Sunday: Boat dives in False Bay (conditions permitting)
We are set for the first real winter swell and the forecast is saying that we should expect 10 metres with a 20 second period by tomorrow evening. It tapers off thereafter and Sunday will be a lot more mellow.
I am really not sure what False Bay will look like by Sunday so will make an early call on launching. We will however launch out of Hout Bayon Saturday and watch some of Cape Town’s top surfers ride the monster high speed slopes that Dungeons will produce.
Let me know if you want to come on the boat on Saturday, and whether you’d like to be notified of any dives that may take place on Sunday if the conditions pan out.
We ventured out to Long Beach last weekend and found the conditions to be less than ideal: surgy, especially for a 10 year old student, and with 3-4 m visibility. Winter diving is around the corner and we look forward to improved conditions.
The forecast for the weekend is not that great. The visibility is reasonable, but there is currently a 17 second period swell in False Bay and that won’t do much to maintain the viz. Saturday looks to be the best option for boating, but an early start is needed as the wind picks up around midday. I will make the call late tomorrow afternoon as to whether we have launch weather or not. Text, email, call, or Whatsapp me if you want to dive.
This is also a good opportunity to remember what a privilege it is to dive with the cowsharks by viewing a video Jerrel recently compiled from footage taken at the site just over a year ago. We have a cowshark diving protocol as a reminder of how we approach this amazing dive.
Dive gear sale
Monty of Scuba Culture is having a stock clearance sale, so if you’re in need of a hose, a cutting tool, or something else shiny or cool, contact him to find out what he’s got available.
Please remember to bring your permit to dive in a marine protected area with you when you come for a dive. Ideally they should be on the boat with you when you come diving (as that’s where they’ll get checked). If you don’t have a permit, the post office can help. We also have temporary permits available, valid for a month, but not very cost effective.
It’s not uncommon to come across marine wildlife – seabirds, seals, turtles – apparently in distress. This is not always the case, so before you mount a complex and dangerous rescue mission, or try to provide help where none is needed, it may be wise to get an expert on the telephone to help you determine whether it really is necessary. Fortunately there is a range of 24-hour wildlife hotlines to choose from, depending on what species you are dealing with.
Seals with plastic or fishing line around their necks should be reported to the Two Oceans Aquarium (if the seal was spotted around Cape Town harbour or the Waterfront), or, more generally to the SPCA Wildlife Unit on +27 (0) 21 700 4158/4159, or +27 (0) 83 326 1604 after hours and on weekends. Unfortunately the odds are your seal is probably not going to get the help it needs if it isn’t in the port of Cape Town or at the Waterfront; this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your darndest to advocate on its behalf.
You can help to deal with this problem at its source by retrieving any loops of plastic that you see floating in the water when you’re on a boat. Hout Bay harbour is a particular cesspit of plastic pollution, and with a nearby seal colony it’s a recipe for disaster. Cutting through any closed loops on plastic items (such as beer can holders) that you recycle or dispose of yourself also ensures that should the plastic end up in the wild, it won’t entangle an animal.
Seals found lying on the beach are usually not in trouble. Juvenile seals may rest for long periods – a couple of days at a time – on shore, and the most important thing to do is not to disturb them. They don’t need to be kept wet, they don’t need to be fed, and they can inflict a nasty bite. Encourage other members of the public to give the animal a wide berth, particularly if they have dogs. Lead by example. If the animal appears visibly unwell (fitting, for example) or is bleeding, then call the SPCA Wildlife Unit for a chat about what course of action is best.
Seabirds are most often found entangled in fishing line or plastic, pierced by fishing hooks, or, in the event of an oil spill, with oiled feathers. It is important to get help if possible, particularly for oiled birds.
SANCCOB has a 24 hour rescue centre which can be reached on +27 (0)21 557 6155 or +27 (0) 78 638 3731 (after hours & weekends). Their website provides the following advice to would-be seabird rescuers:
What to do when you have found an injured/sick/oiled seabird:
If you are unable to handle the seabird, SANCCOB will send out a unit to collect the bird.
