I think most people are keen for summer to arrive. I know I am. We dived last Friday at Atlantis and Boat Rock and had pretty good conditions – thank you to Arne for the photo above! Last weekend was a washout and the week has been dry thanks to the spring tides, swell and some wind.
The whales heard my complaints from last week, and on Friday a young whale breached in front of us again. This time while Geoff was holding the camera and he got a great photo!
False Bay is currently flat but not very clean. We are meant to have two days of westerly or north westerly winds so I think Sunday will be an option. There is also less swell on Sunday. I don’t think it is going to be paradise, but it will certainly improve over what we have right now.
We will launch on Sunday from theSimon’s Town jetty at 8.30 am for Maidstone Rock and 11.00 am for Atlantis. This is the plan, but the dive sites may change as I prefer to dive in better visibility if we go that far south, so will change sites to suit the conditions.
In other news
Diarise Diversnight 2015 for the evening of Saturday 7 November! More details to follow.
Also, as of yesterday we are a PADI Resort Dive Centre – the only major difference so far is that we now appear here…
Vulcan Rock is a dive site just outside Hout Bay. We dived it on a day when the south easter had been blowing for a while, so the visibility was quite good. The dive site is essentially a huge stack of granite boulders, with Vulcan Rock as the highest point. The rocks are covered with sea urchins, rock lobster, corals, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, and a bit of red seaweed.
Esther and I stayed within the range of Open Water divers, not going deeper than 18 metres, but it is possible to go as deep as 30 metres at this site if you go for a bit of a swim. This is definitely a site to visit when the surface conditions are good and the swell is low (not that Hout Bay diving is ever great – or particularly safe – in a big swell).
I had the little Sony camera with me and took some happy snaps. Underneath all the granite is an enormous cave, with several entrances. Peet, who joined us on this dive, made a video of the cave that I will share with you later this week.
We are back from an exploration trip to De Hoop. We took in Infanta, Arniston and Struisbaai as well as Cape Agulhas. Our aim was to gather info for future dive trips up the coast and we checked out the launch sites, accommodation, eating spots and so on. We went armed with a chart of the wrecks and reefs and chatted to some of the locals who use the areas daily. It was a fantastic trip and one of the highlights was filming the giant short tailed stingrays that are resident in the harbour at Struisbaai. We’ll share that video on Youtube in a day or two, and some photos on our facebook page. Instagram already has some highlights from the trip…
The weekend weather does not look all that rosy so we will launch tomorrow at 8.30 and 11.30. Saturday looks really messy and Sunday looks a little wet. We will launch on Sunday if the weather tones down from the current forecast. Either way, let me know if you’d like to be notified of possible Sunday dives, or if you’d like to be on the boat tomorrow.
Just a reminder to make sure your permit to dive in a Marine Protected Area is up to date. Also, if you book a dive please let me know in good time if you can’t take the spot on the boat so that I can give it to someone else.
Saved by the Sea: A Love Story with Fish – David Helvarg
I think this book belongs to the same broad genre – one for which I have a lot of time – as Tim Ecott’s Neutral Buoyancy. If I had to describe the authors of this genre, I would call them “thinking scuba divers” (as opposed to the unthinking kind). David Helvarg is a former war journalist turned environmental activist. In this beautiful, heart-wrenching book he chronicles his own life as it has touched upon the world’s oceans.
Helvarg is founder of the Blue Frontier Campaign, and, as he explains in this book, he encourages and facilitates environmental activism. Helvarg’s idea of activism does not seem to be topless protests about vague global issues, but rather entails groups of concerned citizens becoming involved in intensely local issues: a Seaweed Rebellion. The feeling of helplessness and doom which sometimes threatens to overwhelm those with a concern for the ocean’s future can be fruitfully channeled into unglamorous but entirely useful small acts of advocacy and change. The kind of activism that Helvarg encourages in Saved by the Sea comprises small, cumulative actions, like writing letters to government representatives on subjects that concern you; participating in coastal clean ups; getting involved in citizen science projects in your area. He lists fifty ways to save the ocean (and has written a book on that subject) – print them out and do your bit. The key is to do something, where you can (and that is usually right on your doorstep).
I would recommend the book purely for the activist spirit that Helvarg espouses (he explains why he formed Blue Frontier in the prior link), but in addition to this his book is wonderfully written and affirming of the variety and beauty of the ocean. He describes scuba dives in some of the world’s most pristine areas, surfing trips in South America, travels to the Antarctic. Interwoven with these encounters with the natural world is Helvarg’s own life, and love, story. He does not shy away from difficult feelings and experiences. This is an autobiography, and one you’ll be richer for having read.
You can get a copy of the book here (South Africans), here or here.
