Posted on Tuesday, 7 June 2016
I’ll quickly get the most anticipated question out of the way first…still no sign of the Great White sharks at Seal Island. This past May has been incredibly trying from that point of view but we have by no means been idle so I do have a few exciting wildlife encounters to share with you all including dives with Sperm whales and Pilot whales.
I also have good news to share with regards to the Hammerhead shark situation.
Great News for the Hammerheads
I always like to start with good news when possible and since so many of you expressed your concern and heart break over the smooth hammerhead pups that were being fished just outside the De Hoop Nature Reserve I’d like to share a very positive update on this situation.
As of April this year all hammerhead species were added to the list of The Demersal Shark Longlining permits as a non-commercial species and may no longer be targeted.
This is a great step forward and we’d like to thank everyone who voiced their concerns over this matter. Putting pressure on the relevant Government Departments can sometimes make a difference and as an individual you can help to make significant changes. Thank you also to the scientists concerned who made big efforts to bring in this new regulation of a Cites listed species.
False Bay News
The sharks have still not returned to Seal Island but the other marine wildlife in the Bay has continued to be extremely prolific especially in the first half of the month.
Large schools of Common dolphins have been feeding on small, strung out shoals of anchovy. As the bait balls have not been very dense we have observed the dolphins feed as they move through these small shoals. So, although there hasn’t been any sustained action it’s been interesting to watch the terns and Sooty shearwaters drop in from above to pick up any fish that may have strayed.
In particular we do not think we have ever seen so many Sooty shearwaters for such an extended period in the bay, amazing that these birds come the whole way from New Zealand.
Last year the Great Whites returned to Seal Island around 8 June so we are crossing fingers, toes and eyes that they will be back soon.
Incredible Adventures off Cape Point
Our Great White sharks may be missing in action but this has not stopped our thirst for adventure out on the open ocean.
Over the last few years Chris & I have been paying particular attention to the variety of cetaceans (whale and dolphin species) we have come across in the open ocean off Cape Point and further up the east coast where we also regularly go offshore.
Pilot whales, False Killer whales, Oceanic Bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, Common dolphins and Sperm whales are amongst some of the species we can potentially encounter. The waters off Cape Point are particularly rich in a healthy squid population and this is what most of the whale and dolphin species are feeding on. The more we get out there, the more we are learning and it is very exciting times for us indeed.
We really made the most of the fantastic weather in May and embarked on many very successful pelagic trips. In the early part of the month the Blue sharks were around in great numbers. I always say these are the absolute best shark species to dive with. Once they arrive at the boat they stick around. They aren’t afraid of the divers and as such make many close approaches but at the same time one does not feel threatened by them. The best way of describing the dive is as a beautiful shark experience.
We usually always see Mako sharks on our Pelagic Trips but in the past few years it has normally been one per trip and the average size is tiny (around 1m to 1.4 meters in length). So, you can imagine our excitement when on one trip we had no less than six different Mako sharks and all 1.8 meters and bigger. I don’t know what was up on this day but they stuck around the boat for ages and we even had four sharks together. Mako sharks definitely do not like being in close proximity to each other so it was amazing watching the interactions and especially the speed as they would avoid each other.
A Modern Day White Sperm Whale
It was on the “6 Mako shark” day that we had a truly unique experience with a Sperm whale. Chris was in the water diving with four Makos when two whales popped up in our slick about 800 meters from our boat. This is what we were looking for and immediately Chris jumped back on board and we motored over to identify who had come to visit.
It was two magnificent Sperm whales!
As they approached it became obvious that it wasn’t just any old Sperm whale and that the male was an absolute giant of a creature. I have never in all my time on the ocean seen a marine animal as large as this one and we reckon he was all of 20 meters long and he had a ginormous white head.
Chris managed to have an experience with him underwater and the below hints at the experience.
The full blog can be read here. It was an incredible experience and a must read!
