Chasing sunfish

I certainly hope that this isn’t the only time I’ll see an ocean sunfish (Mola mola) underwater, but if it is, I can live with that. During a dive in Maori Bay last weekend, exploring the BOS 400 and SS Oakburn shipwrecks, sharp-eyed Liam spotted a large sunfish swimming alongside us, but some distance away. We had advance warning that there were sunfish about (they’d been spotted from the air near Kommetjie, the previous day), so I was mentally and physically prepared with a strategy that I’ve repeatedly rehearsed in my mind to be ready for underwater encounters with marine megafauna.

I switched my camera to video, pointed it at the sunfish, and took off towards it like (I imagined) a bat out of hell. I figured that if I didn’t get close enough to take a proper photo, I would still have a murky video record of the encounter. (Lo and behold, that is all I do have. See below.)

I swam for what felt like a blistering pace for several kilometres (in reality, a sluggish burst of probably 20-30 metres), and then realised that I’d overbreathed my regulator, was taking in quite a bit of water through a tear in the mouthpiece, and that if I didn’t stop finning I’d pass out. During this time the sunfish gained considerable distance on me, got out of focus and out of frame in my video, and then disappeared.

So I stopped, panting, and watched the animal disappear effortlessly into the blue gloom, waving its fins calmly and slowly but – it was clear – moving at a terrific pace. (The overbreathed regulator situation corrected itself swiftly when I started demanding more reasonable amounts of air again.)

I was reminded of other occasions when I’ve tried to keep up with a fish, or a turtle, in order to take its photo or spend just a few more moments in its company. Perhaps there is no shame in being out swum by a fish weighing over a ton with fins to match, but I’ve been humiliated by 30 centimetre long Red Roman, rejecting my friendly advances and outpacing me with a decidedly less impressive fin-to-body size ratio! Next time I want to enjoy the company of an ocean resident for just a little bit longer I’ll try to remember that I’m not in my natural element, and the decision as to whether we get to be close to one another rests almost not at all with me.

A Festivus miracle: Red Sea shenanigans!

Here are two special Festivus miracles (forgive the poetic licence) for you: videos I took while diving in the Red Sea in October. Don’t know what Festivus is? Educate yourself!

Special moment between Kate and Christo
Special moment between Kate and Christo

Airing of Grievances

Kate airs her grievances at Sha’ab Abu Nuhas.

Feats of Strength

Ok not really. It’s just Kate sneaking up on Christo, who was oblivious to the world around him, intently stalking what he thought was some kind of grouper (which turned out to be some broken plumbing or coral debris, I forget). This clip is only six seconds long, so you’ll have to watch it more than once to fully appreciate its beauty.

I should point out that Tony denies all responsibility for teaching Kate the sort of antisocial behaviour you see here. Despite what this picture would suggest.

Shark cage diving in False Bay (some photos)


We took a trip to Seal Island in False Bay to see the white sharks there, in late July. I’ve already posted my video footage from the cage. We also took some photos – mostly Tony. The trip entailed getting up very early, so as to be at Seal Island by sunrise. Once there, we scanned the horizon for predatory behaviour: typically, the white sharks here attack the juvenile seals from below, often launching their entire bodies out of the water in an explosive burst of energy.

Video still of one of the great white sharks we saw
Video still of one of the great white sharks we saw

It was a very rough day with a swell of about five metres, and from speaking to people who come to Seal Island often, I gather that the sharks tend to be less active on days like this. Their accuracy in striking the seals is reduced by the movement of the water column. Nonetheless we did see a couple of predation events, with the characteristic flock of seabirds waiting to pick up any leftovers, and the slick of “oily seal juices” (to quote Gary!) left on the surface afterwards. The sharks are so quick that if you’re looking the wrong way, it’ll all be over by the time you turn around.

After some time watching natural behaviour, a decoy (surprisingly realistic looking, made to resemble a young seal) is towed behind the boat, to try and elicit breaching behaviour from the sharks. We didn’t have much luck here, again probably because of the surgy seas, but one shark made a few investigations of the decoy before losing interest.

White shark next to the boat
White shark next to the boat

Finally sharks are attracted to the boat using chum, which is mostly fish oils and other fishy substances. A tuna head was splashed in the water near the boat, and when sharks came to investigate it they were visible from the cage. While in the cage we breathed off scuba regulators, which was great. Trying to breath-hold or snorkel while the sea was so choppy would have been next to impossible. The sound of the bubbles emanating from our regulators didn’t bother the sharks at all.

