Dive With Sharks
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THRILLING ADVENTURES WITH SHARKS OFF SOUTH AFRICA’S WILD COAST
DiveCareDare leaves for its first official adventure later this week as an international group of 5 divers and a snorkeler, from Australia, Austria, Fiji and Angola.
Then we are off for the big shark action of the Protea Banks where Tony completed his first NOMAD African Dive Safari in 2011 with Fern Perry of Lutwala Dive.
Tony featured in this diving compilation of Mozambique to Protea Banks.
We are driving from the Protea Banks along the Wild Coast (formally known as Transkaai) near Nelson Mandela’s birth village, to catch up with the Sardine Run at Coffee Bay and the Waterfall Bluff that featured in the BBC series.
Along the famous sand Garden Route to Cape Town we plan to have more encounters with winter wildlife including the great white sharks and their big breaches off Simon’s town with Chris Fallows of Apex Shark Expeditions
This experience is a different one to our previous at Gansbaai in 2012 where we caged dived with Brian McFarlane of Shark Cage Diving. Apex operate with smaller cages not the large ones with a capacity for 8 divers, so it is a much more personal encounter. We hope to meet with Chris Fallows, a world legend on great white encounters.
So since you can’t join us in person, follow us and our exploits on our new web site or your social media of choice including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ YouTube or Instagram.
On a baited shark dive at Aliwal Shoal, South Africa one remora stood out from the crowd.
What looked like a ‘mutant’ remora turned out to be an unfortunate little guy who had obviously had a clash with something much bigger than him, possibly a shark who was a little hungry at the time. And of course, he came off worst. He looked like he had a nasty hair lip, but on closer inspection both his upper and lower jaw were badly damaged. However he had managed to heal well and live another day, although he was a bit more frightening to look at compared to his cloned mates!
Remoras are also called sucker fish, and for good reason. They have a sucker in their mouth which sticks to the belly of large fish including sharks, whales and turtles. Their job is to clean parasites off their host, and in return they get to eat leftover food of their host. Where there is a shark there will be remoras, and we find them fascinating.
For more check out:
Remora remora is the name for the common remora. They have a highly modified dorsal fin that expands during their development to become an efficient sucker disk on the top of their head. Remoras attach to sharks, mantas, whales, turtles, ships, divers and just about anything to save energy until their next feed. It’s hard to imagine that powerful, open ocean swimmers like mahi-mahi [dolphinfish] and amberjacks are related to remoras. Your opinion about these opportunistic freeloaders might change when you consider what 50 million years of evolution has done by tinkering with the muscles and bone structure of a dorsal fin to produce their quirky edge for survival.
In nature there are relationships like predator-prey and parasitism where one half of the equation benefits at the expense of the other. There is mutualism, a form of symbiosis where both organisms benefit from the relationship to the extreme where one cannot survive without the other. Commensalism describes relationships on a scale between parasitism and mutualism. Where does the relationship between remoras and other sea life belong?
Does the removal of parasites as a service to a host improve survival, longevity or the energy budget of a host like this humpback whale? It must have a hundred or more remoras that increases the effort needed to move through the ocean using precious fat reserves for energy. This mother is feeding its calf on the long journey to summer feeding grounds off Antarctica, so how far south do remoras go before their free ride gets too cool to survive? Do remoras provide a parasite removal service that is worthy of them tagging along or is this an extreme form of commensalism that’s nudging parasitism as a way of life? Remoras are up their with platypus and other anomalies of the natural world that make me wonder what the creator was on while doodling the prototype or was the design brief given to a committee? Continue reading
BEAUTIFUL TURTLE MOMENT AT THE END OF A SHARK DIVE
For you turtle lovers out there (ok guys, come on, we know you are in to them too!) here is some lovely footage of a lone turtle doing its thing. Just cruising by at the end of a dive, up near the ocean surface.
This was an introductory dive for a group of international divers who joined DiveCareDare and African Dive Adventures for the Sardine Run, 2014. At the end of a baited shark dive with Aliwal Dive Centre, we paused to enjoy the calm of the loggerhead turtle while oceanic blacktip sharks continued to search for tiny scraps of fish in the water. The baited dive was a controlled experience for our group to have close passes from all directions ahead of the 3D action of the Sardine Run when dolphin, seals, whales and Cape gannets coordinate with sharks down to the last sardine.
