Posted on Tuesday, 31 May 2005
Dear Shark Lovers
We have had a very busy month and have seen an exciting variety of sharks as well as some old friends!
To start off the month we were doing mostly pelagic shark trips and have seen plenty of mako sharks. Our wait time has also been very short which is always a pleasure and in a small way makes up for the 2 hour boat trip out there. We also did one trip last week where we unfortunately could not dive due to bad weather. The sharks were very good though and we saw 2 fairly large makos and two very big blue sharks that were both over 2 meters in length. This was the first time we have seen blues in about four weeks. We were also privileged to have a massive yellowfin tuna swim around our boat for about an hour. We estimated this fish to be about 200lbs and a lot taller than Chris! When yellowfin tuna get to about 100lbs they develop sickles and this tuna had sickles that were so long they were bending over to touch its back, something we had never seen before.
On the way home from one of our pelagic trips we came across a small school of common dolphins. As they approached our boat to ride the bow wave a shoal of sardines rose under the boat, obviously using it for protection. For some strange reason the dolphins lost interest and moved off but a pod of about 50 seals began to devour the bait ball. It was absolutely fascinating the watch the skill of the seals as they feasted but at the same time we were very respectful of the sardines that could only wait their turn. In fact everything was happening so close to us that we could smell the sardines on the breath if the seals. We even saw three very big bronze whaler sharks rise through the bait ball to claim their share, something we really were not expecting.
We normally do not do any pelagic trips during our winter months due to weather and the Aguhlas Current usually being further offshore, but in the upcoming months we want to give it a go and see what the different climatic changes bring.
In April Chris & I wanted to dive with the sevengill cow sharks again but unfortunately did not get round to it. This month we made sure we had time and one afternoon Chris & I went for a dive. The water temperature is dropping now and it was a chilly 16 deg Celsius. We had been in the water for about 40 minutes, waiting all the time for the massive King of the Kelp beds to arrives. When we do this cow shark dive I always feel a little wary as the sharks seem to appear out of nowhere and the visibility can also sometimes be poor. It was getting to the point where we were deciding to finish the dive and Chris was taking a last few shots of a puff adder shy shark. I turned around to see a medium sized cow shark approaching us and didn’t have time to warn Chris. All sharks are curious animals and cow sharks are no different. This shark went straight below to where Chris was, giving him a nice surprise. Luckily the shark was very relaxed but still happy to give us close inspections. Soon after she arrived a very small cow shark, only about 1,2 meters in length showed up. This one was a little more excited and would repeatedly bump the dome point of Chris’s camera.
I am always amazed at how sharks can make one forget one’s circumstances. We were both so cold before the first cow shark arrived but still managed to stay in for a further hour. In the end we saw 5 different cow shark including a very large female of about 2,8 meters. I guess the adrenalin is a quick cure for the cold!
Sharks are also an excellent cure for seasickness and often times guests on our boat who are not feeling great are cured within minutes of a shark arriving!
May generally signals the start of the great white shark season at Seal Island. The last two years in May have been very quiet so we were expecting the same this year. I am pleased to say that we have been very fortunate to have seen plenty of sharks on all our trips this month.
After a season of mako and blue sharks I had temporarily forgotten how immense white sharks actually are and it is very tempting to over size them. The sheer girth of a white shark usually makes them seem bigger than what they are. This is probably the reason for all the 6 and 7 meter white sharks that are reportedly seen by general water users when they encounter them.
On one trip we recorded 15 different sharks that visited our boat, and on other trips we have seen between 8 and 12 different animals. In the last two seasons we have struggled to get sharks to our boat and I think the most we saw last year was 11 on one day.
When there are so many sharks around we get to observe very interesting behavior and body language. Although white sharks are solitary we personally think that they travel in loosely associated groups and over the years we have observed the same sharks to be present at the Island together. This still does not mean that they are happy to be in close proximity of each other. When two or more sharks are around the boat at one time the larger animal is usually dominant. Small sharks will give way to them with speed and sometimes only return once the larger shark has departed. We also observe sharks flexing dorsal fins, gaping and also hunching their backs. These communications between sharks are warning signs to each other to adhere to the hierarchy system.
