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Shark Bytes

March 2005 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Thursday, 31 March 2005

Dear Readers


I have a lot to write about this month as not only have we seen a lot but the sharks have also been a great source of news in the Media especially in the UK.

During March our Sharks of Southern Africa expedition took place and I am delighted to say that we saw 10 different shark species in 14 days. These included mako’s, blue’s, smooth hammerheads, bronze whalers, great white (just one!), cow sharks, spotted-gully sharks and 3 different small endemic sharks. We had a fantastic group to share this with and we hope to undertake this trip again next year.

Many people have emailed us about the incident in Gansbaai where a white shark supposedly attacked a cage-diver. I actually had not heard about it and after some investigation I discovered that the incident took place in November last year. I also saw the video footage of what happened and was absolutely shocked at how the story had been so dramatized. The British tourist, Mark Currie, had decided to get into the cage in November last year when a large shark was around the boat. His version is that the shark was the same animal that attacked Tyna Webb two weeks before and was now blood-thirsty which is why the shark tried to attack him! From watching the footage my opinion is that the operator who was handling the bait line tried to pull the shark close to the cage so that the diver could get a close up view. The handler pulled the bait away at the very last moment and the shark, instead of getting hold of the bait, bit the buoy that was on top of the cage. The shark obviously got a fright and thrashed until it was free of the cage, the buoy burst and the cage lost some of its buoyancy. Another point of interest is that Mr. Currie was in the cage wearing just a mask, not even a snorkel! By law all cage divers are supposed to be qualified scuba divers. Cage diving is extremely easy diving. You just basically put on a tank and sit in the cage. But if something should in the highly unlikely event go wrong I feel very strongly that the diver needs to be competent in the water. Mr. Currie was able to get out of the cage unharmed. Unfortunately now that He has taken His story to the newspapers no-one is saying how the shark was handled badly or the tourist was not equipped to dive, the shark is now a Blood thirsty Man-Eater. So what can I say, Well done Mr. Currie, you have got your 15 minutes of fame to the detriment of the shark. 

Four days after the Currie story broke a British holiday maker and surfer was bitten at Noordhoek beach while surfing last Tuesday. Very fortunately he was not severely injured and only sustained lacerations to his calf. He had seen the white shark approach him and managed to fend it off. The shark did not press home the attack and I admire the surfer for having the presence of mind defend himself so aptly. The media in Cape Town has not hyped the attack too much but I hear that the British Tabloids are having a field day. I even heard the Cape Town sharks are now targeting British tourists! I guess if sharks are supposed to have so much “human intelligence” they should also be allowed to make mistakes just like we do.


On our side we have had a very good month and have seen a great variety of sharks. Right in the beginning of the month the False Bay waters were very promising for the treknetters to catch sharks. There are two different crews that work along Muizenberg beach and they were both pulling their nets at the same time one morning. We had to decide which crew to watch and decided to stay with the more successful crew. As soon as we saw that they had not caught any sharks we raced down the beach to the other net which had just been brought in. The crew leader came to us and said that he had just released a spotted ragged-tooth pup. The best news was that the shark was released but we were absolutely gutted to have missed seeing the shark. Ragged-tooth’s are not caught very often and I have only ever seen one. It seems like this is our bogey shark as we always seen to miss them. We went down to the nets again that afternoon and were kept very busy, and excited, when 3 large bronze whalers and one very big Diamond Ray were caught in the same net. It is absolute mayhem when this happens as we are trying to get the animals measured, tagged and released as quickly as possible and of course they are thrashing around like crazy when they are out of the water. There have been no sharks caught since then and we can see that the season is definitely changing. The migratory fish and sharks are leaving as the water temperature cools down and we have even seen the first white shark at Seal Island since October last year. I can never get over the feeling of seeing a white shark. It is such an impressive animal and it has a presence about it like no other. Needless to say I am really looking forward to the next Seal Island season with them.

The pelagic sharks have also been outstanding. The weather has not been fantastic but just good enough to go. At the moment there are plenty of blue sharks around and we have seen a fair share of mako sharks. We have not had to wait for too long for the blue sharks to come to the boat. Once they arrived the next trick was get in and dive with them before too many arrive. This month seemed to have brought a larger in size group of blues whereas we were only seeing small blues in February. I had one particularly good dive where I was in with 4 large blue sharks and was able to watch a mako approach the boat. The mako’s can be very revved up when they first arrive so I was keenly aware of where she was at all times. The blue sharks however completely dominated her and every time she would try to approach the bait two or three blues would muscle her out the way. Eventually she lost interest and left. Not half an hour later a new mako arrived. This one was bigger and a bit bolder than the other mako. It was incredible to watch his speed underwater as he weaved in and out of the blue sharks. Although the blues and mako’s are both pelagic sharks they have a very different feel to each other. A blue shark is usually a fantastic encounter as they are very curious and will always came and have a closer look at you. Their movements as fairly slow and very sinuous and one just needs to gently fend them off before they get the idea that we are just another predator sharing the same environment. But to be in the water with a mako is a completely different experience. It is absolutely thrilling. The mako is a serious shark and it is of constant amazement to me that they allow us in their space and that I never feel threatened by them.

When we are on our pelagic trips we always take note of the wide variety of pelagic birds that we see. This month we were privileged to see a Wandering Albatross for the first time. This bird has one of the largest wing spans at 3 meters. It hovered above us and very briefly touched down next to our tuna bait before a blue shark paid it some close attention. I am very accustomed to seeing other species of Albatross but the Wandering Albatross just dwarfs the rest of them. It was quite a sight to see and deep down I think I may be becoming a Twitcher!

Some more good news is that we have had 5 excellent dives with the sevengill cowsharks. We stopped seeing them in June last year and they now seem to be very prevalent in the area as we have seen different sharks on all the dives. Cowsharks are of a very old order of sharks, second oldest infact, and their habitat is in the Kelp forests. They can get as large as 3 meters and have a very charismatic flat head. In our Shark info books it says that they feed on anything and I can believe it. They are exceptionally bold sharks and I get the feeling that when they approach me they are not just seeing what I am they are seeing if they can eat me! They also have the ability to sneak up on you out of nowhere. On one dive Chris & I were watching a smaller cowshark swimming around and we did not even see a bigger one that swam up to my fins. Never the less I find that I want to dive with them more and more. As mentioned we have seen about 10 different sharks on all the dives. One was a massive female of about 2,5 meters. We also saw two very small ones. We hope that they were not in bad condition but they had very large heads and very small bodies. Maybe this is how the small ones are supposed to look?

In April we are definitely going to try and find the cowsharks again, continue with our pelagic trips and of course hope to see some white sharks too!

In other shark news the female white shark that was on display at The Monterey Bay Aquarium was released back into the wild on Thursday morning. You can read more about it on www.montereybayaquarium.org .

You can also see the footage of the white shark “cage attack” on http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/cumbria/4382621.stm .


Until next Month….


Best wishes

Monique Fallows 


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