Posted on Monday, 31 March 2014
Dear Shark Lovers,
I have lots of news to report on this month. We have had an action packed month in False Bay with high numbers of Great white sharks, huge schools of common dolphins and thousands of gannets.
Chris & I also had the great privilege of spending 10 days with the Great white sharks off New Zealand while filming for Discovery Channel and also had a week of exploring other nature opportunities while down there.
Seal Island, False Bay
In February I reported how good the shark sightings had been for what is normally called early season for Seal Island. During the first week of March we had a number of days of very strong South East wind and when it finally died down to provide sea going conditions we found that the water temperature had dropped 4 degrees C and was extremely dirty in colour. This seemed to have a big impact and our first few days out there saw a dramatic drop in shark activity, down to 1-2 animals per trip.
Research in the Gansbaai area undertaken by Alison Towner from The Dyer Island Trust shows that water with low levels of oxygen seem to have a negative impact on shark numbers and activity.
So, we think the environmental conditions as a result of very windy conditions could have caused the drop in activity. Once the weather settled down shark activity slowly began picking up.
Deux Rossi & Shy Guy Return
We were in for a very big surprise with our first visit of the season by “Deux Rossi”. You may all remember that she was at Seal Island for 4 months last season, which is highly abnormal for a shark to stay in the area for such a protracted period of time. In seasons 2012 and 2013 she arrived back in June, so March this season makes it an early arrival for her. We have seen her on and off during March and although she looks in fairly good condition she does not appear to have grown since we last saw her in September.
She is however still displaying her usual Deux Rossi type behaviour by spending a lot of time around the boat with many cage divers getting to know her well! We certainly hope that we will see her throughout the season.
While Chris & I were away Poenas and crew did a great job of running trips in our absence. There were some quiet days while the weather settled but as mentioned activity kept building to the end of the month.
On 25 March we got our first breach on the decoy of the season and we also recorded a number of active predatory events as well as scavenge events.
Another of our favourite sharks was also spotted for the first time this season and this was the famous “Shy Guy”. This is the 12th season in a row that we have recorded him at Seal Island and as you can imagine Chris & I were absolutely thrilled to hear of his return. 12 Seasons in a row is now the most amount of seasons that any shark has been recorded at Seal Island.
His claim to fame is that although we see him hunting seals at Seal Island he has only ever come up to the boat once. I guess seals are his main priority and fresh tuna does not register on his importance scale!
2000TH Trips to Seal Island
On the 13th of March Apex undertook its 2000th trip to Seal Island. In celebration of this milestone Chris & I had a look through our 17 years of data and pulled some fun and interesting facts and data we have collected over the years. It is hard to believe that we have spent so much time at Seal Island, the time goes so quickly and as there are always new things to learnt, one never feels like an expert!
It has been such a great privilege working at Seal Island, supported by amazing crew, especially Poenas and we still feel the same amount of enthusiasm as Day 1!
You can read the full blog here.
False Bay Alive with Activity
We have come to expect March and April to be great months for Common Dolphin, Cape Gannet and Brydes Whale sightings. This is due to the vast presence of sardines and anchovies in the Bay which sustain the above mentioned predators.
But, this March has been off the scale in terms of high intensity! Common dolphins have been seen on every trip with the largest school being 3000. They have been accompanied by up to 5000 gannets and numerous Brydes whales that seem to follow the action.
Active baitballs have been a common occurrence and spectacular sights of diving gannets and carolling dolphins have been seen, a real bonus and highlight for the guests that have been out with us this past month.
Great White Sharks, New Zealand
The full blog report is here, and an excerpt below.
Apex is planning on running an Expedition to New Zealand in March 2015. Details are still being worked out but if you are keen pop us an email so that we can keep you posted. This will be a very special guided trip by ourselves and will definitely be one for shark and nature enthusiasts wanting to experience great white sharks in a very uncommercial setting.
“After 3 days of working on the western side we got the feeling that working with the sharks here is very easy! I know we were only here for a short period so we are by no means experts here but from chatting with Peter the days we experienced were fairly normal.
We waited no longer than 5 minutes each day for the first shark to arrive and when they did arrive they stayed with very little encouragement from us. In fact due to filming we often would not have any bait out while we prepped for different shots but once we were ready we only had to put the bait back in the water and they would all be back again almost immediately.
It also became apparent that we were seeing the same sharks every day and over the 9 day period of filming there were 10 sharks that we came to know. Just like at Seal Island they all had very distinct characters and each individual behaved in the same manner as they did the previous days. My favourite was a shark we named “Mr Nice Guy”. It may sound corny but this really was a very nice shark! Very slow swimming, very relaxed and he liked to cruise at the surface with part of his face and eye out of the water while we looked at us… I was in love!
