November 2016 Shark Bytes
Posted on Thursday, 8 December 2016
Please forgive my silence for the past few months but we have been away and happily offline for the last couple of months.
The good news is that I do have some great wildlife stories and experiences to share with you as our trip took in four different National Park across Namibia and Zimbabwe.
On the ocean front we have been experiencing the annual humpback whale aggregation phenomenon along our Cape Coast and a quick visit to Gansbaai.
Lastly, be sure to read to the end for information on a very special trip Chris & I are putting together to South Georgia in October 2017.
Humpback Whale Aggregation
Something special has been taking place off our Cape Town Western Seaboard for the last few years and that is a massive aggregation of migrating Humpback whales. These humpbacks have been aggregating in a small stretch of inshore coastline along the Sea Point, Hout Bay and Kommetjie areas usually only for a short 2 week or so period of time. It’s most likely that these humpbacks are migrating from their breeding grounds in the tropics and coming down our way to feed before heading further down south to Antarctica for their primary summer feeding grounds.
An excerpt is below but you can read the full blog here.
“ … As we approached closer the humpbacks were streaming down in a southerly direction and pod after pod of between three and eight whales could be seen making their way down. The whale traffic was continuous and most pods seemed to be made up of mostly male & female adults and some sub adults. We were very careful to be passive and not directly approach the whales but on a couple of occasions some pods made a detour and came for a good look at our boat. They almost seemed curious and would do many circuits before moving on.
There was a huge amount of non-vocal communication taking place and all around us we could see tail slapping, fluke slapping and spectacular breaches. A breaching humpback must be one of the most graceful of all whales as it majestically and in ballerina-like fashion soars through the air. If one turned in a full circle it was possible to see these non-verbal communications in almost every degree of the compass!
As impressive as this behaviour was we were curious to see if we could find the huge concentrations that people had previously spoken about. In the late afternoon we came across a most spectacular sight of what we estimate to be between 60 to 80 whales in very close confines and all feeding together. I cannot adequately describe this sight, all I can say is that it is right up with one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in nature. Everything was going on…incredible lunge feeding, spectacular breaching, huge tail slapping and all 80 whales were involved in a tight concentration!
When zooming in on Chris’s photographs it looks like minute little orange shrimps that the humpbacks were gorging themselves on. There must have been billions of them present to sustain the amount of feeding that was taking place.
Not only was everything visually spectacular but it was also a complete sensory overload. One of the highlights and most memorable experiences was closing my eyes and just listening to the ever present and constant noise of this huge mass of whales breathing and exhaling together. There were many different tones ranging from the general whale exhale and extending to a deep rumbling sound which sounded very close to elephant-like. This was particularly interesting to me as I had never heard any whales make a sound like this.
The smell was equally as memorable but not exactly in a good way, they absolutely stank! The smell must have been attributed to what they were feeding on and I can tell you it was pretty horrible…! ”
Chris had the opportunity a few days ago to spend a morning out in Gansbaai with CNN. I’ll let you know via our social media channels when this very positive piece about Great White sharks and shark cage diving in Cape Town airs, but it was also a great opportunity for Chris to check out the conditions as well as enjoy an awesome time with the sharks!
All the operators are working the inshore areas which is normal for this time of year, and they had seven different sharks during the morning. The water visibility was fairly poor but the surface viewing was excellent and included a beautiful 4 meter female as the highlight of the trip.
Although it is out of season for us at Seal Island we are still able to book you with our preferred operators in Gansbaai. So, for those of you who are looking to do something sharky during the summer holidays we can still help you out!
And now for a few African Wildlife experiences…
Our first stop was Etosha National Park in Namibia where the highlight was a very close encounter with a magnificent lioness.
For the full blog please read here. A little taster is below!
“There’s a Lion in the Window!
The final interaction I am about to write about is without doubt my closest encounter with a lion and also my most adrenalin filled experience!
The interaction took place on the morning we were driving out the park and into the Caprivi Strip. It was a long drive so we weren’t stopping for too much until we saw about five cars stopped up one of the side roads. Stopped cars always mean something worthwhile has been sighted and this time round is was a lion pride of about twelve all lying complacently next to the road. We are both complete suckers for cubs so when we saw there were six tiny three week old cubs we had to stop and spend some time with them.
The rest of the pride was made up of a male, five lionesses and one more cub that was maybe about eight weeks old.
When we arrived there were two lionesses lying in the shade of one of the cars and the other three were lying in the veld close to us. The tiny cubs were really bugging the mom’s by constantly wanting to suckle as well as play and the annoyed lionesses were getting up frequently to avoid the demanding cubs. A couple of them eventually settled in the shade of some bush creating beautiful dappled light to be cast over them. We moved closer and Chris was really enjoying using his big lens for some creative images when another lioness decided that the shade from our car was really quite tempting.
In a matter of moments she had sauntered over and plopped herself down right under Chris’s window and was now lying touching the car.
We are used to being in close proximity to large predators so although there was definitely something to think about we were pretty calm about the situation. Added to this the lioness was extremely relaxed and obviously used to cars so for the moment Chris, myself and the lioness were all just enjoying a good lion sighting. At this stage Chris decided not to make a noise, and thus possibly changing the atmosphere, by closing the windows (both the front and the back were open at this stage).
A short while later the two month old cub arrived to lie with Mom and as with most young felines he was very curious in this big white oblong thing that was sticking out the window. Chris lens had now become a focus of attention and the cubs little head would go up and down as he surveyed this strange looking object.
The lioness now also became aware of the lens and shortly after the cub drifted off she stood up. All this took place in just a few moments and my comfort level went from ok to “what the hell” as I saw a very big lioness looking directly into our open window!
I actually couldn’t look because I couldn’t bring myself to look into the eyes of a lioness and admit the reality of the situation!
Although Chris was very calm I could feel him thinking “ok….what now!”
The lioness was now curiously peering inside the hood of lens and we think she was catching her reflection in the glass as she kept drawing her head backwards and forwards as she peered in.
At some point we realised she would probably grab the camera and Chris had to do something about the situation. He couldn’t tap the side of the car as he would literally be touching her so the only reasonable choice was to gently push her backwards with the camera set up. At the same time he needed to swing the ignition (without starting the engine) so that we could get the windows up.
I was completely useless at this point and still couldn’t look, I had my face buried in my hands!
As Chris gently pushed the lioness with the lens she took a step backwards and then in a seamless movement he swung the key and got the windows up….phew…I could breathe again!
The lioness was still unperturbed and immediately came back towards the car. Finding the lens and the object of her curiosity now gone she proceeded to very gently get hold of our door handle and begin to nibble.
This was too much for us now and Chris started the car. With the noise of the engine she now casually moved away.
My goodness…this all only lasted a few minutes but it felt like forever. Both of us had our adrenalin racing and the sweat pouring down. It was a complete understatement to say it was an intense experience…it was an off the scale encounter and I certainly will never forget the feeling of being so close to a completely wild lioness.”