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Shark Personalities of the Month

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It has been a wonderful two weeks at Seal Island with such settled weather recently. We have been fortunate to have a number of days at the island with stunningly clear blue water – which has given us visibility of up to 15m at times! I have really enjoyed being able to see the reef below us and watch the behaviours of the white sharks as they have interacted with one another around the boat.

Interestingly this month we have been seeing not just two sharks at a time by the boat but up to FOUR individuals swimming together. It is very rare to see such interactions here, as usually these sharks go to great lengths to avoid each other around the bait. During one trip last week I was thrilled to witness a number of occasions with three sharks swimming around the boat, almost snout to tail and calmly swimming along as a procession of beautiful sharks. On the occasion that we saw four sharks together we really couldn’t believe our luck and both the guests and crew alike knew it was something very special to see. Two of the sharks were so close to each other that their pectoral fins were overlapping at times as they swam along together. It was magical to witness and a moment I will never forget.

The clear water has also given me the opportunity to experience the unique behaviours and personalities of the different sharks we have come to know well so far this season. Each shark has such a distinct personality and exhibits very specific behaviours around the boat. This month we have continued to see Zamalek and he is still being adorable and melting everyone’s hearts with his continual right turns close to the cage. He is such a relaxed shark and still spends the majority of his time calmly circling the cage closely and occasionally veering off course to examine the baits. He is such a joy for our divers to see and is one of those sharks that remain with us for a long time when he visits. Having said how calm he is we have however also discovered his livelier side and his interest in our decoy seal. As kitnip is to a cat, the decoy seal is to Zamalek! He absolutely adores our fake seal and we have to be very careful putting the decoy in the water when he is with us. It really switches him on to pursuit mode and he chases it constantly until he manages to get hold of it. Even then he tries repeatedly to grasp it. I have not seen a shark that keen on our decoy for a long time indeed and it certainly demonstrates a different side to Zamalek’s personality.

Another shark that is also very unique in his behaviour this month is Pinkie, the 3.1m male shark. This shark is so named because of a pink rosette on his dorsal fin and he is one of our more dominant sharks. White shark dominance is based on hierarchy and it is normal for us to see that the smaller sharks give way immediately to the larger sharks around the boat. Pinkie however appears to be unaware of his small size and is very dominant around both the smaller and larger sharks. On a number of occasions I have seen him wait until the very last moment to give way to our larger female sharks in the 3.7-3.9m size range. On more than one occasion I have expected him to receive a warning bite from these females as he refuses to give way and is positioned right in front of their mouths. They are extremely tolerant however, and let Pinkie get away with behaving so brazenly. He is going to be quite formidable when he is larger if he remains so dominant and confident. In contrast to Pinkie’s lack of submissive behaviour we have seen a gorgeous 2.0m white shark at the island last week that had quite the surprise and was understandably very submissive. This shark was approaching the top bait one day, which consisted of a tuna head that was quite frankly larger than the shark’s entire head and he followed it closely with his snout. I assume he couldn’t see around the bait as on the other side was our large 3.7m female Magnoona, who is very dominant and was also approaching the bait. The little shark had the shock of his life as he rounded the bait and was faced with swimming unknowingly into Magnoona’s face. Magnoona was calm and tolerant as always and the small shark practically leapt out of the water and swam incredibly fast to remove himself from the situation. I was delighted to see he made a cautious return later.

Magnoona has also captured me with her behaviour this month as she can be very relaxed or very lively. She veers from one extreme to the other within and between trips and when she is lively she keeps us on our toes. She is quick to approach the bait and often from depth to gain more speed. She is also very agile and executes tight turns close to the boat as she pursues her bait of choice. She mostly focuses on the top bait and is a shark that both our divers and boat-based guests enjoy because of the time she spends up at the surface with us. When she is feeling calm she is quite the opposite and cruises extremely slowly around the boat at the surface. She literally brought a tear to my eye the other day with the behaviour I describe below and because of that moment I am just a little bit in love with this lady. When Magnoona was approaching the bottom bait recently she took hold of it gently and as she then moved forwards the top bait rope drifted into her mouth. From previous observations of sharks when they take hold of the bait I would have expected a fairly strong reaction to finding a rope in her mouth. However… in Magnoona’s surprise she spat the bottom bait out and remained calm. She ever so slowly and gently twisted her head from side to side to remove the top bait rope from her mouth. Unfortunately all she managed to do was flip the top bait over her head and so had the rope around her snout. Magnoona was utterly unfazed by this and just calmly hung there as she assessed her situation and slowly tilted her head to the side as Poenas removed the rope and she went on her way. We were mesmerized by her behaviour and just how gentle she was in her approach. These animals really are incredible and continue to surprise me daily with their intelligence and gentle nature.

