Jean-Marie Ghislain is a Belgian photographer who has had the privilege to visit far flung places on earth, and to dive with charismatic megafauna of all descriptions. This book is a beautiful collection of images of all kinds of sharks, taken from South Africa to Guadaloupe. The images were taken using natural light only. The level of detail in some of the photographs is almost comparable to the pictures in Beautiful Whale.
There are several images of our local broadnose sevengill cowsharks, and I have enjoyed being able to show them to friends who aren’t familiar with these sharks (my own photos are pretty poor)!
The photos are entirely black and white, which lends a solemnity and luminosity to the sharks’ bodies that is very beautiful. There is almost no text, and one doesn’t miss it. At the back of the book, a mosaic of the photos presents information on the type of shark, the camera settings and a few sentences on the taking of or the motivation for the picture.
The photographs reveal that author is of the school of thought that advocates touching sharks, and some of the photographs even depict illegal dives outside the cage with great white sharks at Isla Guadalupe. This is a great pity and should not be mistaken for an activity that has any conservation benefits for sharks whatsoever.
You have probably all read this article, and if you haven’t you should. South African-born social anthropologist Ceridwen Dovey does an excellent job of introducing and interrogating the various shark bite mitigation measures available in the New Yorker, no less. The subject has been in and out of the news with increasing frequency for at least two years, owing largely to sensational reports of sharks repeatedly biting people in Australia and Reunion. The Western Australian response to a spate of shark bites at beaches in the state has been to fish out sharks using nets and drumlines – the same approach taken by the KZN Sharks Board here in South Africa.
Dovey speaks to Christopher Neff, who thinks deeply about the language we use to speak about shark bites, and their political and social ramifications. Cape Town’s amazing Shark Spotters program gets a mention, as does the SharkShield. There are many non-lethal measures currently in testing – not all of them as location and species dependent as Shark Spotters (which works because Cape Town’s great white sharks are a surface-swimming species and are visible from high ground close to the coast). It is a hopeful time for relations between sharks and humans, as long as the scientific impetus is not allowed to flag.
The first winter swell arrived last weekend and hung around all week. It is dropping off and should be gone by the weekend. We had a good trip out to Dungeons last Saturday and no matter how often I go I am always awed by the impressive skills on display from the surfers and the jet ski drivers.
This weekend we are fully booked as we have a group of police divers from the Northern Cape who have booked several days’ diving from the boat, and on Sunday the boat has been chartered for a swim from Milnerton lighthouse to Big Bay.
If you’re free on Sunday, the annual Paddle Out for Sharks is taking place. The aim is to raise awareness about shark conservation issues. The Cape Town event is taking place at Long Beach, Simon’s Town.
One of the joys of having a manoeuvreable, user-friendly little boat is the opportunities that arise to participate in a variety of interesting events. Lately, we have been doing a number of open water swims; not swimming, but providing boat support to a swimmer who is traversing a stretch of open ocean. Last year we did the Swim for Hope around Cape Point, and the Freedom Swim from Robben Island to Big Bay, and several more of the same in 2015.
We used SharkShields at the Swim for Hope events, and with the increasing number of swims that Tony has been supporting we thought it might be time to invest in a SharkShield for use in these events. The SharkShield is a portable device designed to be worn by a surfer, free diver or scuba diver. It has a long antenna which emits an electric current which is intended to repel sharks. When used for open water swimming, the SharkShield is typically attached to the side of the boat with the antenna in the water alongside, creating a radius of 3-5 metres within which the current can be felt by a shark. If you touch the end of the antenna there is a noticeable pinching sensation, so swimmers have to be careful when approaching the boat.
Proper scientific testing of the device in Australia and South Africa indicates that it is by no means foolproof, and does not work in all situations, but it seems to have a certain usefulness if your visiting white shark is in the right frame of mind. The paper reporting the results of the SharkShield tests says:
Our study assessed the behavioural effects of the electric field produced by the Shark Shield Freedom7™. The study was performed in two locations and tested two distinct approach and behavioural situations to assess whether the response to the Shark Shield™ was consistent across behaviours. The electric field did not affect the proportion of static baits consumed, but significantly decreased the number of breaches, and surface interactions on a towed seal decoy.
The authors suggest that since breaching requires significant energy outlay, sharks may be more cautious to mount a breaching attack in the presence of anything out of the ordinary (I’m paraphrasing). Even with knowledge of the device’s usefulness only in certain situations, it still provides great peace of mind to swimmers while they swim in parts of the ocean where sharks are known to be mobile, such as False Bay.
