Posted on Tuesday, 1 July 2014
Dear Shark Lovers
Greeting from an absolutely incredible month at Seal Island and probably our best month of June in our Seal Island history. It certainly does not get better than up to 20 meters water visibility, high numbers of sharks around the boat, and the onset of the predation activity for 2014…
Shark Interactions Around the Boat
As I think back and go over our data collected this month I cannot see one trip where we had slow shark activity, I cannot stress enough how phenomenal the month has been. The lowest numbers of sharks recorded on a trip were 8 different individuals and our highest trip being an afternoon trip of 14 different sharks. That morning we had seen a total of 13 different sharks so it was a bumper day at Seal Island.
For the first two weeks of the month I would say that we were regularly seeing the same sharks coming up to the boat with a few new sharks sighted here and there, so not a huge turnover of different animals. What we generally see at Seal Island is a constant interchange of sharks, meaning most sharks will spend a few days at a time feeding at Seal Island, move out of the area and then new sharks will come in for their feeding bout.
“Zamalek” is a 3.7 meter male I spoke about last month. We recorded him around the boat throughout the month of June and with the great water visibility our cage divers and surface viewers alike got to fully appreciate him. He must be the ultimate shark to cage dive with as his primary interest is to tightly circle the shark cage. His route is very specific and he hardly deviates. He likes to approach very close to the port engine and then make a very slow and very close pass either just under the cage or on the surface right in front of the divers. He is not eye-balling the divers (!) but he is probably one of the most comfortable sharks I have ever seen around the cage. He will continue this exact pattern for up to 10 turns and then he may have a serious go at the bait on the surface resulting in a spectacular lunge by a sizable male shark! The incredible thing is that he behaves in this exact manner every time we see him and I make sure to impress upon the divers how lucky they were to have an encounter with him!
“MagNoona” has been another June highlight and this 3.6 meter female shark with copepods (parasites) on her head has become a firm favourite amongst crew and guests alike. MagNoona is the Arabic word for crazy and with a name like that I don’t think I need not say anything further about this shark! Her lunges on the bait are near breaches and again the great water visibility has allowed us to observe her deadly approaches to the bait. Just 2 to 3 very powerful thrusts of her tail quickly get her up to speed and whoever is unlucky enough to be the bait handler has to be ready for her!
One of our favourite Seal Island sharks, and one I have often written about, “Deux Rossi” is also worthy of mention once again. She is definitely different compared to the 2011 and 2012 seasons where we recorded her present every day for a 3 month and 4 month period. When she arrived back to Seal Island in March I was sure we would be seeing her on a daily basis. But not so… we have had sporadic sightings but the great news is that she is looking in much better shape and has definitely bulked up a lot. We were worried about her last season as she seemed to have trouble opening her mouth and rather than grabbing the bait (if she had an opportunity) she would merely bump it. Her condition this past month is noticeably better and her obvious growth spurt makes us all feel a lot better that she does not seem to have a problem.
“Pinkie” is another new face on the block, and I know what you are thinking …. Who calls a Great white shark Pinkie?? And I agree! Not only is Pinkie a male but a very confident one at that. In fact one of our guests remarked that he is a 3 meter shark who thinks he is 4 meters. He is a very confident shark and often will dominate over larger sharks at the boat. The reason for his name however is due to very distinctive flesh coloured rosette markings on both sides of his dorsal fin.
“George” is another great little 2.5 meter shark who is usually gentle and slow around the boat. He has fresh seal scratches on his snout so he is probably not so gentle with seals but he has been a lovely shark to have around the boat. He stays for long periods slowly checking out the bait and has won over many hearts in the last 10 days.
Amazing Water Visibility
The 2014 season has really brought with it the most incredibly good water visibility conditions. Both April and May had us raving about it but a few days in June have really made us think we have been operating in Guadeloupe or South Australia. Our average visibility has been 10 meters with our best day being up to 20 meters … hard for us to believe.