“We plotted the animals course and I slipped into the water some 100 yards ahead of it giving it plenty of time to decide whether it wanted to come towards me or not. As I drifted I checked my camera settings and then glanced up, the animal was moving much faster than I thought and in no time had halved the distance to me. With visibility at around 30 feet I knew that this encounter would be intense if I was close enough to see it and I had feelings of huge excitement mixed with a tinge of fear.
I could hear the whale breathing as I floated on the surface and I could now see the whales approach very clearly as it was only 60 feet away. I was on the wrong side of the whale for the light but I knew if I swam now I probably would not get around the whale and could easily be caught like a car stuck at a level crossing. I cursed my lack of preparation. At 45 feet away the whale was almost in my visibility range and I dived. As I headed a few feet under the surface an eerie white apparition materialized. Initially I was confused but quickly I realized it was actually the white head of this giant living mammalian locomotive that was causing the greeny water to glow around it.
I was staring at what was for all intents and purposes a giant white Sperm whale.
All along and around the whale’s head, mouth and body were deep white scratches, rake marks and scars and interspersed with these were teacup size sucker marks which gave the whole head a very white appearance.
Mind bogglingly I was in the water and now only 10 feet away from a modern day Moby Dick and I could see why the Essex’s crew could well be forgiven for saying the giant whale that had taken revenge on their boat was white.
Caught between taking pictures or being brushed off by the whale if I did not quickly swim, I chose to do a bit of both, firing and swimming at the same time.”
Pilot Whales… AGAIN
After the success of finding Sperm whales we were constantly checking the weather to see when next we could get offshore. Finally the right conditions saw fit to grace us with another perfect day out there and we headed out with great anticipation.
We strangely did not manage to get any sharks up to the boat but early afternoon Chris spotted the tell-tail small puffs of Pilot whales in the distance. Yahoooo!
There were about 100 Pilot whales in total and in the hours that followed they changed from being strung out over a about a mile long area, coming together in one large group and then spreading out again in many loose groups.
In order to get in the water with them we had to approach with care and then judge their path so that we could already be in the water waiting for their approach. It is extremely exciting once you jump in the ocean and wait for the brief swim by. With my head above the water I could watch them approach as well as hear their loud exhales just a few meters in front of me. Once they were close enough I ducked under and found myself directly in the path with as many as 12 Pilot whales. The calves would generally stay very close to their mothers but would still curiously look at me as would many of the others in the pod.
What was also very noticeable was how comfortable the whales were with us provided we did not swim at them and simply let them choose their route around or under us, even occasionally circling back for another look.
We spent nearly 4 hours with them and had countless drops and in water encounters with them.
As the sun set its was truly magical watching their odd-shaped dorsal fins silhouetted by the deep orange sky although it did at the same time leave us wanting for more sunlight for just a few more dives!
Shark Week 2016 – Air Jaws: Night Stalker
Shark Week will be airing on Discovery Channel earlier this year and starts later this month.
For this year’s programming Apex was involved with facilitating amongst other shows to be aired, Air Jaws: Night Stalker and Chris will be hosting the show alongside Dr Neil Hammerschlag.
Chris & Neil will be looking at the lunar activity of the Great White shark as well as many other interesting scientific facts including looking at Cape Fur seal stress levels by analysing their poop…sounds a little crazy but it is hugely interesting.
And of course look out for the famously beautiful images of Great White sharks doing incredible behaviour as renowned cameramen Jeff Kurr, Tony Sacco , Andy Brandy Casagrande and the rest of the Air Jaws cinematographic team creatively capture beautiful, interesting and entertaining imagery … there might even be something new going on after dark!
We have some spots on our Sardine Run expedition 22- 29 June 2016 and our Great White Trail Expedition, 15 – 22 August 2016. For more info, visit here.
Until next month!
To read our last three Shark Bytes click on the links below:
April 2016 Shark Bytes
March 2016 Shark Bytes
January 2016 Shark Bytes