Tony was able to examine and test several lightly- to well-used Freedom7 SharkShields to see which of them worked, and what the battery life was like. In the process he shocked himself several times, which provided great entertainment to me and caused some consternation to the cats, who were themselves strolling around alarmingly close to the antennae. The unit itself is filled with something that looks like glycerin, to keep it pressurised and protect the electronics. The red switch at right turns the device on and off, and red and green lights indicate whether it’s on, charged, and functioning. A wet hand applied to the end of the antenna also gives information on whether the device is functioning…
We felt quite sorry for them – November and December are historically months of appalling visibility and surface conditions in False Bay thanks to the south easterly winds that prevail, and November always seems to play host to at least one massive storm to top things off! Despite having to work with the worst of what False Bay has to offer, the two of them have produced some incredible images, and I’ve admired their persistence and creativity in dealing with murky visibility and adverse surface conditions. (You can follow them on facebook to get regular updates – Mac and Joris.)
Joris was on the boat just before Christmas, getting some of the final set of photographs that he needs for his reef fish story. On this particular trip he wanted to photograph fish on the hook: False Bay is the site of both commercial and recreational fisheries, land and sea-based. Our aim was to track down a Kalk Bay fishing boat that he’d worked with twice already, but they were nowhere to be found (despite being large and yellow, and despite us searching all the way down to Cape Point)! Hailing them on the radio was futile as they likely did not want to broadcast their position.
As a consolation prize, Joris and his personal shark spotter Brandon were able to spend time in the water with three recreational fishing boats. The first two were at Batsata Maze/Smits Reef at the southern end of Smitswinkel Bay. The crew of both boats were using handlines to catch roman and hottentot. The sea was quite choppy and working in close quarters to a pitching boat strewn with fishing lines was challenging. The fishermen were very kind and co-operative! Brandon’s presence was necessary because Joris was on the surface, absorbed in his work, next to boats that were hauling twitching fish onboard, and throwing back fish guts and bits of bait (basically chumming). All these things are very interesting to men in grey suits.
The third boat we found fishing with rod and reel on Caravan Reef, the large, shallow reef that lies close by to the south and east of the wreck of the SAS Pietermaritzburg. We were now a bit further north in the bay, and the large swell that we’d experienced at Cape Point and Smitswinkel Bay had been modified and reduced on its path towards Muizenberg. It was calmer in the water, though the visibility was still only 2-3 metres. Joris was looking for split shots, with fish half in and half out of the water, and it seemed to be getting easier.
I had a great day tagging along on the boat, but my interest in the scale and nature of the fisheries in False Bay was piqued, and if I manage to find out anything of interest I’ll share it here. Did you know that both commercial and recreational fishermen visit the reefs that we dive on, and remove the fish that we like to look at? Those in the no-take zones are obviously exempt (apart from the occasional chancer or ignoramus), but we found commercial fishing boats inside Buffels Bay in the Cape Point nature reserve, close to shore. There was a fisheries patrol boat close by, but they were not prevented from fishing there. I found this puzzling and troubling, because when we visited the Cape Point reserve as recreational divers, we had to jump through a variety of bureaucratic hoops just to be allowed to drive a boat through the reserve with dive gear on board! Never mind taking fish out of the water! More to follow on this subject – and perhaps Joris’s story will also help us to understand this issue better.
The last two weeks have been really good for diving in False Bay and we have had the best conditions all year so far. Summer winds have gone, the winter has yet to bite and the visibility has been exceptional. Last weekend we had a fantastic dive in 15 metre visibility on the SAS Pietermaritzburg, and then a trip out to Whittle Rock, where the divers encountered cowsharks and gully sharks. This is perhaps where some of them have been hiding since Easter!
Conditions seem set to stay this way for at least the next week and the day time temperatures are set to stay above 17-18 degrees. There is some swell about but it is nowhere near the levels that get surfers hot under the collar and makes dive boat skippers sweat.
The weekend is looking pretty good and we plan to launch on Sunday. Due to the sun being a little slow at getting out of bed these days, we will do our first launch a little later in the morning for the next few months.
We are putting the final touches to this trip, and we might be able to make a plan if you feel up for the hardship of diving in warmer water and sunning yourself on the beach every afternoon! Drop me an email if you want information.