Beneath the Surface: Killer Whales, Seaworld, and the Truth Beyond Blackfish – John Hargrove
As a counterpoint to orca scientist Dr Ingrid Visser’s memoir that we discussed earlier this week, John Hargrove’s Seaworld exposé describes the conflicted, thrilling life of an orca trainer working at a marine theme park. Hargrove appeared in the documentary Blackfish, but in this book he greatly expands on his experiences at the Seaworld parks in the United States, and at Marineland in the south of France.
Hargrove counts being close to the orca, and having opportunities to interact with them, as one of the great privileges of his life. Understandably, he grew to love the animals, and ultimately he says that it was his love for them that forced him to stop working as a trainer and to become an anti-captivity advocate. This decision clearly came after great internal struggle, and he has been subjected to vitriolic online attacks and character assassinations as a result of his new stance on keeping cetaceans captive. I have no doubt that there are aspects of the story he tells that it may be possible to re-tell with greater accuracy, but when so many elements of his story are corroborated by other sources, I feel it is nitpicking to take issue with what is, ultimately, Hargrove’s life story.
You can read reviews of the book here and here. If you’ve been as hypnotised as I have been by the unfolding train wreck that is the post-Blackfish Seaworld story, however, you will be completely absorbed by this memoir.
If you want to experience orca, whales or dolphins without buying a ticket to a marine park, may I suggest you read this article for suggestions, or book a ticket to South Africa between June and November (whale season), or visit Dolphin Encountours in Ponta do Ouro, or connect with a host of other responsible, licenced operators who will allow you to experience the animals in the wild without harassing or harming them.
Swimming with Orca: My Life with New Zealand’s Killer Whales – Dr Ingrid N Visser
Long before it was fashionable, Dr Ingrid Visser was studying orca. The New Zealand-born scientist (with Dutch ancestry, hence the familiar surname to South Africans) describes her early scientific career and work in this book, emphasising how difficult it was to strike out into what was a new field of study in New Zealand. Her struggles to obtain funding and equipment for her research were overcome with ingenuity and sheer persistence.
Visser does not hesitate to get into the water to observe the orca that she studies, and spends hours and hours out at sea looking for them. Through diligent public relations, she has built up a network of individuals around New Zealand who report orca sightings to her, enabling her to launch her rubber duck and go to find them as quickly as possible.
I am always on the lookout for books that would have inspired me as a teenager, and this is one of them. It is simply written and suitable for (I am guessing) age 13 and above. I admire Dr Visser’s refusal to back down at the start of her career, when her lack of experience, her age and her gender were against her. There is perhaps less focus on the orca themselves, and more on academic challenges, than one might expect of a book with the title Swimming with Orca – but I hope that in time Dr Visser will author another volume focused solely on her study subjects.
For more on orca research, this time in the Pacific north west, and a stronger focus on the whales themselves, I recommend Listening to Whales.
We had fairly good conditions in False Bay on Tuesday and were lucky enough to have a whale breach less than 50 metres from the boat. I wish they would warn me when they do this so I could get the camera out and get some whale in the picture instead of just splash.
The weather ahead for the next few days is a little odd but Sunday looks like the better day and the Atlantic looks like the ocean to dive. Gordon’s Bay may also be a good option – contact Deon at Indigo to find out what your options are. Saturday is International Coastal Cleanup day, so you could also join a cleanup dive or head out to your local beach to participate in a cleanup effort. The Two Oceans Aquarium is hosting a cleanup at Melkbos Beach, and if you play your cards right you could enjoy a free trip on the Ocean Adventurer after participating in the cleanup. More info on that here.
We are not launching this weekend as we are headed to the De Hoop Nature Reserve on an exploration expedition… Hopefully the end product of this will be a future dive trip to that part of the coast.
The first event to do this was a free speaker evening, held at the Bluebird Garage in Muizenberg on Monday 7 September. Hundreds of people attended; I took the photo above before the room got so full that no one could move!
Here’s a link to a collection of coverage of the events on Storify, and the same compendium is embedded below. There are also some images in there from the welcome evening for the symposium, which was held at the Save Our Seas Shark Centre in Kalk Bay.
The first, hosted by the staff of the Two Oceans Aquarium, was about safe and ethical handling protocols for sharks and rays. Scientists apply tags, take samples and measure animals in order to learn about them, and some contact is inevitable. It is vital to do all the work as quickly as possible, and with as little stress to the animal as possible. I didn’t attend this workshop, but comments from participants indicated that it was extremely useful and practical, with a hands-on section conducted outdoors.
The second workshop, hosted by the team from the Save Our Seas Shark Education Centre in Kalk Bay, was about science communication, which is dear to my heart. I tweeted quite a lot of detail from this workshop (keep reading…), and it was fantastically useful.
The final workshop was hosted by the Save Our Seas Foundation and its CEO Michael Scholl (also known as “the drone guy”!), and dealt with automated identification of sharks from the shape of their dorsal fins – FinPrinting! I didn’t attend this workshop either, and would be interested to hear more about it.
As for the first and second day of the symposium, I created a storify timeline that compiles tweets and images from the day. You can view it here, or read through it below.