Bernita and some stormy seas
Bernita and some stormy seas

We spent about twenty minutes (or maybe more – I am not sure) in the cage, some of it just waiting for action, and some of it with our full attention focused on the enormous fish swimming by and looking at us with its black eyes. Five minutes of looking at a great white shark, eye to eye, gives sudden perspective on life and the natural world. I’ll recommend this experience to anyone who will listen!


Great white shark at the Clan Stuart wreck – video

To close off Cape Town’s Shark Week, here’s the 11 second video footage that diver Vladislav Tomshinskiy (thank you Vlad!) took of the shark as it swam past the divers the second time. The bubbles at the end of the video belong to Craig (far left, with the buoy line) and Christo. Please enjoy this beautiful video of one of the ocean’s most brilliant predators, swimming curiously and gracefully past a group of awe-struck divers who are all amazed and grateful for having had the experience.

Local shark scientist Alison Kock of Shark Spotters says that from the video the shark looks to be a female (she said that if it was a male you’d expect to see claspers as it turned to swim away, which one can’t) and that she’s between 3 and 3.5 metres long. According to a recent study, most of the sharks seen at inshore locations by the Shark Spotters during the summer months are large females, who tend to be in False Bay year-round.

It’s not clear whether the shark was disturbed by the divers’ bubbles (as Christo speculates), and whether that was what caused it to swim away when it did. That flick of the tail says “I’m outta here!” and is something we’ve seen when observing these animals from the surface (on cage diving and research boats). The acceleration and turning abilities of white sharks is remarkable.

I’m interested by the bubbles because it’s an oft-repeated mantra by the shark cage diving operators (all over the country) that sharks are scared of scuba bubbles, and this is why you have to breath hold or snorkel in the cage. In July we did a cage diving trip in False Bay with African Shark Eco-Charters, who allow their clients to view sharks from the cage while on scuba, and they certainly don’t see fewer sharks than any other operator. Also, the sharks who swam past us in the cage were totally not bothered by our bubbles (of which there were many).

I therefore wouldn’t bet my reputation (or maybe I should, just to get rid of it…) on the “sharks don’t like bubbles” theory, but there may be far more nuance to it than we know. The shark in this video practically got a spa treatment on its tummy from Christo and Craig’s regulators… Perhaps to scare a shark away using air bubbles you need to get really close. But I don’t plan to test that theory unless I have to!

Shark cage diving in False Bay

The opportunity to see great white sharks safely, on your own terms (that is, not by surprise while diving!), and in a way that isn’t harming the sharks or affecting their behaviour on a large scale, is amazing and unusual one. Living in Cape Town, South Africa, we are more fortunate than most people in having three excellent cage diving operations (Apex Predators, African Shark Eco-Charters, and Shark Explorers) on our doorstep in False Bay, and – for the summer months, when the False Bay season closes down – Gansbaai just a two hour drive away.

I have visited Seal Island on board the Shark Spotters research boat, but that wasn’t for getting in the water with the sharks – the scienfic data is collected from the surface (I watched – more here, here and here), but Tony has never been. Tony and I have tried to go together to visit the sharks at Seal Island on two occasions before. Once, the conditions were too poor so we ended up in Gansbaai (more on that here), and the second time we planned an overseas trip and had to cancel our cage diving booking. The operators can get booked up very far in advance during peak season, which is when we wanted to go, which is why the overseas travel ended up overlapping with the cage diving trip.

Third time lucky! Two of Tony’s former students, Tamsyn and Gary, work for African Shark Eco-Charters, Tamsyn taking bookings and Gary as Divemaster on the boat. We booked a trip with them for late July, which is during the best period to see white sharks at Seal Island. We were excited to be able to breathe off scuba regulators while in the cage, and this turned out to be a wonderful thing because it was a very rough day (big swell, wind – and rain!) when we ventured out. The Stugeron that Bernita and I had ingested did its wonderful work.

Here’s a video clip of some of what we saw while in the cage. I’ve slowed this video down to 35% of the actual speed, because it’s really bumpy – the cage was like a washing machine! Trying to snorkel would have been unpleasant.

The shark in the video is a female white shark (she has no claspers – she obligingly shows us her big belly), and she was huge. It was lovely to have Bernita with us, and absolutely amazing to see our False Bay sharks up close. They are magnificent, remarkable animals worthy of our protection.

