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Marine Life & Conservation

The Amazing Grace of Sharks

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I feel as if I have been waiting atop the ocean in our boat for shark predation season to begin for such a long time and finally I can say it has arrived! For many a week now we have talked about the arrival of peak season (okay, make that many a month), and every time we have had a storm system pushing through the bay the crew have commented to one another that “this will be the storm, this is the one that will switch the sharks on to predatory mode.” And every time it hasn’t happened we have looked forward to the next storm and how that will be the one. It is fair to say I have been scanning the horizon every sunrise for signs that the sharks have begun hunting and, call me overenthusiastic, but I have been much like a child waiting for Christmas to begin.

KH seal in air shark fin

Simply put I find this part of the year absolutely fascinating, both in terms of witnessing the sharks and seals’ natural behaviours and also in terms of sharing this special time with our guests. It is a privilege to see the look upon a person’s face when they observe a great white shark fly out of the water at high speed without so much as any warning that it was going to do so, especially when it is upon our decoy seal and everyone was watching. Peoples’ mouths drop open, they laugh, they smile, they are left speechless or they simply shout for sheer joy. There are so many different reactions but each one certainly contains pure wonder at what just happened and a childlike excitement when they realise they have captured the moment on camera. A memory that will last a lifetime. Great white sharks are enormous, incredibly powerful and yet so graceful and elegant when they are air borne. People tend to think of whale species when they consider the words breach, dance, grace and beauty. But for me these sharks are equally as beautiful when they arch above the water with their white bellies on display as an orange sun rises overhead and bathes the shark in warm light. And every breach is different, unique somehow. The sharks have an incredible ability to bend and twist into different positions and fly out of the water horizontally, vertically, curving sideways and even somersaulting over themselves at times before they re-enter the dark water below. Whilst this variety is most often seen when the sharks are hunting seals it can also be seen during decoy seal tows and, that most magical of moments, natural breaches. A moment when the shark leaves the water not in pursuit of a seal, fake or real, but for reasons we don’t fully understand. This year we have seen a high number of natural breaches and they are always especially acrobatic.

KH shark breach misses seal

The difficult part of this time of year for me is when watching the sharks hunt the seals. Nature is stunning in her beauty and magnificence but yet where she gives, she also takes away and as the saying goes ‘nature can be cruel’. The seals upon the island are incredible predators in their own right and having spent months watching their social behaviours and seeing the youngsters grow and play within the shallows I find myself somewhat attached to and in awe of them. Not only do they live upon an exposed rock all year round but they have to travel through the waters of False Bay repeatedly in order to feed, which obviously involves learning how to survive in the event that they are pursued by a shark at any given time. I have watched on many occasions as a shark breached upon an unsuspecting seal and missed. When this happens the seal has the presence of mind to stop, look below the surface of the water, locate the shark and then swim to its tail or behind its jaws. The seal then twists and turns as the shark continues to pursue it from below and either the seal is eventually caught or the shark spends too much energy and loses interest. The seal can then continue onwards. Interestingly, the chances of a shark successfully hunting a seal drop dramatically if it misses the seal on the first breach and this dance between predator and prey begins. The younger seals have that presence of mind to behave in such a way when perhaps until that moment they have never even seen a shark and that makes them nothing short of exceptional in my opinion. Their clarity of mind, agility and ability to adapt to a situation that quickly is incredible and they deserve our utmost respect, which of course they have and we do everything possible to avoid interfering with their natural behaviour at such times.

KH shark breach gannetts

Equally I find myself in awe of the sharks when they are hunting and I bear witness to their predatory abilities and also how humane they are when hunting. They do not play with their prey or take their time when making a kill. Often we find an event is over seconds after it has begun and the suffering of the seal involved is thankfully minimal. Of course a predation event does occasionally go on for a longer period of time and I find myself rooting for the seal to escape yet also recognising that the sharks are hungry and trying to survive themselves. It is an impossible situation as a human and I have talked about this with guests on occasion when they also find themselves not quite knowing how to respond. There is no single answer and so inevitably we all watch quietly, respectfully, and take the moment in knowing that both of these species are truly wonders of our natural world. And then before we know it another shark has breached, the crew have shouted ‘hold on’ and we have moved onwards at high speed to witness another of nature’s moments.

KH seal baying

Whilst peak hunting season seems to have begun later this year, it has definitely been worth the wait. We still have the best to come as we move through July and into August with our sharks, which is also whale season in the bay. I am truly looking forward to welcoming back the southern right and humpback whales and enjoying their elegance and grace alongside that of our sharks.

To find out more about the sharks of False Bay, visit www.apexpredators.com.

Photos: Nicholas Curzon

Main Photo: Chris Fallows

Kathryn has a Masters in Environmental Biology and is a PADI scuba diving instructor. Her passion lies with raising awareness of and conserving the sharks within our oceans and also writing about her experiences under and on the water. She is currently a wildlife guide and crew member for Apex Shark Expeditions in South Africa.

Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Veronica Cowley, a contestant in the See You at the Sea Festival Film Competition (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-large, chats to Veronica Cowley, a contestant in the See You at the Sea Festival Film Competition. The See you at the Sea Festival was an online film festival created by young people, for young people.

Veronica’s film – Worse things Happen at Sea – can be seen here:

Sixth and final in a series of six videos about the competition. Watch the first video HERE with Jenn Sandiford – Youth Engagement Officer with the Your Shore Beach Rangers Project and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust – to find out more about the Competition. Each day this week will be sharing one video in which Jeff talks with the young contestants about their films and what inspired them.


For more information please visit:

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Marine Life & Conservation

Jeff chats to… Jo Cutler, a contestant in the See You at the Sea Festival Film Competition (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-large, chats to Jo Cutler, a contestant in the See You at the Sea Festival Film Competition. The See you at the Sea Festival was an online film festival created by young people, for young people.

Jo’s film – An Evolving Story – can be seen here:

Fifth in a series of six videos about the competition. Watch the first video HERE with Jenn Sandiford – Youth Engagement Officer with the Your Shore Beach Rangers Project and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust – to find out more about the Competition. Each day this week will be sharing one video in which Jeff talks with the young contestants about their films and what inspired them.


For more information please visit:

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