The signs of winter are definitely here. The early morning bite to the air and the slow but parent change in the animals we are seeing in the bay. The Sub- Antarctica Skua is back cruising alongside the boat as we head to and from out dive site. And then there is the obvious cold fronts making their presence felt. The rain has been welcome but the strong winds and large seas have made working at sea impossible over the Easter Weekend. The sharks in the bay are also going through a transition. While we have been still working at Joubert’s dam and recording a relatively high number of sharks for the area. (Some days exceeding 14 sharks and some large ones at that) Some boats have been having a look at the island and seeing a few sharks. Not the numbers we are having at the dam but definitely a sign we will start working at the island very soon. Some of our own ventures to the island to see the seals, confirms there are sharks around as the seals are hugging the rocks a lot more than they were in the peak of summer. It will be great to get back to the island and fingers crossed, get some magic visibility to go with the sharks. Of course you can’t have everything and the compromise of working round the island is the sea is a little more up and down out there. Nothing to drastic but if you tend to get a little queasy on the sea be sure to take those sea-sick pills.
It is always a pleasure to be able to see some familiar faces in the water round Gansbaai. A shark that we nick named Scarface has been making some appearances by our boat over the last 3 weeks or so. Normally, just a quick rush of the bait and then gone again. This 2.8m male, is however pretty successful in his strategies and has come off best numerous time.
The amazing thing about Scarface (if the name didn’t give you a clue), is the very large injury along its gills. This appears to have been a bite from another shark or a propeller injury and has taken out a considerable amount flesh in the process. What amazes me (yes I may use this word in one form or the other too much) is the injury would be the equivalent to a human being shot with dum dum round to the chest, having part of a lung removed and going out day after day to run a mini marathon with little hindrance in performance.
When Scarface was first seen on the 6 May 2011, the wound seemed to be fresh with 3 incision-like marks moving diagonally into the gills. This then terminated over the gills with a circular type wound. The incisions were semi-closed and appeared to be healing well. The large circular wound however was still very raw and exposed. A considerable amount of trauma was inflicted to the gills and first 3 cartilage arch supports. In the months that have passed, Scarface has been off somewhere in the ocean and in early February 2012 was seen again. The wound seems to be healing up well. The three incision type wounds have tightened up and don’t seem to flex open when he moves. The large hole over the front 3 gills is still fairly exposed but the tissue seems less raw and also the wound seems smaller and tighter. The rate of recovery is simply remarkable and goes to show that Great White Sharks are extremely resilient. See the images below for a comparative view and how the injuries have healed over time. Also see http://whitesharkprojects.wordpress.com/2011/10/10/the-great-white-shark-has-the-ability-to-heal-from-severe-trauma-in-no-time-at-all
Another example of the amazing ability sharks have to recover from severe trauma Photos. Frank Pey and Justin Roberts.
By: Angie Goody
My ambition in life before I was 30 was to either be married or to have dived with the Great White Shark, feared by most but loved by me! Well my 30th came and went and I had failed on both so the goal post’s was moved to 40 years old! In July 2008 at the age of 33 I had achieved my ambition … To dive with the Great White and it was actually with the White Shark project I managed to for fill this, and even way back then the one person who I never forgot was Gerald our skipper and to this day he hasn’t changed one bit. After dealing with the dark side of life and battling depression I realised life was far too short and life is what you make it. It was time for a change and to start being selfish and doing what I WANTED TO DO! Thankfully though I have very understanding parents who have never stopped me doing anything and they knew with my next ambition there was going to be no changing my mind! Sod marriage, I wanted to work with White Sharks! I was fortunate enough that I am self employed except for the fact that actually I run quite a productive Beef and Sheep farm back home in the Isle of Man.
Once I had someone in place to look after that, as well as my 4 horses it was time to start preparing to live that dream!!! I booked a month with the White Shark Project and it has certainly been the best experience of my life so far and believe you me a month is not long enough! I arrived on the Saturday afternoon and by the Sunday morning I was a member of a team of volunteers and staff of the WSP. Now anyone thinking of coming along don’t look at this as a holiday, it’s early mornings, a lot of hard work preparing for trips, etc. Smelling like dead tuna and anchovy oil, BUT it is worth every bit of it because when you get out there and see those awesome predititors face to face it’s the best reward you could ever have. It’s not just the sharks that are fantastic it’s the staff and crew as well who all make you feel very welcome and at home. Jule’s, she is a woman after my own heart! Currently having to work in the office due to the fact she is pregnant but you can tell the moment that baby is born she will be back on the boat with the video recorder in her hand. Don’t mess with her though! – boy can she shout and you do not want a roasting from her … you only get it though if you deserve it, which is fare enough! (I only witnessed it and thank Christ I wasn’t on the receiving end of it) Then you have Frank. Frank is probably one of the nicest guys I have ever met. He is passionate about his sharks and marine conservation and is extremely knowledgeable on anything that involves the sharks, ocean, research and photography. Frank also gives us lectures on non sea days. Then there is Andy. Andy does all the Steven Spielberg movies each trip for clients he is the one that gets them even more nerves by calling them his victims … of course you are completely safe … as long as you listen to your skippers Gerald and Grant and boy what a pair they are! Both fantastic guys who have seen and heard it all. Grant has a dry sense of humour that will have you laughing every trip! I am so tempted when I am back to right a book on “Gerald’s quips” As in “Madam you have paid a lot of money to come and see these Great Whites and the only Great white you are seeing is your Great White Toe … now look where I say” or “Too slow the shark has gone back to Australia” Gerald your commentary makes my days … as well as the sharks of course. We cannot forget the crew Bee, Maoli, Mandala and Moos without them we wouldn’t see the sharks. The last person I mustn’t forget to mention is Rene. Rene is one of the owners of the company and works in the office at the back of our Vol’s house. She likes her coffee strong, a little milk and no sugar, she appreciates one every now and then!