Sunset on a Long Beach night dive

I took these two short video clips on a night dive at Long Beach on 20 July.

In the first clip, it’s still quite light. Dinho is breathing off his octo because it free flowed at the beginning of the dive.

The second clip, which was taken just a minute or two later, is much darker – the sun was setting at that very moment. At the end you can see Tony in his Batman hoodie. You can also glimpse Craig over the kelp on the wreck, with the buoy line, and Tamsyn in a wetsuit with blue detailing on the arms. We were eight all together for this dive, and the light shed by our torches and cyalumes is quite considerable.

For another glimpse of what night diving is like, you can check out another video here.

Newsletter: New wreck dive in the making?

Hi divers

Tony and a potato bass (checking out his camera) at Texas
Tony and a potato bass (checking out his camera) at Texas

The trip to Mozambique seemed to arrive very quickly and ended just as fast. Somehow a week goes by a lot faster when on vacation. We had really good weather and some really good dives – no in fact every one of the nine dives we did was spectacular. We had fun with huge, friendly potato bass and for me the huge schools of fish and bait balls, rays, as well as a leopard shark that buzzed us at Doodles were the highlight. There are some photos on facebook here and here, and watch the blog for more.

Leopard shark and entourage at Doodles
Leopard shark and entourage at Doodles

Back home

The weather is not going to play along with divers this weekend and a cold front as well as a 5 metre swell with a fair amount of rain arrives tomorrow. The rain I can deal with but the swell will make diving very surgy and reduce the visibility. The water was not looking good this morning and had a greenish hue. I decided not to dive and that’s going to be the plan for at least the next few days.

Raggy scorpion fish - look closely - at Three Sisters
Raggy scorpion fish – look closely – at Three Sisters

Cape Town Dive Festival

The bookings are starting to roll in (the Saturday dive to the SAS Fleur is already full, for example) so if you have not yet booked please visit and pick your dives and book. We are on the following dives, if you want to join us:

Friday 10 August

Saturday 11 August

Early booking is a really good plan as if you book and pay by 31 May you can win an Apeks regulator set worth R7,000!


The Eihatsu Maru at Clifton 1st Beach, taken on Sunday 13 May
The Eihatsu Maru at Clifton 1st Beach, taken on Sunday 13 May

If you have not seen a 50 metre long fishing trawler up close before, pop down to Clifton and take a look at the one on the beach. There are some photos of it here and here. If all goes well, it will be gone by Saturday, if not it will be there for a while. Re-floating a ship that size is a far bigger task than most would imagine (witness the Seli 1, which is actually in a position far more conducive to being recovered, but was in much worse shape when she ran aground). There is also a risk of it tearing a hole in the hull as they drag it off the beach and this could mean a new wreck to dive.


Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099

Diving is addictive!

Tips on shopping for dive gear

I’ve been diving for a while, owned a lot of dive gear. Here are some tips on shopping for gear, some learned through painful experience!

General rules for buying gear

  • Try it on before you buy it. Wetsuits, booties, hoodie, you name it.
  • Try on your BCD and weight belt OVER your wetsuit – two layers of 5 millimetre neoprene adds a LOT of waistline!
  • Make sure you understand the returns policy of the shop you’re using.
  • Get acquainted with the Consumer Protection Act (if you’re in South Africa).
  • Shop around! Don’t let sales people sweet talk you. They are more interested (generally) in making a sale than in making you a happy diver.
  • Don’t cut the strap of your dive computer shorter unless you’re VERY sure you’re never going to dive in cold water (wearing lots of wetsuit and gloves to make your wrist thicker).

Second hand gear

  • When purchasing second hand cylinders: get them viz’d first (at the expense of the seller) before agreeing to purchase.
  • Try and get the seller to allow you to “test dive” expensive items such as dive computers before agreeing to purchase them.
  • It’s a good idea to check BCDs for leaks before purchasing, unless you plan to use the BCD only for shallow dives, and even then it’s iffy.

Gear to avoid

  • Don’t purchase based purely on colour (ladies, I know it can be very tempting).
  • Be realistic about what you will use the gear for. (Do you really plan to dive to 100 metres, under ice with that regulator?)
  • Don’t fall for wrap around face masks with 3 glass panels (here’s an example) without trying one first – they give rise to very confusing visual phenomena and distort things hugely as they pass across the join in the panes of glass!
  • Avoid BCDs with inflate/deflate handle handles (example here) – I have never yet seen a beginner diver (and even some divers who have done over 100 dives) using one who was in proper control of their buoyancy.
  • Neoprene covers on mask straps (example here) usually only work without a hoodie. They have a tendency to slip off your head during a backward roll off the boat when worn over a hoodie (although some people swear by them!).
  • Smaller volume masks are usually better for beginner divers than huge five litre models! They are much easier to clear.
  • Do you really need a three foot dive cutlass, as opposed to a small knife?