Another operator had a top and bottom baited drum, as well as two divers and a dozen snorkelers in the water within 20 metres of our baited drum. There were plenty of oceanic blacktip sharks to keep both groups busy. At times we were completely surrounded by ‘shark soup’, one shark even bumping into my camera! The experience had been priceless and then as it was time to surface we looked up and there it was. A beautiful loggerhead turtle, just gently cruising, outlined by the sun above, a truly magical moment. With all the shark activity below, here this turtle was oblivious to it all.
Isn’t nature just wonderful. What a perfect end to a great dive.
Some of the best shark encounters in the world can be had at Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks with Raggies [grey nurse sharks/sand tigers], Zambezi [bull sharks], tigers, duskies and hammerheads mixing it with humpback whales and other sea life of significance. Highly recommended diving.
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GREAT WHITE SHARK TOURS, GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA – CAGED DIVING
Gansbaai is 160kms, about 2hrs drive, from Cape Town in South Africa and is one of the best places on the planet to see great white sharks in their natural habitat. They are the world’s top predatory fish, growing to 6m, and have the ability of launching their 2 ton bodies completely out of the water when predatory breaching for seals. This area is a major drawcard for day trips for local and international tourists to see these amazing creatures. There are many local operators offering up close and personal shark experiences. One of the oldest, most reliable and reputable is Brian McFarlane who runs Great White Shark Tours.
I had the pleasure of going out with Brian two years ago, and when returning with our small group of intrepid shark divers this winter, I couldn’t recommend any other outfit. I knew despite the unusual conditions everyone had been experiencing over the last few weeks, Brian would still be able to offer us a great opportunity, and I wasn’t wrong. He is also the only operator to actually offer a money back guarantee if a shark isn’t sighted, so with that assurance, we all signed on.
COW SHARKS AND CAPE FUR SEALS | PISCES DIVERS FALSE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
Simonstown on the western side of False Bay near Cape Town has an international reputation as the place to go to see great white sharks breaching 3m out of the water off Seal Island. This is a spectacular experience provided by naturalist and photographer Chris Fallows and his wife Monique of Apex Shark Expeditions. They label False Bay as the ‘Serengeti of the Sea’ because of its marine diversity, and as well as their infamous shark cage diving and shark breaching trips, they also promote two other types of dives which are contracted out to local dive operators.
These experiences include an opportunity to dive with Cape fur seals and the primitive seven-gilled cow sharks in the kelp forests of False Bay. These dive sites are on opposite sides of a rocky outcrop known as Partridge Point near Cape Point Nature Reserve where there is a small seal colony.
Winter time (June to August) is best for diving here because the plankton count is lower making visibility much better. 5-8m visibility is good in these waters and anything better than 10m is an outrageous bonus. However weather conditions and currents can impact on this so checking local conditions before a dive is a good idea, although a luxury that most divers can’t afford because of their need to book ahead.
We dived today with Mike Nortje, owner of Pisces Divers. He was easy to spot as he wore contrasting shades of yellow fins and had an uncanny sense of where to point in anticipation of a shark or two moving past. While divers might be wary of a passing great white shark at any moment given their prominent numbers in False Bay, Pisces divers don’t appear to have a history of any sightings of great whites. It seems that the great whites just don’t approach scuba divers according to Mike. So believe me when I say you can concentrate on the diversity and colour on these dives and not be looking over your shoulder constantly!
We dived off Mike’s boat although both dives could have been shore dives and were a maximum of 18m only. The boat drove 15mins out of the harbour to get to the dive sites and the water was a ‘warm’ 17 degrees. I had on 4 layers of clothing being toasty warm for each of our 45-50 mins dive but a ‘local’ diver from Johannesberg wore a dry suit.
The scenery here more than matches anything I have seen on the Great Barrier Reef as feather stars, anemones, urchins, sea squirts and sponges provide a kaleidoscope of colour and an environment that is a macro-photographers dream.
GREAT WHITE SHARK HUNTING WITH CHRIS FALLOWS AND APEX SHARK EXPEDITIONS OF SIMONSTOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
Our trip began by being picked up at 8am by our driver Alistair at our City Loft roof apartment in Bree St, in the centre of Cape Town. We were told to have essentials on board including a towel, bathing costume, sunscreen, water, and camera
After picking up another handful of hopefuls staying at other accommodation, we drove off to first do a sight seeing tour of the South African National Park of Cape of Good Hope, which includes the South Western most point of Africa, and then the lighthouse at Cape Point.