On no sea days we have been to Strainsbaai to swim with the sting rays (That was un real, great experience) Cape Agulus the most southerly point of South Africa … be warned it is extremely windy and if you go up the light house and they say the steps are steep believe you me they are. Vertical maybe a good way to describe them!! Also done quad biking, seen the penguins at Betty’s bay, trips to Hermanus and plus being a scuba diver and passionate about sharks I paid to do the Blue, Mako and 7 Gill dive with Shark Explorers. And I can safely say that was the best money I have ever spent on a dive. It’s not cheap, but worth every penny. Something else you get involved in every Tuesday is swop shop! It is the most rewarding part of your stay here I think. It’s in the local township of Masacasi just outside Gansbaai. There, the children collect recyclable rubbish like cans, glass and plastic bottles and then they are given points for what they have collected that can be swapped for Toy’s, Stationary and Clothes. They rely on donations and are grateful with anything. There is a Crazy Store shop in Gansbaai where for a ZAR 100.00(S.A Rand) you can buy so much that could be used in the swop shop. It’s a really good project and the kids are awesome.
I came to volunteer in February which normally is a quiet month for sharks but there has been nothing quiet about this month. I have been fortunate to have gone on most of the trips throughout the month and each time we have seen between 5 and 9 sharks the smallest being a 1.8m baby to several 3.5m plus feisty females. I’ve seen spy hoppers, semi breaches, aggression between big and small sharks, huge sting rays feeding on the bait and a shark circling it. You get to know the characters of individual sharks, some just want to be nosy and seem to put a display on for you and others just merely want the bait and claim the boat theirs. I am keen on my photography anyway and managed to get some half decent shots! “The trick is keep your camera on the bait and be ready to snap when you hear them shout “BAIT” cause it normally means it’s a split second away from the sharks jaws! This of course is not their intention but occasionally it happens especially in the poor Vis. The other nice part of going out on the boat is you meet some great clients from all walks of life and they are full of questions about the sharks so make sure your shark knowledge is up to date! I’ve learnt so much in a month it’s un-real. It especially helps with the lectures you get from Frank on shark biology and behaviour etc you can relate all the info you have learnt from him. In my mind the best part of the job is chumming! Despite having a new perfume all the time called “Rotting Tuna” and is hated by most it is the one place where you get to see the shark full on. Beware though some sharks like to take a closer look and can occasionally try and get on the back with you, it’s absolutely breath taking though … I love it!
We are still working in our inshore area, Jouberts Dam.
On the 4th February on our second trip of the day a patch of milky green water moved through the area, typical of this time of year.
A large flock of Cape Cormorants, probably in their thousands landed near this patch of murky water and it looked like they were feeding on lots of live fish near the surface of the water.
The currents moved the murky water closer to the area surrounding the boat, the large schools of horse mackerel began to disperse and the sharks that had been working around the boat appeared to be slower and less active.
What was unusual was what happened shortly after when a large number of dead grey mullet, approximately 50 – 100 individuals came floating past the boat.
There is no clear reason as to why this happened. It is rare for us to observe dead fish floating around the boat, unless it’s the tuna head on the bait line! One possible theory is that the dissolved oxygen levels in the water could have been very low causing the fish to die and to possibly make the sharks less active.
This event is useful to highlight the delicate balance that occurs in our oceans. The slightest change can cause a chain reaction of events.
Here at White Shark Projects we are very concerned about our ocean. We are busy collecting signatures to prevent them building a nuclear power station in the area. Imagine the unbalance that could cause!!
The 30th was a declared a no sea day, so the volunteers, Michael, Satu and Deborah and I decided to head off to Cape Agulhas and see if we could entice the elusive stingrays in the area to make an appearance for once. It has been a while since we have been able to see them there.
Our days at sea usually start very early so leaving at 9am meant a well-deserved lie in for the volunteers!
We made our way to Cape Agulhas via the back gravel roads as there was a fynbos fire around the Stanford area making the main road difficult to drive along. We made our way past Baardskeerdersbos, taking in the sights of the town and the vast barren countryside along the way.