Permits blah blah!
There have been several permit check of late so if you do not have a permit to dive in an MPA go and get one at the post office. We do have temporary permits on the boat if you do not have one but they cost R45 and are only valid for 30 days…
We have had a busy week and False Bay has been really good. We have dived mostly wrecks this week but did go and look for cowsharks yesterday (no luck). All in all we have had good viz, very little wind and enough sun to warm almost everyone. This picture was taken today at Long Beach and we were doing a Rescue course. Hardly stressful conditions.
The weekend has some swell in the forecast with winds from all directions so it will be a hit and miss affair. There is a lot of dark water around and most of it close to Rocky Bank.
We will plan to shore dive on Sunday. I will choose the site later on Saturday afternoon. Text or email me if you want to dive.
False Bay currently has a few experts really puzzled as there are no signs of any sharks anywhere. No cowsharks have been seen for a few weeks and not a single great white shark has been seen at Seal Island for close to three weeks. An area close to Cape Point that is often frequented by gully sharks, has also been barren of sharks lately. If anyone knows more or has a theory founded on facts and logic, I would love to hear it.
Both False Bay and Hout Bay look the same as far as water colour and viz are concerned. The water is not as clean and crisp as it has been for the last two weeks but it is still pretty good.
My plan is to shore dive on Saturday, most likely at Long Beach as the swell we have today tapers for the weekend but it does linger into Saturday. The harbour wall shelters Long Beach really well. Sunday will be touch and go (for me) in False Bay with the wind, so I think we will be better off in Hout Bay as there is less wind and very little swell.
Sunday is Mothers’ Day so for the first launch you can dive with us for free if you are a mother. We will go to Tafelberg Reef for a shallow dive. It will not be necessary to show war wounds, tell scary hospital stories or bring the actual child along (although if they are old enough to learn to dive, we should talk). We will believe you if you say you are a mom. No T’s but C’s do apply . (C stands for Clare and she will check your story.)
As usual, text or email if you want to dive on either day.
Ed Yong reports for Phenomena (a National Geographic blog) that a team of scientists has published a paper on the subject of how large marine animals grow. Not having to work against gravity, marine fauna can attain sizes that are beyond the reach of the largest land animals. There is, however, a tendency among those who make a living from the sea to – shall we say – exaggerate the dimensions of the creatures they catch, watch or photograph. Tony and I chuckle to ourselves about accounts (on facebook, unsurprisingly) of nearly six metre white sharks being spotted weekly in False Bay. In reality a great white shark of that size is uncommon.
The authors did exhaustive research to come up with best estimates for the maximum sizes of a range of creatures from whale sharks to giant isopods. They trawled museum collections, the scientific literature, newspaper archives, and even eBay to get hold of verifiable, accurate measurements for each creature. For some species the researchers were able to produce a size distribution – useful because, as Yong points out, “life mostly plays out in the middle.” The average-sized specimens (including False Bay’s white sharks) are the ones most likely to be seen. For some species, including white sharks, evidence suggests that their average size has been decreasing through time, which is a cause for concern.
We were able to get in the water twice over the Easter weekend: really early on Saturday in False Bay before the wind, and then again on Monday. Monday turned out to be a great day with very little wind. It was however cold, 9 -10 degrees, and we dived the BOS 400, Tafelberg Reef and the seals out of Hout Bay.
Saturday’s dives were interesting but perhaps not fun in the conventional sense of the word – we two back to back at Shark Alley so a film crew could visit the cowsharks. There was not a cowshark to be seen until the end of the second dive, when the divers encountered two dead sharks with what looked like extensive bite marks all down their bodies. We sent the pictures to one of the local scientists running the sevengill cowshark project in False Bay. She observed that the sharks had not been dead long (their eyes were intact, and these would be the first thing to be nibbled by fish), and that the absence of hooks and typical treatment by fishermen suggested that humans were not involved.
This weekend shows great potential for good clean water almost everywhere. There is no swell forecast, and light winds. On Saturday we are supporting Ned Denison at the Robben Island Freedom Swim so there is no diving planned.
On Monday we are supporting the Swim for Hope around Cape Point, so we are making up for all the windy days that have stopped us taking the boat out this summer.
We will need to close bookings for the trip at the end of April. There are three spots still available – let me know if you want more information. We’re away from 28 June until 4 July, traveling via Durban.