The park is beautiful and showcases the fynbos (‘fine leaf’) landscape of South Africa, as well as wandering animals including gibbons and ostriches. The sea is the Atlantic Ocean and was full of kelp along the shoreline.
We were taken to the most southern west point, Cape Point, to take our photos by the classic signage before another half dozen buses arrived and spoiled our moment of serenity being the only ones there.
Then we set off again to Simonstown to meet Chris and Monique Fallows at their shop. Chris and Monique are well known world wide for their photos of great whites breaching in False Bay, less than an hour from Cape Town They are wildlife naturalists with a strong interest in sharks and their behaviour. Chris first witnessed the breaching predatory habit of the great whites in 1996, and in 2000 created their business Apex Shark Expeditions around breaching, predatory activity and cage diving. He is one of the leading shark experts in the world and has been involved in shark research, facilitated documentaries and written books on sharks. Every boat trip to Seal Island logs sightings and activity, water visibility etc., and his database of over 5500 predatory events is second to none.
Today we were on a mission to finally meet this legend and go out with his crew on Apex Predator for an afternoon trip to hopefully get in the water with these amazing sharks, in a cage of course (in case you are wondering, no one is allowed to swim or dive with great whites without a cage, except for one researcher in Cape Town who has a special licence to do so).
However Chris had to inform us that we may be very unlucky to be one of the few clients of his that do not see a great white. The current season has been very unusual and for the last 3 weeks with the heavy storms and rains, the sharks had virtually gone away, as also had the reef fish which usually accompany them. That morning they had only had one shark sighting, which was a far cry from 20-40 sharks at the peak of activity. But we were dutifully informed that we could still go out or we could cancel our trip as all other operators in the town had done so. However we all decided to push on and take our chances as we had come so far to do this. One client had even flown in from Germany for 2 days for this opportunity and thank god he had been on a trip with a sighting.
We set off heading to Seal Island which is about 30 mins out of the harbour. The crew of three including Nick, a marine biologist from the UK, Woods Makeba who joined then in 2010 and Poenas Jacobs, the skipper, an exceedingly knowledgeable and experienced shark operator who had been with the company since 2005.
We had the shark cage on board, a 2-3 man one, much smaller than what we had expected, lighter framed and much more ‘intimate’ for a shark experience. They had a bucket of burley and a few big fish heads to act as the deeper bait, as well as the rubber decoy seal ‘bait’ as the surface bait.
The idea is that the deep bait attracts the shark by sight and smell and encourages them to come up to the surface, and then they get interested in the decoy, which if manipulated correctly will try to keep the sharks interested at the surface.
We were divided into groups of 2 or 3, and each group was given a safety and dive briefing on the procedure that would follow a sighting. Wetsuits (10mm) were provided and masks and snorkels for the 18 degree ‘warm’ water.
We arrived at Seal Island to be greeted by a wonderful earthy aromatic smell of seal and bird poop. The island homes up to 40,000 seals and 60,000 cormorants depending on the time in the season, and you can certainly smell it on arrival. The noise of the seals calling to each other especially the big bulls makes one hell of a racket too.
We lowered the anchor just off shore, followed by the cage. Once it was fixed in place alongside the boat, our rastifarian crewman Woods proceeded to drum on the side of the boat to attract the sharks by their finely attuned hearing as sound goes much further than smell or vision.
And then we waited, and waited and waited. And nothing happened. Like that infamous Monty Python The Minute sketch…”and yet another minute went by, and nothing happened”…
Yep, we bobbed around for about two hours and despite altering our position closer to the island at one point, nothing happened. Not even the reef fish were biting which was very ususual. And rastifarian’s African drum beat did nothing for the sharks, perhaps they just weren’t in the mood for it today.
But the seals seem to be enjoying it. They were having a ball on the rocks, diving into the water and being thrown back on to the rocks by the strong waves beating their coastline. Even the penguins were having fun waddling around amongst the seals and the cormorants. Apparently the seals are safe in the water next to their rocks as its too shallow for the whites to approach them without fear of being beached or hurt, and boy did they knew it. They were having a party in the surf. The boys moved the boat in closer for us to get a better look and smell, to enhance our experience and memories to take home, and so we took our last photos.