Although the sharks have been plentiful around the Island we have seen very little predatory activity on the cape fur seals. A very definite reason is that we have not observed many seals departing or returning to the Island and thereby not giving the sharks an opportunity to feed. For the short periods that we have towed a decoy we have had a number of breaches so we believe the sharks are ready to hunt and feel that it should all kick in any day now.
As spectacular as predatory behavior can be I still love to have the opportunity of watching sharks gently cruise around our boat in their relaxed way. Through these interactions we are actually able to identify the different personalities of each individual shark, and they are all different! We of course know some sharks much better than others and in some cases see “our friends” from year to year.
My very favorite animal is a large female named Rasta. I have spoken about her many times and I think that most of you know about her. Chris first saw her in 1997 when she was about 2,7 meters in length. What makes her so special is that she is an extraordinarily relaxed shark. Her favorite trick is to put her head out of the water on her own accord and simply just look at everyone. She will also gently swim into the side of the boat, stick her head out again and slowly fall back into the water. I wish that every human on the planet would have the opportunity of seeing her…their perceptions of sharks will without doubt change.
Chris & I did not see her last year but Rob briefly saw her at the very end of the season which was great news for everyone that knows her.
At the beginning of the month Rob phoned us from his boat immediately after he had just seen Rasta….we were all so so excited that she had returned to Seal Island once again!
Although Rob had seen her both Chris & I did not hold out hope that we would as well and to be honest, just to know that she was still alive and healthy was enough for us.
Then 2 weeks ago we did not have any bookings but decided to take out our Mom’s (who love sharks!) and a couple of friends. We had already seen good sharks when a very big shark surfaced under our boat. I immediately checked the dorsal fin and thought I recognized Rasta. I did not want to cry wolf so waited for her to come up to the surface…and yes…it was Her! My first impression was how massive she was, and then this huge animal decided to slowly put her head out of the water! Well you can imagine the joyous screams from everyone on the boat especially after she did it second time.
Both Chris & I make a point of not touching sharks but when Rasta rubbed up the side of the boat I could not resist reaching out to touch her tail fin. It was exhilarating and very overwhelming to be able to feel my very special shark.
We have also seen a couple other sharks that we recognize including a small female nicknamed “Schumi”. She has a reputation for being very fast and confident around the boat so I hope that Michael Schumacher does not mind us borrowing his name.
Black-White-Black is a male shark that we did not see last year although we have recorded him over 60 times in the years before this. He is also very confidant and would often displace sharks that were larger than he. We also noted him to be one of the more intelligent sharks that we encounter as he constantly would come up with news ways of getting the bait. (Most sharks will try the same plan without altering.) Unfortunately he does not have many distinguishing markings and they only way we could recognize him was from an old tag through his dorsal fin. He would have lost this by now but we have had a regular shark around the boat that behaves just like him and is also about the right size that BWB should be now. We have taken Dorsal fin photographs and are hoping to be able to match these up with previous images. One way or the other we find out shortly, so fingers crossed that it is him.
We are really excited for the upcoming season and the sharks it may bring and look forward to sharing the news with everyone.
On another note from shark news around the world the new Disney Hong Kong is going serve Shark Fin soup in an effort to attract Wedding Banquets. At the same time, Disney prides itself on being environmentally conscious as they are involved in wildlife conservation through their "Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund".
There has been an outcry over this but Disney’s response has been not to remove the dish as they need to respect the cultural needs of their customers. I am sure that a lot of you will strongly against this and if you would like to email a letter expressing your concerns you can do so to the following people:
Chief Executive Officer, Disney World, Mr. Michael Eisner:
Group Managing Director HK Disneyland, Mr. Don Robinson:
Hong Kong Disneyland Vice-President of Marketing and Sales, Mr. Roy Hardy:
Hong Kong Disneyland Corporate Communications, Ms Irene Chan:
Public Affairs Team: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disney Corporate Communications, U.S.: TWDC.CorpCommunications@disney.com
Back to more positive things we have an interesting variety of images on “Photo’s of the Month” including cow sharks, two spectacular white shark breaches and of course Rasta…Hope you all enjoy!
Until next month,