The weekend forecast looks mostly like it is going to be a cool – or rather cold – water dive weekend. There is a fair amount of swell on Saturday, too much for my liking. Sunday has less swell and a little less wind. Hout Bay will most likely be the best option as the wind is fairly strong south easterly which is not all that pleasant in False Bay.
Sunday: Possible launches out of OPBC in Granger Bay
We are still waiting for the non stop south easter to stop blowing, or to at least ease up. False Bay is grumpy to say the least, but the Atlantic is clean and cold, around 9 degrees celsius.
Sadly the wind does not really ease off until late on Monday so I am unable to commit to launching this weekend just yet. On Saturday afternoon we will make a final call as to whether we can dive on Sunday but it would most likely be Table Bay, most likely North and SouthPaw. If we can go to Hout Bay then we may visit the Aster and the Katsu Maru as there may be some respite from the wind inside the bay.
This week the visibility was good in False Bay and the water was around 13 degrees. There seems to be a lot of wind and rain in the forecast for the next week, however Saturday does look like a good option for diving. I am still not done with the backlog of students for boat dives so the boat is pretty much full this Saturday.
Tuesday and Wednesday are also possible diving days so if you are not on the list for Saturday, or are taking some time off in the school holidays, you will be up soon.
The excitement when the 21 June comes around has always amazed me. It’s not like the temperatures start climbing or the sun shines 6 hours more each day, but my wife tells me that the psychological effect of passing the winter solstice is tremendous. While the shortest day of the year was on 20 June, the latest sunrise of the year is still ahead of us, on 30 June. The earliest sunset was on 13 June.
Shop with a purpose
Shark Spotters have recently been added as a beneficiary on the MySchool Card programme. If this sounds mysterious to you, don’t worry. Apparently it’s a way of getting MySchool partners (mostly shops) to donate a portion of your shopping bill to a school, charity or NGO. It doesn’t cost you anything. If you have an existing MySchool card and would like to add Shark Spotters as a beneficiary but don’t know how, let me know and I will hook you up with Clare to talk you through the process.
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.
Ice Blink: The Tragic Fate of Sir John Franklin’s Lost Polar Expedition – Scott Cookman
In Ice Blink, Scott Cookman provides another account of the much-reported final expedition of Sir John Franklin to the Canadian Arctic, in search of a Northwest Passage. The story has been told many times, in many ways, and Cookman’s rendition is gripping.
Several theories have been advanced to account for the failure of any members of Franklin’s expedition to return. A few bodies have been found, and eyewitness accounts from Inuits in the areas that the Erebusand Terror were trapped in the ice provide some clues as to what happened. A conclusive explanation, however, has not been found.
Cookman advances the idea the the men were killed by botulinium toxin, introduced into their diets from poorly prepared tinned food. He is dogmatic about this theory to the exclusion of all others, and at times makes it sound misleadingly certain that this was the cause of the disaster. In fact, experts fail to agree on what killed the men; other theories include lead poisoning (from the canned food), or simply just the cold and poor preparation.
I would recommend you read this book after you’ve familiarised yourself with some of the other literature about Arctic exploration and Sir John Franklin in particular, and are equipped to separate fact from hypothesis. If you’re interested in the subject, may I strongly recommend The Man Who Ate His Boots and Frozen in Time.
You can read the first chapter of the book here and a New York Times review here.
On our last day in Denmark, after a week-long family visit between Christmas 2015 and new year 2016, we went to Den Blå Planet, Denmark’s national aquarium. (Actually we were wrong about it being our last day in Denmark, but that’s another story involving Turkish Airlines, who seem to innovate in the field of disappointment.) The aquarium is situated in Kastrup, Copenhagen, quite close to the airport, and overlooks the narrow sound called the Øresund, which separates Denmark from Sweden.
We visited on 1 January, after (eventually) sleeping through the sounds of Copenhagen’s residents letting off five hundred metric tons of fireworks, starting at 5.00 pm the day before. We bought tickets online (a small saving in Danish krone that amounted to eleventy million ZAR) and arrived at opening time. The building is surrounded by a reflection pool, and is built in a spiral form inspired by the shape of a vortex. In the larger halls the high ceilings give a tremendous sense of space; at 10,000 square metres, the building is very large. The halls are generally wide and I imagine it could accommodate a very large number of people before feeling crowded.
The aquarium is divided into three sections. The first is focused on the life found in the lakes and ocean of Denmark and northern Europe. I particularly enjoyed this first part of the aquarium. The animals are adapted to the cold water, so some of them were very similar what we find around Cape Town, and the displays were creative and interesting. There was also the obligatory “anchor with fish” tank, which was (as always) mesmerising. One of the pictures in the gallery below is of Tony checking it out.
Two sea otters live at the aquarium, having been rescued as infants and raised by hand. The male and female otters were found in Alaska when they were four months old with a broken jaw and wounds after a boat strike, and as a 1.5 kg abandoned one day old respectively. As usual, seeing such an intelligent animal in captivity stirs up all sorts of conflicting feelings. That said, you are a stronger person than I am if you could have left these two baby otters to their natural fate (that is, death). The otters spend a lot of time (up to six hours per day) grooming, and in between keep very busy, requiring a lot of enrichment from their four keepers. It was magical to see them.
