A Day on the Bay: A Brydes whale for company

On a beautiful, calm day in early June this year, shortly after dropping my divers in the water, I was visited by a friendly Brydes whale. A Brydes whale – I suspect the same one – had been showing a strong interest in boats in western False Bay over the last couple of weeks.

The whale makes its presence known
The whale makes its presence known

I knew it was a Brydes whale because of the small, sickle-shaped dorsal fin far back on its spine. This one circled the boat a few times, and then headed straight for me like a submarine on the surface. It pushed a small wave of water ahead of it as it came.

The Brydes whale near the boat
The Brydes whale near the boat

It was a slightly intimidating sight as it ploughed through the water. It was an extremely calm day, so the boat’s motors were switched off. I waited with some anxiety to see what the whale would do.

The whale comes to investigate
The whale comes to investigate

After a close pass by the boat, the whale circled Seahorse several times, blowing lustily. It came back to the boat repeatedly over a period of at least half an hour. I kept the engines off, and made sure my life jacket was fastened. I hoped the divers might also be able to see what was happening! The whale was not hostile in the least, but an exuberant animal weighing between 12 and 20 tons, moving at speed, could accidentally tip me into the water in a heartbeat.

Brydes whale circling Seahorse
Brydes whale circling Seahorse

The whale lifted its head out of the water a few times, showing me the three rostral ridges on top of its head and the grooves under its throat, which also help with confirming its identification as a Brydes whale. Our whale book says that these whales often have small, circular cookie cutter shark scars, specially if they’ve been in tropical waters, but I couldn’t see any.

Brydes whale showing his head
Brydes whale showing his head

I find Brydes whales a little mysterious, because they can be seen year round in False Bay and somehow lack the predictability of the Southern right whales and humpbacks whose rowdy presence is apparent close to shore in False Bay between June and November. If you see a whale in the first half of the year in False Bay, it’s almost certainly a Brydes whale.

These whales calve year-round, because they don’t ever go into really cold water (False Bay is at the southern end of their range). This preference for warmer water is probably related to their relatively thin layer of blubber. They eat schooling fish and plankton.

Brydes whale off the bow
Brydes whale off the bow

Their blows are low and bushy, as you can see from my photos. They don’t aggregate in big groups like other whales seen along South Africa’s coastline, and you’ll see at most two animals together at a time, if that. These whales are still caught by the Japanese as part of their “scientific” whaling program.

After a while the whale seemed to lose interest, and left me to my thoughts as I waited for the divers (who were gloriously oblivious, it turns out) to surface. While it’s an incredible experience to have an animal like this approach you so close and with such confidence, I am glad it left. Ship and boat strikes are a very real danger to whales, and a whale that is so curious about boats could get itself into trouble in the busy boating areas close to shore in False Bay.

The whale disappears into the Bay
The whale disappears into the Bay

Regulations state that unless you’re in possession of a whale watching permit (and there’s only one operator in False Bay who has one of those), you are not to approach a whale closer than 300 metres, anywhere in South African waters. If a whale approaches you, move away if you can do so safely. If there are divers in the water, your responsibility is to stay close to the divers, so turn off your engines and enjoy the moment!

Newsletter: Pretty in pink

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

Our boat is booked this weekend so I won’t be running any dives. The weekend weather does look good for a dive, however, specially on Saturday.

The NSRI pink rescue buoy in Simons Town
The NSRI pink rescue buoy in Simons Town

Tales of Surf Rescue

The Two Oceans Aquarium is hosting a fundraiser for the NSRI pink rescue buoy campaign on Wednesday 30 May, at which comedian (and surfer) Nik Rabinowitz will interview a posse of big wave surfers. Event details are on facebook, and tickets are from Quicket.

Please also remember the Shark Spotters binocular crowd funding campaign, and donate if you can.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

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Newsletter: Awesome Autumn

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Shore dives at Long Beach

Sunday: Boat dives from False Bay Yacht Club

Autumn is a good time for False Bay diving! False Bay is currently pleasant, not too cold and the weekend does look decent after the latest weather updates. My plan is shore dives on Saturday, when it will be a little more windy, and boat diving on Sunday. Let me know if you’d like to get in the water.

