sharing August sightings and news in a few weeks’ time.
Until next month
To read our last three Shark Bytes click on the links below:
June 2015 Shark Bytes
April 2015 Shark Bytes
March 2015 Shark Bytes