Saturday, 8 September 2012

Ed Encounters Great White Sharks (continued)

Very soon we were heading to Seal Island, home of the famous Flying Great White Sharks that I had heard so much about. Of course I knew sharks can’t really fly but Seal Island is home to very special shark behaviour. I had seen whales leap (breach) out of the water before but this is a unique place where great white sharks breach out of the sea.

This spectacular sight of a nearly 1 ton shark launching itself out of the water is seen here at Seal Island on a very regular basis and Chris and Monique record up to 700 predatory events each year between April and September.The sharks are attracted to seal island because of the large number of seals present at this time of the year.
Monique said the sharks at Seal Island are also the largest average size sharks in South Africa and they can be 3.5 meters and many times bigger than this. The reason we see the larger sharks is that once Great whites get older their dentition (teeth) become broader which allows them to feed easier on seals. Seals have very thick blubber and this gives the sharks very good amounts of energy which means that it is a very valuable meal.

While the shark is a powerful predator it does not always manage to catch the seal it hunts.
Cape fur seals are fast, agile and acrobatic swimmers and often they use these skills to escape from the shark.

A breach takes places when a Great white shark is hunting a cape fur seal. Chris & Monique explained that when watching these events we have to have great respect for both the hunter (the great white shark) and the prey (the cape fur seal). Life is very challenging for both animals and as such we need to respect that both shark and seal are just trying to survive and it is best to observe these events as objectively as possible.

While some people might think of seals as being so cute that we should protect them from being eaten by shark, this is just nature. Monique reminded me of what she had told me about the eco system. So this means that big sharks help to keep seal populations at the right level for the ecosystem. If sharks did not eat some seals then the seal populations would get too big, the seals would eat more than their share of fish in the ecosystem and other animals would go without. The ecosystem itself could the collapse. Nature is good and keeping itself in balance.

Today we were very lucky with our sightings. We witnessed 3 predatory events as shark hunted seal. We also got to see a breach on a decoy.
Chris was the first person to start using fake seal decoys. They tow the decoy slowly behind the boat and sometimes they get very lucky to see a breaching Great white shark very close to us.

Monique said it’s very exciting and it also provides an opportunity for our guests to see this incredible behaviour. Eco tourism is vital to shark conservation. Sharks are not easy animals to see, you have to look specifically for them and you need people who know what they are doing to treat them with the respect that they deserve. If eco-tourism is done correctly people will come away from the experience as ambassadors for sharks and this ultimately will help in the future well-being of sharks. I will certainly be telling lots of people about my amazing experiences here with Chris and Monique.

One of the reasons I wanted to visit the great white sharks is because I heard that they weer endangered and I wanted to find out why. Chris and Monique are very concerned about the dangers to great white sharks. They explained how great white sharks are one of the predators at the top of the food chain. As such they play a vital role in keeping the balance of nature in check

Great white sharks have become an endangered species directly due to pressure from people. Great white sharks have been threatened by illegal poaching and sport fishing before they became a protected species in South Africa in 1991. Even so offshore long lining, the Natal Sharks Boards bathing nets up our South African East coast and various other implications from people.

Chris said there are many people that love sharks, especially kids. Chris and Monique said they get emails almost daily from kids all around the world telling them how much they love and respect sharks. Children are vital to the future of all animal conservation so Chris and Monique always encourage those that show such an early appreciation for sharks.

A lot of other people do not understand sharks and therefore are afraid of them. Often people are afraid of something because they know nothing about them, and this is very true of sharks. Yes, sharks are predators and as such when they hunt they can be aggressive and ferocious, this is what they do. They don’t waste anything and they only kill to eat. Sharks have been living in the oceans since the time of the dinosaurs - so the sharks were there first, it is their domain that we are entering.

Find out what happens next in the final part of my adventures with these amazing great white sharks.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Off to see Great White Sharks with Apex Expeditions

Hi all

Monique woke me at what appeared to be the middle of the night. It was still dark, the time was 5.00am. We all got aboard and departed Simons Town harbour just before first light. Monique said that all the Apex Crew and even the other guests on the boat were just as excited to have me on board and help me make the most of my experiences.

I asked why it was called False Bay and one of the crew told me that the name "False Bay" was used by sailors (at least three hundred years ago) who confused this bay with Table Bay whch is further to the north.