If you approach any seabird, please approach with care. Some seabirds such as Cape Gannets and African Penguins have sharp beaks.
Have with you a towel, or blanket and wear protection over your hands and eyes. Use a towel/blanket to throw over the bird to catch it, ensuring that the bird is able to breathe.
If you have a large box ensure that there are holes for air before you place the injured/sick marine bird.
During the autumn and winter months, juvenile and sub-adult sea turtles sometimes strand on Western Cape beaches. These animals are often shocked by the cold and in poor shape – they do not typically occur in Cape waters but are washed down in eddies of the Agulhas current.
Do not put the turtle back in the sea or into water. It is probably weak, dehydrated and hypothermic, and is likely to drown. Keep it dry, and call the Two Oceans Aquarium for further instructions and assistance. The aquarium rehabilitates and releases the turtles in warmer water when they are healthy.
The City of Cape Town would like ocean users to report whale carcasses before they end up on the beach. This is mostly for public safety and resource allocation purposes, but if we can do anything to keep a whale carcass out at sea (or on a secluded non-swimming beach), it serves a conservation purpose as well. There’s a phone number you can use to do this – read more here.
If you come across a current or imminent live whale or dolphin stranding, contact the NSRI on +27 (0) 21 449 3500 immediately. They will activate the relevant authorities. Try to bear in mind that these events often do not end well for the animals concerned, as they are often sick or disoriented and impossible to assist. Be a help, not a hindrance, and obey whatever instructions you are given by the NSRI, SanParks, or whoever comes to take charge.
A free-swimming but entangled whale should be immediately reported to the NSRI as well – they will activate the South African Whale Disentanglement Network. Do not attempt to assist the whale yourself – this could be fatal for you (not the whale) – rather make a note of the direction it is swimming, and its precise location, and whatever other helpful information you can provide. Whale entanglements seem to be increasing in frequency around False Bay in particular, as more experimental fisheries are approved. (If this worries you, you could write a letter to DAFF about it.)
Saturday & Sunday: Boat or shore dives on both days
We spent Saturday morning shadowing a swimmer doing the Freedom Swim from Robben Island to Big Bay… Around 7 kilometres in 14 degree water that at times looked like brown onion soup filled with jellyfish. The swimmers are a brave and dedicated bunch and I admire them. Our swimmer did the crossing in just over two hours, but some of the swimsuit folks spent 5 hours in the water, bravely swimming into a humping current.
The forecast looks like a piece of cake for the weekend… Light winds, not much swell and warm sunny skies. False Bay, however, looks a little off, colour-wise, and there are large colour fronts scattered across much of the bay. There is no certainty on where they will go with the light winds over the next couple of days so it is going to be a matter of making the “call to action” early each morning.
I have both shore dive and boat dive students ready to go, so will do either shore or boat based on what it looks like when we wake up, early, on both Saturday and Sunday.
Text, Whatsapp, email or carrier pigeon you desires for the weekend and I will add you to the early morning wake up call list…
If ever you had the urge to show a friend the beauty of the underwater world that you enjoy, now is your chance. Haul them off to the Two Oceans Aquarium and show them some of the stunning creatures captured on camera at a wide range of dive sites scattered along Cape Town’s shores. The photo exhibition runs for two months and is included in your entry fee to the aquarium. Read more about it here.
For the sake of completeness, here are a few opportunities for ordinary citizens to contribute to science and conservation in Cape Town in the terrestrial realm. If it’s marine citizen science and conservation you’re after, read this post.
Western leopard toads
Western leopard toads are gorgeous, endangered palm-sized toads that are found from Rondebosch to Bergvliet to Hout Bay, Sun Valley (hello!) and Glencairn. They are threatened by urbanisation, particularly during their breeding season. On rainy evenings in August they migrate en mass from neighbourhood gardens like ours – where they live quiet lives – to communal breeding ponds. This often entails dangerous road crossings, where hundreds of toads used to become roadkill.
