Sunday: Possible dives out of Hout Bay if the wind and swell give us a break!
It seems the forecaster at WindGURU found the box of purple crayons and has been liberal with them. Other than a slight lull in the wind forecast for Sunday, it’s purple all of next week too. I very much doubt we will get out on Sunday as there is currently a 4 metre swell flexing its muscles. The Atlantic water colour and temperature show signs of great visibility so if the wind is acceptable on Sunday we will launch from Hout Bay. Text, mail or Whatsapp if you want to be on the list.
Sala’s current project is to explore and protect the last pristine marine ecosystems on the planet, and to this end he has led expeditions to comparatively untouched locations around the world. This book documents ten of those expeditions, from tropical to Arctic waters. Rich with photographs, contextualised with beautiful National Geographic-style maps, it is a delight.
Michael Muller is probably best known for his work as a portrait photographer (focusing on celebrity subjects). He also has, it turns out, a longstanding fascination with sharks. While working as a commercial photographer for Speedo, Muller designed and built a waterproof housing for his 1,200 watt studio strobe lights. Incredibly, he takes these lights underwater – assisted by two to six divers and at least one person on the boat – and has spent a couple of years travelling the world to photograph sharks.
The resulting photos, of bull, tiger, white, hammerhead and several other species of shark, are fascinating. They are unlike any shark photographs I have seen before, with a cinematic quality and the intensely unusual property – for most underwater photos – of being filled with light. Sharks swim out of bright white light towards the camera, and many of the images are deliberately over-exposed, heightening the dramatic effect. The jump from having professional-quality camera strobes to essentially a full studio lighting rig underwater is enormous, and the results are visually stunning.
Muller’s pictures, to me, emphasise the otherness of sharks. They do not look like cuddly, approachable (although in many cases Muller went very, very close to his subjects) or easy to fathom animals. I like this. Some approaches to conservation try to emphasise how sharks do not intend harm, and attempt to demystify them, with the aim of making them comprehensible and thus worthy of protection. The genre of photography that shows divers and sharks apparently harmoniously inhabiting the watery realm is invariably more about the humans than it is about sharks. That criticism cannot be levelled at these images.
The final sections of the book contain a species guide, essays about shark ecology and conservation, and technical information about the photographic equipment and shot set up. Some of the shark biology and conservation information was contributed by Capetonian shark conservation biologist Alison Kock, who put False Bay’s white sharks on the scientific map.
You can preview some of the images from the book here, and an interview with Muller here. The Washington Post and Wired have image-rich features on this project, too.
This is an enormous book (standard Taschen fare). You’re going to need a bigger bookshelf (a joke about this book which has no doubt been made forty times – I apologise). You can get a copy here (South Africa), here or here.
No diving this weekend, but conditions are promising for weekday dives next week!
A six metre swell put paid to any hopes of celebrating Youth Day with a dive, but we have a week of very favourable conditions coming up. This coincides with school holidays (for some lucky ones) and we hope to get some good diving done.
We won’t be diving this weekend, but if you’d like to be informed of any planned aquatic excursions next week, let me know.
Things to do
It’s cold out now and then, and if you’re looking for things to do on your non-diving days, here are some suggestions:
The new I&J Ocean Exhibit and the jelly hall opened today at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Read about it here and here, and check out some photos on Instagram. The full tunnel is the closest feeling to being underwater that you can have while on land, and might persuade some of your non-diving friends to take the plunge.
We will not be diving this weekend, but if you are able to get into the water then do so. False Bay looks promising. We will be back to full dive mode on Monday morning.
Thank you to Jerrel for this week’s gorgeous photo of strawberry anemones, which he took on a dive off our boat to Roman Rock on Freedom Day.
Things to do
The winning photographs from the prestigious international Underwater Photographer of the Year Competition are on display at the Chavonnes Battery Museum until 30 September. The exhibition is in partnership with the NSRI. If you have a Wild Card, take it along for discounted entry.
Last year the carcass of a smallish – about 8 metre long – humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) washed up on one of the less-frequented beaches around the Cape Peninsula. I am very belatedly sharing some pictures of it, not least because one doesn’t often get an opportunity to examine an animal like this up close. I view these things with a mixture of sadness and awe; I think it’s easier to process objectively when the animal has already died. Strandings of live cetaceans can be extremely distressing.
Some pieces of the whale’s baleen, which these animals use to filter their food from the water, were lying nearby on the beach. A large group of whales had been passing by the Atlantic seaboard in the days preceding the carcass washing up, and it may have been one of them.
The whale had been dead for a few days by the time it washed up on shore, but not so long that a lot of its skin had sloughed off (sometimes dead whales look white all over – as this whale’s belly does – for this reason). There was no obvious cause of death visible on the underside of the whale’s body. It was lying upside down so the top of its body wasn’t accessible.
It is possible that an anthropogenic cause (ingesting plastic, or a ship strike for example) could be responsible for this whale’s death. It’s also possible that the whale was sick or otherwise compromised and died of natural causes. Sometimes, when things in the ocean die, they wash ashore, and we find them.
I’m not sure what ultimately happened to the whale’s remains – it was in the surf line when I saw it, being pushed back and forth by the waves. It might have been taken back out to sea with the tide. I would like to think that it was.
Winter arrived rather quickly in my opinion, and it went rather quickly from shorts and T shirts weather to requiring much more clothing. There has also been a fair amount of swell rolling around, but the wind direction is becoming more northerly and westerly and that is what we need on our (western) side of False Bay.