  • Get a second opinion on extensive repairs.

Entry techniques: Giant strides

For me it’s a toss up between backward rolling and giant strides as my favourite entry technique for scuba diving. Living in Cape Town, opportunities for giant strides are limited to occasional harbour dives (boat dives are generally done off a RIB). In Malta, however, we were in giant stride paradise, and had a number of opportunities to basically bomb drop ourselves into the sea off piers, boats, and rocky ledges.

These two (slightly dodgy but very short) videos were filmed at Wied iz Zurrieq, where the Um El Faroud wreck lies, and the Blue Grotto can be found. The first shows Tony in action, and the second shows our impossibly tall divemaster, Sergey. That one was filmed while I was already in the water, so it’s rather unsteady!

Usually one does this with a fully inflated BCD, so you pop to the surface right away. Of course, regulator is in your mouth and mask on your face, with one hand resting lightly over them for security. To get out of the water at this particular dive site, one uses a metal ladder on the side of the pier. On a boat there’d be a ladder or a dive platform on the back.

Shark “research”

It is true to say sharks are in trouble worldwide. Almost any attention to their plight is a step in the right direction. Sadly all too often the attention the sharks receive in the media is of little value to their plight and is purely an attempt to boost the participants’ perception of themselves as “great shark experts”.

This article describes a show that is a perfect example of this. It describes the National Geographic Shark Attack Experiment Live. Does the name make you skeptical? It should. The “experiment” sets out to show little concern for the sharks – a perspex cage was placed in the ocean that a shark would quite likely swim into and risk injury (and I am sure there would be no reporting on this if it happened).

The National Geographic Shark Experiment starts from a premise that comes straight out of Jaws: sharks want to eat people. The only refinement is that the experimenters planned to figure out what garnish they prefer. What is shocking is that the participants are all people who present themselves as being very concerned about sharks. This kind of so-called research is exploitative, tacky, and in poor taste – but, more fundamentally, it does nothing to remove the stigma associated with sharks as mindless predators. It panders to the Shark Week mentality of sharks as ravenous beasts with blood dripping from their jaws, tantalises viewers – exactly as Jaws did – with views of bikini-clad women swimming with apex predators, and has no scientific content whatsoever.

An assortment of other “experiments” were performed, such as dangling a string of plastic beads in front of a shark to prove a bling theory (who thinks this up? no one swims with a pearl necklace on). Once the diver dropped it the sharks followed it down and possibly ate it. The swimming and splashing surfer test was not done near great whites as this would “perk the interest” of any predator… So now reef sharks are no longer predators?

The best for me was diving with a dictaphone and making it seem like this was an earth shattering discovery. Divers dive with all these sharks all the time with video cameras, still cameras, video lights and strobes. What does a dictaphone do differently to all that other electronic equipment? Who swims with a dictaphone, anyway?

Science has proven sharks to most likely be colour blind and use contrast as a visual tool. Dispelling the myth of “yum yum yellow” whilst in a pink bikini is hardly a myth buster. It makes one fairly sure that the “science” was not actually the main feature here.

Pretending that three or four tests done by a single individual can help us to draw any conclusions about sharks is disingenuous and misleading to an often ignorant public who only know what the media tells them about sharks. Real science involves multiple tests, control groups, and the scientific method.

What we already know (real facts by unscientific people): thousands of divers worldwide dive with shiny, dangling scuba gadgets, strobes, cameras, bright shiny regulators, a multitude of brightly coloured fins, masks and wetsuits. Some dive in swimwear with bright shiny silver cylinders strapped to their backs. These people have black skin, pale skin, or bright red sunburned skin. A vast majority of them urinate in the water, their wetsuits and their swimsuits… And you’re more likely to be involved in a car accident on your way to the beach than you are to be bitten by a shark.

And yet, a respected (I think) institution such as National Geographic chooses to associate itself with a television special that takes, as its starting point, the view that sharks are looking for (appropriately dressed) humans to bite. How classy and scientifically up to date.