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Summing up the surprises of the 2016 white shark season, Seal Island, False Bay

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white shark

White sharks typically visit False Bay’s Seal Island to take advantage of vulnerable young Cape fur seal pups when they start entering the water to feed. This is generally between March and September; however, this season showed a number of deviations from the expected norms. We took a trip to the Island towards the end of January and before we even had any bait in the water, we had seen a shark. We were beyond excited by the chance of having an early start to the season. This was the first of many unexpected surprises the season had to offer. For February and March, we had amazing shark activity around our boat, seeing an average of 4 sharks a day and still enjoying the late summer, early autumn warm sunny days on the water.

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My first time in the cage early this season

But before we got too comfortable, leaving the sharks to do all our work for us, by the end of April and throughout May, they had simply vanished from Seal Island. There were some really bizarre theories as to where they were and why from crew, clients, fishermen and local shark nuts, but even today the mystery of their temporary disappearance remains. The crew had placed all their bets on the exact date that the sharks would return, and just before we had begun to completely lose our minds (and jobs) the sharks started making an appearance again within the first week of June.

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An island barren of sharks, but full of seals (with an identity crisis), however, always beautiful

I nearly jumped right off the boat seeing the first shark breach (I always go mad seeing a shark breach, every breach is different and it simply never gets old), but this was a combination of that excitement coupled with relief at the sign that “the shark drought” had potentially come to an end. July was an incredible month with both breaching activity as well as shark activity around the boat. Despite the fact that during this time the sharks were always around, every day, every trip, every hour, in fact, was different. Obviously the breaching and overly enthusiastic sharks around our boat are always a treat, but there were a few really memorable, standout moments this season. Firstly, a shark over 4 m in length, coming fully out of the water attacking a kelp gull just 3 m away from our boat, having the crew and clients very much in the splash zone (this just minutes after I had told a client how breaching was rare in the afternoon, and that I had never seen a shark go for a bird).  On another afternoon in July, we had crystal clear waters with over 10 different sharks around our boat, flying at our bait and decoy consistently from all different angles! It was the best kind of chaos!

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First attempt at grabbing our decoy

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Successfully snatched our decoy and gaping at it in the flawless water conditions

Further, seeing some of our favourite sharks returning to the boat over consecutive days, a special mention (and thanks) to some of the stars this year: “Zebra,” “Dodgey L,” “Prop,” “Jika,” “Patches,” “Captain MF Hook” “Stumpy Freddy,” “The one with the bent dorsal (Orca/Nemo)” and a few OCEARCH tagged sharks, including “Vindication” and “Maureen.” Of course once we’ve named them, we get very emotionally attached. They become like a puppy dog, really cute but with rather sharp teeth, eating all your personal belongings. When naming and identifying individual white sharks, its usually from a distinguishing feature, scar or behaviour. However, it is incredible to see how much their behaviours’ vary, not only between the different individuals, but even for a particular shark on a particular day. With the number of times I’ve seen a shark put all its effort into the most magnificent breach, only for its targeted seal prey to get away, its not difficult to believe that a shark can have a bad day.  Sometimes we’d see sharks hunting and making successful kills still visiting our boat and scavenging at our bait. Surprisingly, and unlike me, sharks don’t seem to have bottomless pits for stomachs, and therefore once they have eaten, they are often uninterested in us, or our bait. Maybe it’s a class thing – why would you eat a stale sandwich when there is fillet steak on offer? It may be more expensive, but totally worth it right?

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“Zebra”- Stealing our hearts (& bait) since 2016

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“Captain MF Hook”- I only have a picture of her dorsal fin because she was simply too big to fit in the frame at a massive 5 m in length (we’re going to need a bigger boat).

Another highlight this season was the revisit of the shark “Prop,” named for the propeller scars running along the leading edge and across her dorsal fin. I had first seen her in 2014 when the scars were still fresh and an unmistakable identifying feature. If it weren’t for her stumpy pectoral fin and the fact that she is a particularly large girl, closing in on 5 m, we would not have even recognised her this year. The scars on her dorsal fin had healed up so well being no more than very faint lines across her dorsal fin.