There seems to be a very clear sexual segregation here of the great whites at certain times of the season. During our time period all sharks were saw were males, apart from one small female identified on the last day. Apparently the large females start to arrive from the end of March onwards and all the males depart at this point.
There are two other clear differences to Seal Island. The sharks here seem to stay around the boat for long periods and there does not seem to be a high or radical change over of sharks. For instance at Seal Island we can do morning and afternoon trips and record completely different sharks present, as well as from day to day.
But the most interesting and fascinating difference for me is that the sharks here are completely comfortable with each other’s presence, even in close quarters. I know this sounds crazy but it was almost like they knew each other and actually enjoyed hanging out together… I have never seen this kind of great white shark behaviour before and I was completely astounded by it.
At home the great white sharks can be described as “twitchy” and are very aware of keeping their distance from one another and strictly obey the law of the biggest is the highest on the hierarchy ladder. At Edwards Island the sharks here all appear to be 100% comfortable with each other.
Chris did a lot of filming work on the bottom which gave him a perfect opportunity to observe the sharks down below without the influence of bait and he confers with all of the above.
As we get closer to Shark Week we will post a few more blogs on the project, save to say there are some very interesting and exciting encounters Chris had in a small protection capsule that he wondered around the bottom of the ocean in.”
Other Nature Experiences in New Zealand
New Zealand is a very long way from South Africa so we decided to make the most of being here and spent a week traveling South Island doing a number of incredible nature experiences. I can’t rave enough about how amazing the marine wildlife encounters are here especially time spent with the great albatross.
The full blog is here, however an excerpt below.
“The last adventure we had planned took us to Kaikoura. What a beautiful place where the Mountains meet the Ocean and the ocean is alive with a huge variety of marine wildlife! It is possible to see many whale species here such as Sperm whales, humpbacks and Southern Rights. There are also resident pods of Dusky dolphins which one can swim with and if you are lucky a Hectors Dolphin may also be seen. New Zealand fur seals dot the coast line in their spread out seal colonies amongst the rocky coastline. If you are especially lucky you may even see an orca or two…
But, our reason for coming here was actually to go on a number of sea bird watching trips. What makes Kaikoura so special, and gives the opportunity of seeing such a huge variety of marine life is that the continental shelf is a mere 1 to 2 miles offshore. This also means that it is by far the best spot in the world to see Wandering and Northern and Southern Royal Albatross.
For those of you that do not know too much about birds, you need to understand that these albatross are among The Great Animals on our Planet today.
How so, you might ask. Well these birds can live up to 60 years, circumnavigate the globe in under a month, spent upwards of 5 years at sea without ever touching land, in the world's most tempestuous oceans and have the largest wingspan of any creature alive. Sadly though almost all of the 23 species of albatross are threatened with extinction and when you see these animals magnificence at an arm’s length you feel pretty lousy as a human that it is our kind that are wiping them out through greed and careless fishing practices such as longlining.
When we headed out on our first early morning trip we could not believe how easy it was to actually see these rare birds. Within moments of the bait going into the water a number of Wanderers came jetting in with flared wings and feet like landing gear on an aeroplane skidding on the surface. Competition around the food is fierce and on each trip there was one dominant bird for the morning.
The birds are actually really mean to each other and horrendous squawking sounds are emitted which you think are impossible to come from such a beautiful bird! New arrivals will constantly compete for the bait but the dominant bird will hold strong, rarely losing it over the 2 hour period. This does result in quite a bit of surface fighting with the losers hanging around on the outskirts.
The smaller birds seem to have better luck with the ever feisty Giant Petrels constantly sidling in for a few scraps and the Pintado Petrels also doing well on the smaller scraps.
At times we were surrounded with up 15 different Wanderers and Royals. These birds can weigh up to 14kgs and their wing spans reach 3.5 meters, so they are absolutely massive and a seriously overwhelming and impressive sight seeing them just a meter or so away from you.
In fact it was such an intense experience that both Chris & I agree that this is right up there with some of the best nature experiences we have ever had, and most definitely the best bird experience ever!
As we head into April I can tell you that we have been having some of our best ever April Great White shark numbers and daily sightings of the dolphins. For the upcoming season ahead we have 1 spot left on our Sardine Run Expedition and a few spots left on our annual Great White Trail Expedition in August.
Let us know if anyone is interested in participating on either of these exciting wildlife expeditions.
Until next month!