Conditions were perfect.  The turquoise ocean was glass flat with minimal wind.  An excited quiet perpetuated by the babble of forty zoology students and the constant sloshing of chum into the water.  And then we saw the dorsal fin of the most famous predator of our time.  Nothing really prepares you for seeing a Great White Shark for the first time.  This exceeded all expectations.

After we had anchored out in Betty’s Bay the chum (fish oil and juice) was thrown into the water, the mixture was carried by the current to attract the Great Whites.  Betty’s Bay has no resident sharks but nearly always has sharks present in the area, especially in Shark Alley.  The Alley is a stretch of water in-between Dyer’s Island and Geyser Rock, which in summer months is host to breeding Cape Fur Seals.  The newborn pups attract the sharks.  Even out of season Great Whites can be found in Shark Alley, with smaller sharks, game fish, and seabirds to sustain them.

To further entice the sharks frozen tuna heads on a line was thrown in as well.  It wasn’t much longer before the smell of food brought the predators closer.  We were witness to no less than four sharks, one about 3.5m long.  At that size it was hard to appreciate it was still not fully grown –  a large female will easily gain another 1.5m if it survives long enough.  They would circle our boats and inspect the tuna head, and occasionally make a lunge for it.  It was an impressive display from an obviously powerful and well adapted hunter.


Say “Ahh”



The boat operators would always pull the tuna head out of the sharks reach, so that they do not become conditioned to being fed.  We were told that the sharks had not been conditioned as they so rarely ever get the tuna head, except when the man controlling the line has had a heavy night, and even if they do a tuna head is so little sustenance that it’s not an incentive to return.  Not with a seal pup buffet next door.

Our cruise took us out to shark Alley where we observed the Cape Fur Seal Colony.  We were presented with a nearly continuous mass of writhing bodies and the stench of excrement.  And people say seals are cute.  We also saw a Southern Giant Petrel and a Crowned Cormorant.

And interesting shark deterrent is taking place in Shark Alley.  A non-lethal system of magnets, which sharks can sense, and pipes has, temporarily, been placed directly in the Alley.  So many sharks of all species are killed every year by safety nets and drum lines that are put in place because of the irrational fear humans have of sharks.  Putting your socks on at the top of the stairs kills more people annually than shark attacks.  The initial results from this experiment seem to be very positive and hopefully will replace the wasteful systems of protecting beaches that we currently use.



rak208    January 14th, 2017    South Africa

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