Also in the northern seas and lakes section is the puffin exhibit, mimicking the cliffs of the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory. Here, also, we found a touch pool (which the Danes call a sensing-aquarium), and a terrifying ambulatory mascot.
The second section of the building is devoted to tropical lakes and rivers, with incredible freshwater exhibits. We saw piranhas, terrapins, frogs, little black rays the size of pancakes, with white polka-dots, and electric eels. The rainforest exhibit is kept at a temperature and humidity level that are impressive in the Scandinavian winter, and I can imagine that this part of the aquarium is popular with expats from warmer climates!
The third part of the aquarium is for the rest of the ocean, and although it’s a big ask to cover (or summarise) so much in the remaining space, it does a fabulous job. The Ocean tank holds four million litres of water, and is home to rays and hammerhead sharks, and other warm water fish. Amongst many other things, there are seahorses, leafy seadragons and coral reef fish to see.
We watched feeding time for a while, which was quite funny – the aquarists row out onto the water in a small inflatable boat, and administer the snacks from on board. Standing in the tunnel, we could see the boat from below, with the oars working frantically against what I imagine was a bit of surface current.
One of the things that Den Blå Planet does really well is to integrate multimedia, virtual reality and interactive technology into the aquarium experience. This reduces the number of animals required to be on display, and – for the most part – probably takes care of itself, requiring no cleaning and feeding. My favourite such exhibit was the bouncy plankton wall in the ocean section of the aquarium. The photo below is pretty terrible because the display moves all the time, but I put a video on instagram which shows how the plankton clear a space for you when you walk along the wall.
We finished off our visit with a flæskesteg sandwich at ØST, the restaurant at the back of the aquarium. It was still a bit misty, but the large windows looking out over the sound let in a lot of light. There is a play area outside, and despite the midwinter temperatures, children in snow suits were making the most of it.
I did not get the same strong conservation message from my visit to The Blue Planet that I think the Two Oceans Aquarium in Cape Town works so hard to propagate. This could be because of different cultural approaches to living a “green” lifestyle; in Scandinavia the government does a lot of the work for you, providing renewable energy, prioritising pedestrian and bicycle traffic, and making it ridiculously easy to recycle, for example. In South Africa it is more of a conscious personal choice and effort to reduce one’s environmental footprint, and there is there is thus perhaps more of a requirement for direct conservation messaging.
Anyway, if you’re in Copenhagen, visit! Next time we’re in Denmark, we’ll check out the little Øresund Aquarium at Helsingor, which is entirely focused on local fauna.
This entails providing a straight course for the swimmer so as to minimise the distance swum, and keeping an eye on them to ensure that they don’t get too cold or show any other symptoms of hypothermia or distress. It requires communication with race control by radio, and a bit of boat and swimmer dodging in the early stages of the race when the water is thick with activity.
There was a 3.5 metre swell on the day, which made the ride out to the island a bit bumpy. As soon as we were in the shelter of the island, however, the sea was flattened as the swell diverted around the island. The water remained calm until we got quite close to shore, at which point the swell picked up. The final stretch from the rocks at Big Bay to the beach must have been very hairy for the swimmers!
Our swimmer, Maryna, swam in a wetsuit. She was part of the Lighthouse Swim relay team we supported last year. The water was relatively warm (13-16 degrees) clear at the island, and we could see kelp and quite far down into the sea. Great red streaks of water, probably an algae bloom, were filled with sea jellies (which stung Maryna, but she continued strongly). These were replaced by murky green water close to the shore, where the swell had lifted the sand particles into the water column.
It was a good day out, and always a pleasure to see Table Mountain in its majesty from the water.
I have been lax with book posts lately, but hope to remedy that in fairly short order (sorry for you!). This book, Cold by famed British explorer Ranulph Fiennes (not to be confused with Lord Voldemort), is the one that set me off on my recent epic binge on Arctic literature, which is far from over.
Fiennes has made a life of adventuring and exploring, crafting challenging itineraries across some of the most unforgiving terrain on the planet. He solicits sponsorship for the expeditions, and raises funds from book sales and speaking engagements.
This book focuses on his journeys through the world’s coldest regions. Fiennes intermingles historical accounts of exploration and discovery with his own adventures. It is surprising how, in the earth’s most extreme climates, life and travel has not gotten appreciably easier over the last several hundred years.
It was Fiennes’s historical account of the search for the Northwest Passage, represented in the greatest drama by Sir John Franklin’s final expedition, that drove me to seek out other books on the subject – I can recommend The Man Who Ate His Boots, Franklin’s Lost Ship, and Frozen in Time for starters. His accounts of his own travel in Norway, Greenland and the Canadian Arctic made me want to pack my bags and visit those magnificent places.
Fiennes faces death and disfigurement several times in the course of Cold. His determination and courage are notable but he is definitely a man of an earlier era. There are interviews with Fiennes here and here. A review of Cold can be read here.
You can get a copy of the book here (South Africa), here or here.
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.
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.