The divers in the cage have been able to see the “Launch Pad” reef from underwater on many occasions while anchored at the launch pad and on days of good sunlightthose on the boat could even see the sharks swimming over the reef just looking down from above. On one particular day we had Zamalekconstantly circling the cage and on his circuit behind the boat I could watch him swimming over the reef very clearly. It was incredibly beautiful watching his large dark form gently gliding over the reef.I have never seen this in my 15 years at Seal so I was in total awe at this unique Seal Island sight!
The visibility also allowed us unique glimpses of interesting shark interactions. “Iris” who is a very large 4.1 meter female seen sporadically this month (she is the shark with the possible orcas bite marks that I wrote about in May) attracted the attention of a large 3.9 meter male shark. We watched in amazement as the male positioned himself just a meter or so above her and followed her on an almost complete circuit around the boat. I am sure she was aware of his presence and he was certainly displaying a calm curiosity towards her, so perhaps they both liked what they saw!
It has been a dream cage diving month with these conditions and at the end of the month when we peaked at 20m viz our divers were seeing as many as4 sharks around the boat at one time. Can you imagine? It was difficult for them to know where to look and certainly a great problem to have. It has also been interesting to note how often the sharks are circling deep under the boat, just waiting for a chance to come up to the bait. In poor or even average viz conditions we have not been able to observe this behaviour, and it has been interesting to see how often the sharks are just waiting under the boat. If it were not for the amazing conditions we would never have known they were there…
I think the visibility has been so fantastic due to very settled conditions and a warm, clear current that is currently in False Bay. The temperature has been around 16C where normally in winter we would expect between 13C and 14C. As I am writing though, a very strong low pressure and cold front system is pushing through Cape Town so I am hoping like crazy that the big swell prediction does not change conditions too much at Seal Island.
Breaching & Predation
Up to the third week of June we were constantly seeing 10 to 12 sharks per trip but there was almost zero predatory behaviour taking place. Most notably there was very little seal movement in the early morning so this would have an obvious effect on hunting opportunities. We are right at the beginning of the predation part of our season as it is round about now that the seals born in December last year will be weaned from their mothers. It is now time for them to head out to feed for the first time and it is while they are leaving the Island or returning back home that the great white sharks will be waiting for their feeding opportunities.
Each morning we would arrive at Seal Island and I would be expecting to see some events but it just was not happening. We had a few sporadic events but nothing that became a regular cycle of hunting each morning.
Then, during the last week of June we started to see more seal movement and with that the onset of our first heavy predation mornings. We started with a week of 5 to 8 events per morning and have just had two incredible mornings of 18 and 17 events each. This would have been with the build-up of the bad weather so we will see what happens on the other side…
Some of the events have been very spectacular and we have been close enough to reach the events while still in progress. The most spectacular event took place on a young seal that had just evaded a shark. As it moved off the area a large 3.8 meter shark attacked it with a full breach head on towards us. The shark missed but the ensuing chase consisted of another full breach and 3 or 4 half breaches and a series of very dedicated lunges by this very determined shark. The seal knows that it will easily be chased down by the shark so it uses agility to try wear the shark down. It does this by trying to get as close to the sharks head, tail or body as possible so that the shark cannot line it up.
The shark was successful on this particular hunt reminding me that it is always humbling to watch such a raw life and death struggle right in front of you. At all times I have great respect for both shark and seal and both Chris & I and our crew always try to relay this to our guests who are witnessing these events.
I want to finish off June Shark Bytes with some great news that “Shy Guy” has now been sighted for a record 12 years in a row at Seal Island! Shy Guy is a male shark with a badly injured tail fin. It is very distinctive and we can immediately recognise him when he hunts and consumes a seal on the surface. In the 12 years we have recording him hunting at Seal Island he has only ever come up to the boat on one occasion.
Just yesterday Chris was going through his predation photographs from the last week and as he was about to trash an image he noticed that distinctive Shy Guy tail! We had almost missed it but both Chris & I are thrilled to know that Shy Guy has made yet another year back to Seal Island…
We have had many fantastic long stay guests from the middle of June and it has been great having so many fellow shark lovers on the boat. As we head into July and August almost all guests will be spending 5 or more days at Seal Island with us. This is definitely the best way to experience Seal Island and we cannot wait for the exciting month of July ahead!
Until next month,