Spring low tide at Muizenberg
Spring low tide at Muizenberg

Shark Spotters binocular fundraiser

Don’t forget to donate to the Shark Spotters crowd funding campaign to raise funds for new high powered binoculars for the spotters. Shark Spotters does fantastic work – read more about it here and here. You should also make sure you download their very cool shark safety and beach information app – available for both Android and iOS.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

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Bookshelf: Scuba Confidential

Scuba Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver – Simon Pridmore

The natural sequel to Scuba Fundamental (though it was written later), this book is aimed at qualified divers who may have reached a plateau with the sport, and want to improve their skills and explore more of what diving has to offer. Author Simon Pridmore does not shy away from subjects such as solo diving, deep diving and technical diving, and offers valuable perspectives from a lifetime in the dive industry.

Scuba Confidential
Scuba Confidential

Pridmore begins with a subject that isn’t discussed enough (because it would supposedly scare away potential new divers): safety. He talks about why divers die, survival strategies, and the essential mental preparation that should come before diving.

Many divers who have passed the first, awkward stage of their careers on scuba seek to improve their skills. Pridmore discusses buoyancy, navigation, and the touchy subject of deco. The following section addresses some of the specialty options available to divers who wish to extend their qualifications: night diving, wreck diving, drift diving, cave diving, ice diving, and technical diving. While you may decide that some of these types of diving are definitely not for you, there is still much to learn from the techniques and thought processes required to do these types of dives safely.

Pridmore also deals extensively with equipment issues, returning to the subject of deploying an SMB, care and use of dive cylinders, mastering your BCD, and dive computers. In many instances, these items of gear are a matter of life and death, and well worth talking about. Narcosis, nitrox, rebreathers and other gas-related subjects round up the sections of the book that pertain to dive safety.

The final chapters deal with dive travel, with a section on liveaboards and a recap of some etiquette, which becomes increasingly important when one is diving with people one doesn’t know.

This book will satisfy a growing diver’s thirst for knowledge, draw attention to areas that need improvement or reflection, and prompt further exploration of dive-related subjects. It’s an excellent gift for the curious diver in your life.

Get a copy of the book here (SA), here (US) or here (UK).

Newsletter: Transformation

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Boat dives at 9.00 and 11.30 from Simons Town jetty (maximum depth 18 metres)

This week we launched on Monday, Tuesday and again today. Monday and Tuesday were pleasant as there was no swell or wind to worry about, however the visibility was pretty lousy. Mostly pea soup around Roman Rock and a little further south and 4-5 metres in Smitswinkel Bay.

One day of westerly wind, not even that strong, and False Bay transformed. On the wreck of the Princess Elizabeth this morning the visibility was 20 metres plus. It is quite astonishing how quickly things change.

I think the viz will remain for the weekend and Saturday is probably going to be the best day. There’s less wind on Sunday but a lot more swell and therefore surge to deal with. I have students to qualify so both dives will be to a maximum depth of 18 metres. Most likely to Alpha Reef and the northern part of Roman Rock.

Gathering around the shot line in Smitswinkel Bay
Gathering around the shot line in Smitswinkel Bay

Shark Spotters fundraiser

Get the details of the next Shark Spotters fundraiser, happening on Wednesday 31 May, here. Book directly with the Two Oceans Aquarium. Greg Bertish, author of The Little Optimist, will talk about his adventures, and about the early days of the Shark Spotters program. We have donated an auction item/lucky draw prize!

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

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Newsletter: Testing 123

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Saturday: Two launches from False Bay Yacht Club, meeting at 8.00 am

A long period 3 metre swell arrives tomorrow, drops on Saturday and then builds again on Sunday. I am planning two launches early on Saturday morning as I have several students to certify. We will meet in the car park at False Bay Yacht Club at 8.00 am. Destination unknown and weather dependent. If you’re keen on a magical mystery tour, drop me an email, text or Whatsapp.

The boat from underwater
The boat from underwater

Keeping busy

In case you missed it on the blog this week, we tested one of our self-inflating life jackets in the pool, to see what would happen when it got wet. It works!

Maritime archaeologist John Gribble is speaking at the auditorium of the South African Astronomical Observatory on Wednesday 17 August, 4.30 for 5.00 pm. His talk is entitled “From Shipwrecks to Hand Axes: An Introduction to South Africa’s Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage” and is described as follows:

South Africa’s maritime and underwater cultural heritage is surprisingly diverse and extremely rich. Although shipwrecks are the most obvious elements of this rich heritage resource, there are a range of pre-colonial maritime heritage resources that are less well known. This talk will introduce South Africa’s maritime and underwater cultural heritage, highlight the archaeological importance of this resource, and touch on a few examples of interesting, local historical wrecks.

There is no need to book, the event is free to the public.

regards

Tony Lindeque
076 817 1099
www.learntodivetoday.co.za
www.learntodivetoday.co.za/blog/

Diving is addictive!