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“Prop” 2014

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“Prop” 2016

A simple yet perfect example of the perfect predator, proving just how resilient they are and that their ability to heal and recover, is beyond comprehension. There is never a dull moment working with these animals; the more we try to understand them, the more we are left with a whole new set of questions rather than answers. Every day, heading out to Seal Island, you don’t know what you’re going to get. By describing this season as “surprising” “unusual” “unexpected” “unpredictable” is quite appropriate really, because all these words fundamentally define and describe “nature.” If nature were predictable, it would not be as fascinating as it is. To us, what appeared to be “inconsistencies” in the season, served as an important reminder of just how dynamic nature is and it has allowed us to continue marvelling in the mystery that is the white shark.

Leigh is the On-board Marine Biologist for African Shark Eco Charters. Find out more at www.ultimate-animals.com.

Leigh is a marine biologist specialising in the use of stable isotopes to understand the feeding ecology of apex predatory sharks in False Bay, South Africa. She is also a SCUBA diving instructor and shark diving guide leading eco tours with great white sharks. Leigh has an undeniable passion for the ocean and sharks. She believes that by sharing experiences and knowledge of the key role predatory sharks hold in maintaining a healthy balance in the ocean, we can change negative perceptions and strive to conserve the animals we have been taught to fear... the animals we fundamentally can not live without.

Competitions

WIN a Bigblue Expandable Tray!!!

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For this week’s competition, we’ve teamed up with our good friends at Liquid Sports to give away a Bigblue Expandable Tray as a prize!!!

The Bigblue expandable tray (176mm-287mm) has fittings and screws to attach action and compact cameras. The base and handles are made from high grade aluminium with the handles having a neoprene grip. The package also includes clamps and adaptors for 1” ball and YS light fittings.

To be in with a chance of winning this awesome prize, all you have to do is answer the following question:

In a recent post on Scubaverse.com (which you can read here), we reported that the Handicapped Scuba Association South Africa has announced plans to host their 6th Annual fundraising event “HSASA 50hr Dive–A-Thon 2021” this year. But on what dates will the event take place?

Is it:

  • A) 15th – 17th October
  • B) 22nd – 24th October
  • C) 29th – 31st October

Answer, A, B or C to the question above:

Liquid Sports Bigblue Extendable Tray March 2021

Competition
  • Enter the country you live in
  • Terms and Conditions: This competition is open to all visitors to www.scubaverse.com except for members of the Scubaverse team and their families, or employees of Liquid Sports and their families. A valid answer to the competition’s question must be entered. If no valid answer to the competition’s question is entered, your entry will be invalid. Only one competition entry per entrant permitted (multiple entries will lead to disqualification). Only one prize per winner. All prizes are non-transferable, and no cash alternative will be offered. In the event that the prize cannot be supplied, no liability will be attached to www.scubaverse.com. When prizes are supplied by third parties, www.scubaverse.com is acting as their agents and as such we exclude all liability for loss or damage you may suffer as a result of this competition. This competition closes on 14/04/2021. The winner will be notified by email. The Editor-in-Chief’s decision is final.

  • The following fields are optional, however if you fill them in it will help us to determine what prizes to source in the future.

  • Date Format: MM slash DD slash YYYY
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Dive Training Blogs

Jeff chats to… Jim Elliott and Tinamarie Hernandez of Diveheart (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Jim Elliott, Founder and President of Diveheart, and Tinamarie Hernandez who is the organization’s Executive Director.

Diveheart is a US-based, nonprofit tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization which aims to provide and support educational scuba diving programs that are open to any child, adult or veteran with a disability, with the hope of providing both physical and psychological therapeutic value to that person.

In their own words:

We’ve discovered the forgiving, weightless wonder of the water column provides the perfect gravity-free environment for those who might otherwise struggle on land. Underwater, we’re all equal.

Diveheart works with individuals who have a variety of disabilities, including physical and developmental disabilities, vision and hearing impairments, amputations, traumatic brain injuries, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and more. Diveheart seeks to help its participants “Imagine the Possibilities” in their lives.

 

Find out more about Diveheart and their valuable work at www.diveheart.org.


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Competitions

Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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