Our boat will be in Table Bay on Saturday for the Robben Island swim so we will provisionally plan to launch on Sunday for diving. There is some south easter on Sunday but hopefully it does not blow as hard as predicted and we can get out. If you have a chance to dive on Saturday you should take it as I think it will be the best day of the weekend, but let me know if you want to be notified of Sunday dives and I will keep in touch.
Last Friday while diving out of Hout Bay we were visited by what felt like an overwhelming number – but was approximately fifty – whales. Most of them seemed intent on staying close to the boat and in fact a few rubbed themselves on the boat’s keel strip, which was slightly alarming. I stood dead still, wearing my life jacket, with the engines off and the boat stopped right next to the divers, hoping that they wouldn’t get too rowdy (the whales, not the divers). The divers had the amazing experience of whales at the safety stop.
We have been experimenting with early (6.00 am) and late (3.00 pm) launches for quick double tank dives to slot in as part of a well-planned work day. We’ve had lovely conditions and we’ve enjoyed seeing familiar places in a different light!
We are starting to have fewer days of howling south easterly winds and it is a sign of good things to come, especially for those who prefer diving in False Bay. There is nothing spectacular in the weekend forecast: no howling wind, no huge swell and maybe a spot of rain. I think False Bay will be the place as the temperature of the Atlantic hit 19 degrees celsius today.
I have a backlog of students currently so we will try to shore dive and boat dive on both days. Once I have confirmed numbers I will text those on the “ready to dive” list. You know what to do!
DAN Divers Day
If you aren’t diving this coming Saturday afternoon (13 February), consider the DAN Divers Day at False Bay Underwater Club in Wynberg. It’ll be an afternoon of talks about dive safety and research, with local and international speakers. Register here – if you want to see the full program drop me an email and I’ll forward it to you.
After foraging on the sea shore for edible seaweeds and mussels under the guidance of Roushanna and Gael from Good Hope Gardens, we returned to Gael’s house in Scarborough to prepare a meal with our finds. The group divided into four, and we worked together to prepare the food using recipes provided by Roushanna.
Sushi rice mixed with finely chopped sea lettuce (Ulva spp) formed the base of vegetarian sushi rolls, which were decorated with kelp, tongue weed, radishes, avocado, mayonnaise, and a secret sauce (recipe for the rolls here). Sea lettuce was also the seaweed of choice for a couscous and rocket salad, decorated with hibiscus flowers and miniature tomatoes (recipe for the salad here).
I worked on the coleslaw, made from finely sliced red cabbage, carrots, and hanging wrack (Brassicophycus brassicaeformis) – a seaweed I found so tasty and crunchy I could have sat right there in a rock pool and eaten it directly off the rocks. The mussels were picked over, scrubbed, and prepared with white wine, cream, onion, and garlic. Crusty ciabatta soaked up the sauce. Once we were done, it looked as though we had enough mussel shells for our own personal shell midden!
Roushanna prepared nori (purple laver, Porphyra capensis) crips for us (like kale chips, but with a crispier texture and more flavour), and chocolate nori ice cream for dessert. We supplied our own drinks. During breaks in the lunch preparation some of the group enjoyed a face (and hand) mask made from seaweed ingredients. Others of Roushanna’s recipes you can explore for yourself are for sea biscuits (scones made with sea lettuce), fruity vegan jelly, and kelp and avo salad.
Lunch was a collaboration, and a tasty culinary adventure. I found it marvelous to discover what is available on the sea shore, and to get a small hint of how our strandloper ancestors foraged on the Cape Peninsula.
(Puzzled what this is all about? Read my first post about coastal foraging here.)
As I get older I am finding it increasingly difficult to suppress a wildly eccentric streak that frequently finds me – consciously or unconsciously – making small preparations for some kind of apocalypse (zombie or otherwise). This might be related to living on the South African roller coaster for too long, but whatever the origin of this latent anxiety, it has served to make our home life more sustainable and – little bit by little bit – more independent of the electricity grid, the municipal water system, and grocery stores. The idea of coastal foraging dovetails nicely with my desire to learn how to live a little bit more off the land than off the shelves at Woolworths!
It is important to respect some simple rules to ensure that your foraging is sustainable, safe, kind to the environment, and legal. Each of us had purchased a mollusk permit allowing us to harvest mussels, obtainable from the post office (available for R94 using the same form as the scuba diving in marine protected areas permit), and these were inspected by fisheries officials quite early on in our forage. You don’t need a permit to harvest seaweed (however if you wanted to do it on an industrial scale you might need to go through official channels).
There are three types of mussels found on South Africa shores: the ribbed mussel and black mussel are indigenous, and the Mediterranean mussel is introduced. Unfortunately Mediterranean mussels out-compete the indigenous varieties, and we only saw one or two black mussels while we were out. The mussels we harvested were the Mediterranean variety, distinguishable from black mussels by the thick, flat edge to their shells. Black mussels have pointy edges all around their shells, making them more streamlined.
There is only one type of seaweed growing along our coast that is harmful to eat (acid weed – Desmarestia firma, which has sulphuric acid in its fronds). This brown algae species does not grow on the rocky shore but only further out in the surf zone. This gives rise to the simple rule of only harvesting seaweed that is growing on the rocks, and never collecting seaweed that is floating free.
When harvesting seaweed, we used a pair of scissors to avoid pulling the entire plant off the rocks, and cut no more than a third of the leaves. Seaweed is full of vitamins and minerals, particularly iodine and potassium. It isn’t something you’d make a whole meal of, but it is a healthful addition to many dishes and – once you know how to prepare it – tastes pretty good!
You can read more about the Good Hope Gardens coastal foraging experience here and here. Watch this space for more about what we prepared with our seaweed spoils…