Of most importance are the distressing news regarding the severe overfishing, and collapse of the Smoothhound and Soup fin shark populations by the hands of the demersal inshore longline fishery taking place along our South African coast. I hope that you will find the time to read about this as well as share the information with interested parties.
Great White Shark Sightings
I think it must be fairly common news by now that the presence of Great white sharks in both False Bay in Cape Town, South Africa, and Gansbaai has been abnormal in the last 8 months or so. Lots of theories are being thrown around but as far as we are concerned we would like to see how this season pans out before passing any judgment.
What has been fascinating is the fact that other species of sharks have almost immediately filled the gap that the great white sharks left behind. Good numbers of bronze whaler sharks (Copper sharks) began visiting the Great White shark cage diving boats in Gansbaai and this still allowed for a good shark cage diving experience. There have however sadly been instances of commercial fishermen going out and killing the bronze whalers behind the shark cage diving boats, often in front of young children and guests, a most disappointing and saddening development that hopefully, the authorities will put an end to.
At Seal Island in False Bay, the surprise new entrant in the temporary absence of the great white is the seven-gill cow shark. This prehistoric-looking shark, which is from the second oldest order of sharks known as the Hexanchiformes which date back to the Jurassic period, can grow to as big as 3 meters (10ft) in length, is now being seen on nearly all of our early season Seal Island trips and our guests have really enjoyed the opportunity of being in the water with this large spotted shark.
What was also incredible was that whilst there are many records of cow sharks with seal remains in their stomachs from what was presumed to be scavenging events, the Apex crew and guests witnessed predation on a live seal on the 25th of March by a seven-gill shark. As far as we can ascertain this is the first record of a cow shark actually killing a live seal. We are starting to see more and more cow sharks on our daily trips and guests are really enjoying seeing these prehistoric sharks.
Added to this, large schools of common dolphins are patrolling False Bay and are being sighted on most of our trips. Sometimes schools of up to 1200 dolphins have been encountered which has been pretty spectacular and a definite highlight adding to the cow sharks, 64 000 seals and other marine life encountered on many trips.
There have also been 2 sightings of Great whites at Seal Island in the last few weeks so we remain hopeful that they will start to arrive in the numbers we are used to.
Gansbaai has just started to see the return of a couple of Great white sharks to their shark cage diving expeditions and both Chris & I were very fortunate to see 1 when we visited there 10 days ago. It was almost like seeing a great white shark for the first time and both of us could really feel the excitement that many of our guests would be feeling on their first experience. There really is nothing like the presence and grace of one of the most formidable animals on the planet. We did also have a little chat with him asking him to pay us a visit to Seal Island! Hopefully, he takes us up on our offer…
Pelagic Shark Cage Diving
When the weather had allowed we have rescheduled our Seal Island trips to Cape Point where we have been having great success with finding and diving with blue and mako sharks. The blue sharks in particular have been very prevalent and we are seeing between 8 and 15 per trip. Mako sharks, the great white’s closest cousin, are a little less predictable but we have still seen them on most of our trips.
Blue sharks are in my opinion one of the best shark species to cage dive with. They are not shy at all, they stay around for long periods of time and really give close and interactive passes with the shark cage divers. They also feel non-threatening so one can really have a very relaxed dive and at the same time be able to really take in the beauty of this open ocean shark.
When a mako shark comes in it’s a completely different feeling. One can feel that this is a serious shark with its fast, bullet-like movements and teeth showing. It certainly is a very exciting animal to see and be in the water with.
On top of this, the water visibility is normally in the 10 meters plus range so the cage divers can really see the sharks well and with plenty of detail.
So as we await the return of the great whites the cow sharks have certainly been a great highlight for all those lucky enough to see them at Seal Island. Offshore the blues and makos continue to delight everyone who has an encounter and added to the sharks the variety of marine life encountered both at Seal Island and offshore is certainly adding to the enjoyment of all guests on our trips at present.
Photo credit – Lupo Robert Dion
As we head into April we have fingers, toes, arms, eyes, in fact, everything crossed that we will shortly be seeing the Great white sharks reliably at all the South African locations. I promise to keep you posted!