Enter Toad NUTS. I’ve blogged before about the Noordhoek Unpaid Toad Savers project, but in the interim exciting developments have expanded the reach and effectiveness of the program. A mobile app has revolutionised the process of collecting and reporting on toad sightings, enabling rigorous data collection. All sorts of analyses are possible once some good data is obtained.
In terms of direct interventions to reduce toadkill during the breeding season, the most effective one has been a temporary barrier on each side of Noordhoek Main Road is used to capture toads attempting to cross. The barrier is patrolled by volunteers, who then move the toads from one side of the road to the other.
The Urban Caracal Project aims to determine the size of the caracal population on the Cape Peninsula, as well as the threats facing these gorgeous red cats – of which urbanisation and its trappings may be chief. If you don’t know what a caracal (or rooikat) is, ask the google. They are incredibly charismatic creatures.
You can help by reporting caracal sightings, and calling in any caracal roadkill that you see while travelling Cape Town’s roads. You can find contact details for the project on the Urban Caracal Project website, or send them a message on facebook.
Here are a few ways for Capetonians to save the ocean. Some through direct action, and others through support for scientific research that enables policy makers and conservationists to make good decisions about which species and habitats need protection.
I’ll update this list as new projects are brought to my attention. If you know of an opportunity for ordinary citizens to make a difference for marine science and/or conservation, let me know and I’ll add it here.
The Spot the Sevengill Shark project has a facebook page where you can submit images of broadnose sevengill cowsharks taken in False Bay and surrounds. The unique markings on these sharks enable repeat identification from well-composed images. Information about the sex, general appearance and behaviour of these sharks is also useful. There’s some information about the research project here. This is also a great project to follow (on facebook) to keep up to date with the tagging studies that are currently being done on this population of sharks.
For a more global flavour, you can check out the Sevengill Shark Identification Project. It operates mostly in the San Diego area in the USA, but accepts sevengill cowshark sightings from locations around the world, including from South Africa. Their facebook page recently celebrated the first logged sighting from False Bay.
You can either report the sighting via the Shark Spotters website, or you can call or text +27 (0) 78 174 4244. Provide as much information as possible, obviously including the location where you saw the shark, and when. If you have a photo or video, that’s a bonus!
Sharks and rays
The ELMO (South African Elasmobranch Monitoring) project collects reports of elasmobranch (shark and ray) sightings along the South African coastline. For the avid beachcomber, their database includes egg cases. The data collected is available to any interested party for their own projects, and can assist conservationists and politicians to make good decisions in order to protect species that need it.
The ELMO website is full of excellent information, including identification guides for egg cases and elasmobranchs, and a handling guide for live animals (aimed at fishermen, not people who are grabby – don’t be like that). You can submit your sightings online.
Upload photographs of the marine species you see to the iSpot, SAJellyWatch, or one of the Avian Demography Unit’s project pages. These observations are a help to researchers tracking species distribution – for example, as part of climate change and invasive species research.
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.
I feel like a stuck record when another newsletter has no real news of the diving kind. A good newsletter is also meant to be full to the brim of diving related plans, but this weekend does not allow me completely to fulfil that requirement.
Hout Bay may just be magical tomorrow: the south easter has blow strongly all day, but there has been some swell and it did not look all that great this morning. I think I’m going to hedge my bets on the swell and wind being light for Monday and will launch in False Bay. Let me know if you want to be on the boat.
Seasonal changes are one thing, but the conditions have been less than great for a while. Good diving days have been rare over the last six weeks. This weekend – again – is not too rosy from more than one angle.
Firstly, this week my tow vehicle decided to have a career change, so the boat has nothing to attach to. Secondly, even if I am able to wrest the panel van back from my wife, shore dives don’t look like a good option as there is a 2.5 metre, 16 second swell tomorrow. This grows to 4 metres on Sunday, and the swell goes somewhat southerly. This lingers on Monday, by which time the wind starts humping again.
Please bear in mind, if you do head out to Simon’s Town this weekend, that the navy is running a simulated disaster/attack scenario from early on Saturday morning, and you should expect detours and delays. Plan accordingly!