Posted on Thursday, 9 April 2015
I know I sound like a broken record and believe me I feel like a broken record… the wind has not stopped blowing for the last two months! It has been a very challenging time at Seal Island and the rough seas have left us wistful of calmer days.
Other news in March Shark Bytes is a trip report on our recent shark expedition to New Zealand and a very exciting orca sighting in False Bay, something we have been waiting in hope for the last two years!
Seal Island & False Bay News
When we have been able to get to sea, albeit in rough conditions, the shark activity has been variable with a mix of good days and fair days. This is as can be expected for this time of the season.
Some trips have seen very interactive sharks and up to six per trip! Other trips, often right after a good day, would test the patience of everyone on board. But the good news is that sharks have been seen on all trips and everyone on board appreciated the sightings of these amazing animals.
I believe that settled weather conditions play an important role in predictable and good Great White shark sightings at Seal Island. I am not sure why this would be the case but it certainly is something we have noted over the years. I just hope that all the hard graft the crew is putting in right now in trying conditions will pay dividend for later in the season!
I spoke about the poor water visibility we experienced in February due to upwelled conditions. Due to the continued strong South Easterly winds the water has been dirty for most of the month and visibility was between one and three meters only. Towards the end of March the water began to clean up shortly after a three day period of fairly low winds. Cage diving conditions became much more enjoyable in eight meters. But, as I sit writing right now we are coming off a six day gale so I am not feeling too confident that that kind of visibility will have remained.
Other Marine Wildlife & Coastal Trip
Schools of Common dolphins and a number of Brydes whales have been sighted on most trips but it seems as though the huge about of bio diversity we have seen over the last three to four years at this time of the season has not yet come into the Bay. Dolphin schools have been anywhere from 50 to 800 strong and Cape gannet numbers have also not yet reached the high numbers we have become used to seeing. Quite a drastic observation is the smaller numbers of Cape cormorant that roost on Seal Island. Most years the flock has been as large as 80,000. We assume that many of them would have relocated to an area that provides better feeding opportunities and one that is closer to the food source.
Chris & I recently brought our smaller boat back to Cape Town from The Breede River by sea transfer which is a 150 mile sea journey along the south eastern Cape coast. I was really looking forward to the opportunity of seeing what marine wildlife was along this stretch of coastline. Both Chris and I were surprised at the lack of quantity and diversity. Just off Struisbaai we sighted about 6-8 Brydes whales and only off Walker Bay did we come across a very small pod of about 50 Common dolphin.
There were also two very strange sightings of young Humpback whales on their own. One was off Struisbaai and the other in Walker Bay. There was no sign of their mothers and thus did raise a question as to their well-being.
We were very surprised at the lack of marine life along this stretch of coast that is normally very productive. Weather conditions play a pivotal role in the environment and perhaps the constantly windy conditions have had an effect on the bio mass and thus cetacean movement along our area of coastline. One thing is for sure, this is the windiest summer and autumn we can remember in the last 20 years…yikes!
Orca Sighting in False Bay: 26 March
There is a sure way to get over jetlag and that is an Orca Sighting!
Chris & I returned from New Zealand on Wednesday and with the long journey home and 11 hour time change we were not at our “freshest” when the Apex Crew called on at 7am on the 26 March. My heart just about jumped in my throat when I heard the words orca being spoken… our morning trip had just come across them whilst on the way to Seal Island.
Fortunately we were very lucky to be able to join Destiny Charters as they went looking for the orcas and just over an hour after the initial call we caught up with a pod of five orcas just south of Millers Point. This pod was made up of one male with a large dorsal fin, two adult females and three juveniles.
They appeared to be uncomfortable being in close proximity to the boats present and were sounding often and for fairly long periods. We felt it was better not to pressurise them and after having a good look and taking some ID images we left them as they headed south towards the mouth of False Bay.
It is always completely exhilarating to be close to a pod of orcas and this one came as a complete surprise. In the past we have recorded them in False Bay in the months of April and May when the dolphin numbers have swelled into schools of up to 3000. We have been seeing common dolphins on our shark trips but not in great numbers so as I mentioned this was a surprise sighting and our earliest of the season yet. One thing I have learnt about orcas is that you can never expect to see them… it just happens when it happens!
We were just approaching Simonstown harbour when White Pointer called through to us again. Another pod of four orcas had just been encountered on the way back from Seal Island. Wow, we couldn’t believe it as we raced back out there again. It was a perfect day with flat water, no better time for an orca encounter! This pod consisted of four orca; one male, two females and a juvenile. We assume that they were part of the pod we had seen earlier and that this was a splinter group.
As we got closer to Seal Island a very small school of Common dolphin were moving our way. They seemed pretty relaxed but it was out of the ordinary to see a small splinter group of dolphin. We have observed this kind of dolphin behaviour after being chased by the orcas so we knew we had a keep a sharp look out for any other dolphins.
This pod of four orca were a lot more relaxed around the boat and after spending 15 minutes of them slowly cruising alongside us a small group of three dolphins could be seen close by. It took the orcas no time at all to pick up on them and suddenly the hunt was on.
After the initial hit an injured dolphin became isolated and the orcas honed in. With the dolphin being badly injured there was no need for the orcas to rush the hunt and (sadly) the dolphin was chased for a good 5 minutes before finally being finished off.
These orca/dolphin hunts are always very spectacular but it is very hard to watch another animal in distress. This was a sub adult dolphin and surely would not have gone too far in feeding all 4 orca so we will be on high alert over the next few days…
A very big thank you again to Destiny Charters for having us aboard for this amazing experience.
Great White Sharks, New Zealand
After a very long 36 hour journey from Cape Town to Stewart Island in New Zealand it was not very heartening to hear the words of our taxi driver “If you can’t cuddle them, kill them!” This was his general feeling for wildlife in New Zealand and it certainly seemed to set the tone of the trip.
We were back in New Zealand to spend a week filming for Discovery Channel’s Shark Week 2015. There is a healthy population of Great white sharks that congregate around the Titi Islands which are located very close to Steward Island in the South.
Please read the full blog here.
After having read and checked this month’s Sharks Bytes I am very aware of the negative niggles that are coming through. I do blame it on the depressing wind and I am sure you will join me in wishing for calmer seas in April!
In the meantime please check out our Photos of the Month.
There are just 7 spots left on our annual Great White Trail Expedition this August. Please read here for more info. Or, if these dates don’t suit please read about our 5 day package deal here . We hope that some of you will be able to join us at Seal Island this season.
Until next month,