Once at Cape Agulhas, which is the most southern tip of Africa, the obligatory photos were taken and a climb to the top of the lighthouse was made. Not an easy feat considering the acute angle of the stairs and the sheer number of them!
We then made our way to the harbour in Struisbaai and hoped that today would be our lucky day and we would get a glimpse of at least one of the stingrays that inhabit the area.
As we were parking the car a stingray was spotted at the water’s edge. Fantastic, they were ready and waiting for us! These are not small stingrays! They are known as giant stingrays. There are many in the area, some reaching over 2m in size.
We hoped our sighting in the harbour was not all that we were going to get so we entered into the water to begin the chumming process hoping to entice the stingray back for a closer encounter. After 20 minutes of waiting in the chilly ocean it finally it showed up and brought a friend along!
We stayed in the water and played with them for a good hour and a half as one kept coming in close and bumping into us.
It was a truly great experience and amazing to see these graceful creatures up close and personal.
Have a look at the photos, or better still come and volunteer with us and see them in person!
The December rush is beginning to slow down now and I think the staff and crew are very glad since it has been an exhausting but very rewarding season. Much to our delight the sharks have also played along with the December tourists and we have had great sightings of the sharks.
December is usually one of our slower times of years for the sharks as the water temperature can drop and get quite cold. This year however we were lucky with the water and it’s been a ‘hot’ 16-18 degrees most days. Some clients however used to much warmer waters still feel the chill as they enter the Atlantic Ocean. Our 7 mm wetsuits and the sight of a great white shark soon wipe the chill from their mind and instead of feeling cold they watch in amazement as a beautiful great white shark swims past them sometimes literally centimetres from the cage.
We’ve had a wide range of tourists this year, from our local South Africans to our far flung tourists who came to spend the festive season in the sun. All of them have experienced the great white shark at its best and lived to tell the tale!!! Young and old alike have been on the boat and sometimes those adamant on land they are not going into the cage return to land with wet hair, a huge smile on their face and the tale that they too were brave enough to enter into the cage. Sometimes it’s hard to resist getting into the water when you encounter these animals. They really do take your breath away, extremely graceful and beautiful a very majestic animal, one to be admired and adored.
We spent December as usual working in Jouberts Dam our inshore area. We find that during the summer months the sharks that are entering into the area tend to move close to the shoreline. There are a variety of reasons why this could be, one is the seals are having their breeding season, so the sharks move inshore and feed off the smaller bottom dwelling sharks, skates and rays. Quite a few white sharks are spotted by the breakers along the shoreline and some people believe they could be resting there using the waves, which are more oxygenated to wash over their bodies allowing them to remain still and maybe even turn part of their brain off to rest. White sharks lack certain muscles in their gills so they have to keep moving in order to breathe.
The sharks we have seen have been our typical juvenile sharks that enter into the area ranging from 2 to 3 metres in length though on some days during December the crew and clients told us of 4 meter animals that came around by the boat! Now that’s a sight! We have also typically encountered more females than males during December which is generally the pattern. Usually during the winter months we encounter more males than females, when we work around by the island.
We’ve had a lot of clients this December and thanks to the sharks and our wonderful staff and crew we have successfully ran 3 trips most days allowing as many people as possible to fulfil their dream of getting up close and personal with a beautiful great white shark.
Let’s hope the new year continues to be as fruitful, client and shark wise. Looking forward to seeing more of you guys here!!!
What a month November has been. Not only was it unusual due to the fact there were many men were trying to their very best to impersonate Mario and Luigi to support the cause of Movember but the weather, we as Cape Townians have become accustom to during this time, well just did not arrive.
Winter was definitely digging its nails in and holding on with all it had. The air temperatures remained cool in the beginning of the month and there was a constant flow of weak cold fronts moving past the peninsula. These fronts generally brought with them some light rains and strong winds. A frontal system that passed on the 12-14th had a bit more bite, bringing with it heavy rains in parts and covering some mountains in the region in SNOW. Something extremely rare for November.
The remainder of the month saw another front pass on the 20th with some more miserable weather, but after this there have been some warmer days and the SE winds are back with vengeance
The sharks seem to have been all too aware of the weather. While the Westerly winds have been keeping the water temps in the relatively warm region of 16°C for most of the month. The late on set of the SE wind has seen a drop in Sea Surface Temperatures as low as 11.9°C for a couple days and this seems to coincide with the least activity from the sharks a day or two after.
That is to say we are still seeing a good number of sharks per trip, averaging 6 sharks per trip with the highest amount seen on a day being 22 and the lowest 3. The highest amount of sharks had water temperature of 16°C and the lowest amount of sharks had a drastic drop in temperature (15.8°C to 11.9°C) to the previous day (14 sharks seen) and the following day in temperatures of 13°C only 3 sharks were seen.
In total 203 sharks were spotted over 36 trips. A good number never the less and sure to keep the influx of tourist over this time happy and give them the experience they are after.