We were not the only ones active at this time of the morning. As the sun was just below the horizon and the sky was still a beautiful shade of early morning pink, we came across a school of about 400 common dolphins.
We could see large shoals of anchovy (fish) on the surface and this had obviously attracted the dolphin to the area. As our boat approached most of the school broke off to follow us in the wake of the boat. Everyone on board was very excited to see this beautiful scene. I have seen dolphins on my travels before but not hundreds in one place or so close to the boat.

As we looked towards Seal Island we were in for another surprise … 3 Southern Right Whales were relaxing on the surface just 1 mile from Seal Island. On our boat “White Pointer 2” we sat with our engines turned off, just a little way away from the group of whales. Within 10 minutes the whales were extremely relaxed and had moved very slowly towards us.
The crew found me a safe comfortable place to sit on the side of the boat where I would be close to the whales.

I enjoyed an amazingly close moment with the 3 Southern Right Whales. One of the whales even “spy hopped” right in front of us.
This is when a whale pokes its head out of the water to have a look around. Monique said that maybe the whale was just as curious about me!

Monique said that the Southern Right Whales migrate from Antarctica to the South African shores, arriving here in August/September each year. Whilst they feed in Antarctica their reason for travelling to South Africa is to use the safer shallow bays to breed and give birth to their calves.

I have seen acrobatic humpback whales in the Hawaiian Islands and Channel Islands in the US. But there is something very special about floating on a very still ocean listening to the whales calmly breathing in very loud spurts very close to us. They seemed quite happy with our company, something I will always remember.

Wow, so much excitement and we haven’t even seen a great white shark yet!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Ed meets famous shark experts Chris and Monique Fallows

Hi, I am Monique Fallows. Earlier this year Ed the Bear wanted to visit us to learn about Great White Sharks. In September we could finally make this dream come true and help Ed to experience and learn more about the famous Great White Sharks of Seal Island.

Hi all

Well I am back in South Africa I can’t believe my luck. Earlier this year I had hoped to see great white sharks. For some reason only a few sharks returned to seal island and so I did not see any before I had to return to England.
However, this changed very quickly and I got a call (and invitation) from Chris & Monique Fallows, who are naturalists and Shark Lovers (!). They would to be my hosts and guides.
Monique explained that even though we were going to be looking for Great White Sharks at Seal Island, we were also going on a Marine Safari in the magnificent False Bay. She told me that this natural Bay is a very special place in which a huge variety of marine life and different ecosystems co exists.

I asked Monique what an ecosystem was. She said that the plants and animals that are found in a particular location are referred to as an ecosystem. These plants and animals depend on each other to survive. This balance between the plants and animals is a delicate balance and can easily be damaged by some human activities.

I asked Monique why they were called Apex Shark Expeditions. She explained that the great white shark is an Apex Predator, which means no other predators hunt and eat great white sharks. So I wondered why the oceans were not full of great white sharks if nothing else eats them.
Monique explained that great white sharks help keep the other animals in the ecosystem in balance. While nothing eats the great white sharks, their numbers are kept in balance by the rest of the ecosystem. The amount of sharks will not be greater than the amount of food that is available to them. No wonder the oceans are in so much trouble when ecosystems are so delicately balanced.
Because of this wealth of wildlife, the opportunity to see other wildlife is something that Chris & Monique and Apex always make the most of and share with others.

I asked Monique what wildlife we might see, but she said she did not want to spoil the surprise. When at sea you never know what you will encounter. Chris and Monique said that everything in nature exists together and there are many unique relationships, so it is always a good idea to go to sea with your eyes wide open! You never know what you might see.

Monique said we would be leaving very early in the morning so I left them both planning tomorrows trip and went bed.

Bye for now

Ed the Bear

Monday, 3 September 2012

Back in South Africa to find out about great white sharks

Hi all
Some very exciting news. I am back in South Africa to visit Chris and Monique Fallows who study great white sharks.

When I was in the USA visiting the National Marine Sanctuaries I visited the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. I was photographed by a life-sized model of a great white shark.

Sadly, I did not get to see a live shark, but I hope to see some here.

I have heard lots of crazy things about sharks. Some people think they are very dangerous and eat lots of people, other people think they are beautiful animals. While I am in South Africa I hope that I will be able to find out what is fact and what is fiction about sharks.

I have been told that Chris and Monique are very passionate about sharks and so I am sure they will be able to tell me why sharks are important - I found out recently that Geat White Sharks are endangered!

While I am very excited I am also a bit nervous too as I am only a little bear, but I know I will be safe with Chris and Monique

More about my visit soon

Bye for now

Ed the Bear