It has been an experience of a lifetime observing another side to the sharks’ behaviour recently; their incredible predatory activity. The best is yet to come!

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

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

The BiG Scuba Podcast… with Paul Rose

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Next in a new series of podcasts shared by our friends Gemma and Ian aka The BiG Scuba Podcast…

Ian and Gemma chat to Paul Rose. A man at the front line of exploration and one of the world’s most experienced divers, field science and polar experts, Paul Rose helps scientists unlock and communicate global mysteries in the most remote and challenging regions of the planet.

He is an experienced television presenter and radio broadcaster. With a proven track record in business engagements, Paul is a sought-after speaker, chairman, host and moderator for industry, government and NGO events.

Former Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society(link is external) and Chair of the Expeditions and Fieldwork Division, Paul is currently Expedition Leader for the National Geographic Pristine Seas Expeditions.

He was the Base Commander of Rothera Research Station, Antarctica, for the British Antarctic Survey for 10 years and was awarded HM The Queen’s Polar Medal. For his work with NASA and the Mars Lander project on Mt Erebus, Antarctica, he received the US Polar Medal.

Paul is a mountain and polar guide leading Greenland Icecap crossing and mountaineering expeditions and polar science support logistics. He worked for four years as a Mountain Safety consultant to the oil industry in the Middle East.

On his 2012 Greenland expedition, Paul led the first expedition to successfully traverse a new 275km icecap route of Knud Rasmussen Land and repeated his first ascent of the north face of Gunnsbjørnfjeld, the highest mountain in the Arctic.

His professional diving work includes science support diving in Antarctica as the British Antarctic Survey’s Institute Diving Officer. He ran the US Navy diver training programme at Great Lakes Naval Training Centre and trained many emergency response dive teams including the Police, Fire Department and Underwater Recovery Teams. He remains a current and active PADI Dive Instructor.

Find out more about Paul Rose at www.paulrose.org


Find more podcast episodes and information at www.thebigscuba.com and on most social platforms @thebigscuba 

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Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

How can we do what you do at Blue Planet?

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We at Blue Planet Aquarium usually get asked how people can do what we do; this question usually comes from young adults and children who are dreaming of careers in Marine Biology or Diving, and we make sure to help along the way as much as we can.

If you ask anyone in the industry how they got to where they are, you will always hear a different story, you will hear similarities but there will always be something different. Thus, I would always suggest for people to carve their own path in the industry, and of course this industry is huge with many different areas and avenues for you to go down, which is also what makes the industry so amazing, it allows everyone to have a speciality and to be able to do their part for the single goal of preserving our natural world.

Working as a Diver at Blue Planet is amazing for anyone who wants to make a career in the industry, for several reasons, it is good as it helps you gain diving experience both with animals and teaching students. It gives you chance to practice diving skills in what could be considered difficult diving due to the tasks we have to carry out, and it also allows you to learn about HSE regulations and laws which also helps makes you safe and aware.

Here at Blue Planet, we have people spanning a multitude of different careers, from Marine Biology, Military Diving, Photography and Dive Guiding, it is this that makes the team so amazing as we have a go to person for everything.

The best advice I can give to anyone who wanted to work on the dive team or in an aquarium, would be to have a decent amount of diving experience and be able to demonstrate good diving knowledge, along with being respectful to the environment and animals and being able to work well in a team. It is also helpful to be outgoing and confident as although we work behind the scenes, we are still in the view of guests when we do our feeds or public dives.

For more information about Blue Planet Aquarium please visit their website by clicking here.

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