Posted on Saturday, 30 June 2012
Dear Shark Lovers
In May I had a lot to share about our False Bay Orca sightings, but very little news of sharks. In this Shark Bytes I am very relieved to say that we seem to be back on track with regards to Great White Sharks at Seal Island.
All I can is that 2012 has been the most bizarre great white shark season I have experienced in the last 13 years. We normally expect the Great whites to return to their winter hunting ground, Seal Island, around early April each season. In early February we found by chance that they had already returned to Seal Island in good numbers. In fact from early February to the middle of April we had our best low season sightings of sharks on record.
It was like peak season and we were seeing 5 to 8 sharks per trip, and on a fair number of trips we were even seeing more than 10 sharks per trip. Of course we all expected to have a record shark season in 2012 so Mr Murphy thought he should set us straight!
Almost overnight from the middle of April we went from seeing 7 sharks the trip before to zero sharks. This can happen sometimes after bad weather and we can experience a couple of quiet days over our peak season. I would generally term a quiet day as being 1 to 3 sharks sighted and very rarely none at all. So by 5 trips of not seeing sharks we started to feel a little wary of the situation.
We would warn our guests of the situation before each trip. Even though a lot of people cancelled we still had a fair number of people that still wanted to give it a chance. Every 3 to 4 days we would try again of course expecting that the sharks would have returned. Such a long stretch of no sharks at this time of the year was completely foreign to us and we honestly had no idea why this had happened and of course no idea when the situation would change.
It became a protracted period without sharks. This was something completely unbelievable for us and just goes to show how little we understand the great white shark. It was a very stressful situation especially since many of our clients travel a long way to South Africa to fulfil a life’s dream to see a great white shark. Everyone was very understanding but it is still tough not to be able to show people like this a shark when it means so much.
I remember one trip in early June very clearly. I was working in the office and as normal around mid-morning I called Chris to see how he was doing. I was expecting a dejected voice but instead I heard the magic words … 5 sharks so far ... ! I nearly dropped the phone !
And just like that the sharks seemed to have remembered that Seal Island does exists and that for hundreds or maybe thousands of years this is where they are supposed to be found each winter.
In early to mid-June the days were still up and down but we were seeing sharks every trip. The great thing was even though some trips were only 1 to 2 sharks, the sharks were very keen to stay around and interact with the bait. So, everyone was still having a great experience even though only small numbers of sharks were seen.
I can tell you that I now have a very new appreciation for seeing one shark. The difference from zero to one is momentous!
Each day in June the sightings continued to get better even though the odd slow day was thrown in the mix. By the 20th of June we were even starting to see a fair amount of natural predatory behaviour on the seals. Our highest day this month was 16 events which is very high. We hosted a scientific focused group led by Alessandro Da Maddalena for 7 days which was another great success. Booking a 7 day period is always the best way to experience the Great White Shark and it gives you the best chance of seeing a variety of behaviour. By the end of the trip everyone had spectacular views of natural predations, we had a magnificent breach on the decoy and amazing cage dives on most days. These groups are also always great as it brings together people who are really interested in sharks and great bonds are formed.
We have had a couple of our regular sharks from seasons gone by visit us in June. The 2 most well known sharks are “George” and “Highlander”. George is a mid sized male that is very relaxed and interactive around the boat and Highlander was one of our star sharks from the 2011 season. He was seen many times over last season so it was exciting to record him back at Seal Island again.
We have also seen a lot of really big animals, the biggest being a brief visit by a 4.5 meter shark. Our average size shark is 3.5 meter so this particular animal was very impressive and we were all in awe. We have also had good number of sharks close to the 4 meter mark so it seems June has attracted the big girls!
We are now approaching July which is one of my favourite months at Seal Island. We normally have a great mixture of good sharks around the boat, decoy breaches and the start of intense hunting behaviour. However, after our last 2 months I am certainly not counting my chickens yet!
We sadly have not had any further sightings of the Orcas in False Bay. There was one sighting in early June by the stricken iron ore carrier that is currently in False Bay, but no further sightings from anyone else. The Bay has changed quite dramatically. In April and May shoals of baitfish littered the surface and this bio mass in turn attracted the penguins, gannets, common dolphins and of course the Orcas. This has all changed since the bait fish seem to have departed taking with it the life that it supports. It certainly does not mean that we are not still looking for them though!
I look forward to hopefully sharing some great sharky news with you all at the end of July. Fingers crossed …