28 July 2012 – in search of apex predators
We had been invited to join the team from Wild Eye who were running a photographic safari in the Cape aboard a trip out to Seal Island operated by Apex Shark Expeditions. Our day started off in a bit of a rush as Margaret had managed to set the alarm for “pm” instead of “am” and, when we eventually woke up naturally, we realized that we were just a little short of time. The next hour was a bit of a blur as we jumped up, screamed into the shower, got dressed and jumped into the car then having to do some low flying to cover the roughly 50km through to Simon’s Town from our house. We had phoned through on the way just to let them know that we were running late, but, surprise, surprise, we actually arrived with 10 minutes to spare. However, those 10 minutes might become very costly when the pile of speeding tickets eventually arrive…:)
So, 7am in the dark saw us on the boat and heading out of the harbour. There was a stiff breeze blowing and the sea in False Bay was rather lumpy. As we burned our way out to the island, we could occasionally make out some Long-beaked Common Dolphins swimming alongside us in the early half light, but it was far too dark still to try and take photos. About 25 minutes later, we arrived at the island and positioned ourselves ready for the action. It didn’t take long before the first natural predation occurred and we raced over to the scene. The Great White Sharks predate on the Cape Fur Seal pups around the island that manage to get themselves disconnected from the rest of the group. And, with about 60 000 seals on the island, there is no shortage of food for the sharks! Unfortunately, the natural predations happen all too quickly and, before you know it, there is nothing left at the scene other than a group of Kelp Gulls hanging about overhead and the sight of the dorsal fin of these magnificent beasts breaking the surface as they silently glide away in search of their next meal.
Over the course of the next hour or so, we witnessed several of these natural predations. The same pattern would follow – we would see a huge splash and commotion and the shout would go up for a predation event. The skipper would then put foot and we would scream over to the scene only to arrive when it was all over, so unfortunately, the photo opportunities were not there, but the experience was pretty spectacular.
We then also spent some time cruising around the island checking out the seal colony and enjoying a handful of African Penguins and several species of marine cormorants on the island as well.
We then spent quite some time towing a decoy behind the boat in the hope that we could get a shark to breach behind the boat. It takes some getting used to just sitting there holding your camera up for what seems an eternity looking through the viewfinder at the decoy bobbing around on the sea and waiting for some action. Unfortunately, it was not to be and we didn’t get a single hit on our decoy. We did, however, get to see a shark breach on a decoy being towed by another boat – fantastic to see this animal right out of the water like that, but just too far for us to get any photos of the experience. We then dropped anchor and threw out some bait. Almost instantly, we were surrounded by birds, mostly large groups of Kelp Gulls, particularly juveniles and immatures, but there was also the odd Subantarctic Skua that came in for a look as well.
Obviously, the sharks also arrived and, at one point, we had three awesome Great White Sharks circling our boat. One starts to realize just how vulnerable you are out there, when you see these enormous creatures in the water all around you! Most of the time, they just circled us underwater and were not all that interested in the bait at all, but occasionally, they did come up for a look. Unfortunately, once again, the photo opportunities were not great, but just seeing them was fantastic. Eventually, we called it a day and made our way back to Simon’s Town being joined along the way by a few dolphins again before arriving back in the harbour in time for lunch. A great morning out – thanks to all involved!