We set off back to the harbour after a fruitless afternoon of ‘no banana’. But then just 5 mins outside the harbour we saw 3-4 Southern Right whales. They were possibly mating as they seemed to be chasing a female whale. Apparently they are known to harass a female for 24hrs or more trying to mate, even if she has a calf nearby. There was also a bit of tail slapping and blowing to entertain us.
Great whites will feed off a whale. Poenas in the past has been witness to one particular shark breaching 15 times right next to a whale in the harbour. The blubber is what they are love. If they accidentally eat the meat they are seen to leave it behind. A dead whale is a smorgasbord for them and one carcass will feed a shark for a month.
Poenas told us though that the current policy if a dead whale is found close to shore is to tow it to the beach, and then put it on a truck and drive it 2 hrs inland to pour fuel on it and incinerate the carcass. Instead of letting the sharks eat it at sea as is normal behaviour and then not be hungry for another month, they pull it into shore followed by sharks trailing the carcass to where people are. What human ignorance and unnecessary expense.
The sharks in this area are not aggressive hunters of people. They feed on the seals mainly and are known to visit Seal Island regularly year after year. They are noted to hunt within 500m of the same spot each year. So regular are some that they have been given names such as Scarlet, Shy Guy and Colossus. Colossus has been the star of a National Geographic documentary in the past and has been tracked around the coast.
The shark activity varies in the year. The season starts around Feb until September. Initially they are lazy and are natural scavengers feeding off dead birds or seals. Then they become more active and begin to hunt. Baby seals are born around December and usually don’t leave the island and their mother’s milk for 6 months. So June is around when the sharks begin to actively hunt as the seal pups take their first swim off the island to fish for food.
Shark breaching action can be ‘natural’ breaching which is very rare, or ‘predatory’ breaching when they are chasing seal pups or bait. They usually are most active in the mornings as the light is best then and they are hungry. Afternoon sightings are usually quieter.
No one swims in this area because of the number of great whites around. Sharks have been sighted in 3 metres of water although they do not usually like shallow water. They have a natural fear of being beached and are not as maneuverable as other sharks.
Our day ended once we docked the boat, and we headed off a few hundred metres down the road to Boulder where the jackass (named after their donkey-like noise) or African Penguins roost and mate. The sun was just setting after the most glorious sunny, blue sky day. The light was fantastic to witness these little guys waddling around their rockery on the beach. You could even see little lines of pearls coming in on the ocean…penguins in linear formation about to do a beach landing to join the rest of their flock. Cute little guys, often in boy-girl pairs, almost holding hands or mimicking each other like mirror images. Very endearing.
So, despite ‘no banana’ re a shark experience, we had a great day out with nature with seals, birds, whales and penguins, and some great information about the natural habits of the sharks in this area. Formal shark research counts for little as far as I am concerned as these guys witness the natural behaviour or these sharks on a daily basis. It is priceless information.
And how best to protect our oceans and wildlife? Well perhaps stop tagging it, dissecting it, killing it…, in fact, just leave it alone and it will do very well, thank you!
SNORKELLING WITH HUMPBACKS AT COFFEE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA
We were here in Coffee Bay with Roland Mauz and African Dive Adventures for the infamous Sardine Run. We hoped to dive on sardine bait balls with the promise of accompanying dolphins, sharks and diving gannets, but for the first day we saw mainly dolphins and humpback whales, or as Irene my wife had accidentally nicknamed them, ‘wholphins’. The whales were generally travelling quite fast. As in Queensland, Australia they are on a mission to places much further north and they usually don’t want to stop to interact with us in the water. This had certainly been our experience on day one at Coffee Bay. This was day two and we were out yet again in search of the elusive sardine bait balls. The clarity of the water was better and we were all more attuned into kitting up into our wetsuits and snorkelling gear to get into the water more efficiently.
The ‘eye in the sky’ was out spotting for us and indeed the ultra light plane found quite a few pods of dolphins, at times up to a hundred or more in a pod. One of these accompanied and completely surrounded some whales, and at the back of this ‘wholphin’ pod was a group of about seven dusky sharks following all the action. Some whales were having fun with breaches and tail slapping. We also saw diving and ‘rafting’ gannets, but still no sardine.