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Testing a self-inflating life jacket

If you’ve been on our boat, you may have noticed that I always wear a life vest. It’s a slimline one that we purchased in Denmark a few years ago. The vest contains a small gas cannister with a pellet (looks like a headache pill) that releases the gas in the cannister and inflates the jacket when the pellet gets wet enough to dissolve.

Tony's "don't take my photo" face
Tony’s “don’t take my photo” face

When we went back to Copenhagen between Christmas and New Year, we purchased replacement cannisters, thinking that for safety’s sake it would be wise to service our life jackets to ensure that when we need them, they’re in tip top condition.

The question then arose as to what to do with the existing, unused cannisters in the life vests. Since you can repack the vest with a new gas cannister and dry pellet after deployment, and neither Clare nor I had seen one of these life jackets in action before, we decided to let it fire off in the swimming pool. Here are the results:

It definitely renewed my confidence in the life jacket, an important component of our safety gear, and (as you can hear in the video) provided some significant entertainment for my camera person Clare.

False Bay safety stop

Let the divers eat cake!
Let the divers eat cake!

We had beautiful conditions in False Bay early in September, and while some of the divers were safety stopping I filmed them from the boat. The visibility was that good! Here are Georgina and Arne doing their safety stop and ascent over the reef. Note their textbook use of an SMB to indicate their position to the boat.

Ponta do Ouro (Mozambique) 2015 trip report

Sunrise at Planet Scuba
Sunrise at Planet Scuba

Earlier this month we returned from our second ever dive trip to Ponta do Ouro. (It was my third time there – on my first trip, in 2009, I wasn’t qualified to dive yet, and met my future husband, where he was diving and skippering five times a day and living in a reed hut. I still sometimes feel guilty for having a part in him leaving this little piece of paradise.) We flew to Durban. A shuttle transported us to the Kosi Bay border post, where we were met by Mike of Blowing Bubbles Diving. Mike drove us and our luggage over the dunes into town, and dropped us at Planet Scuba, where we would stay for the week.

The new(ish) pharmacy at Ponta do Ouro
The new(ish) pharmacy at Ponta do Ouro

Planet Scuba is situated on top of the hill that overlooks Ponta’s central square. Since my last visit (I think), a pharmacy has opened on the corner (pictured above), and later in the trip we purchased a much needed decongestant there (for a fairly princely sum, but beggars can’t be choosers).

Every morning we would walk down the steps to the road that leads to the beach, and head towards the point to meet up with the boat for diving. After diving, we would either walk back or get a ride on the back of the Blowing Bubbles bakkie. We breakfasted between dives, and then returned to the beach. The dives in Ponta do Ouro are boat dives, and the skippers launch the boat off the beach through the waves. There was almost no swell while we were there, so the surf launches were quite tame!

Laurine and Esther descending
Laurine and Esther descending

We dived for five days, most of us doing ten dives in total. We contemplated a dolphin trip with Dolphin Encountours, but reports were that boats were only seeing one or two dolphins, if any, and the trips cost more than a dive so we carried on diving instead. We were so, so lucky to see a huge pod of dolphins at the end of our last dive, near Ponta Malongane. On our first dive that day we had seen big schools of baitfish near the surface, and the dolphins had probably come to the area for feeding. We weren’t allowed to get into the water with them, but they swam past the boat for ages, and we heard them breathing as they passed by. Tony and I stuck our cameras over the side of the boat, and it turned out there were many more dolphins underwater than we could see on the surface.

Batman takes the reel
Batman takes the reel

The pace of life was very mellow. We dived, ate, slept, and repeated various iterations of that sequence. We admired the community of friendly dogs down at the beach. We enjoyed hungry cats and condensed milk milkshakes at Neptune’s, with a view over the Motel do Mar (where we stayed on our last trip) to the beach. We had a healthy and delicious lunch at Mango above the Dolphin Centre, and got thoroughly soaked by a tropical rainstorm on the way back to Planet Scuba. Christo, Esther and Laurine sampled the “chemical s***storm in a glass” (I quote Esther) that is Ponta do Ouro’s famous R&R (rum and raspberry). Strangely, none of them wanted any more…

The diving was excellent. The water temperature was 23 degrees, and we had (apparently mediocre for Ponta) visibility of about 10 metres, sometimes more. This was very acceptable to us as Capetonians. The reefs are teeming with life, and all of us saw something new. Laurine was enchanted by a turtle, Tony spent most of his dives upside down with his head in crevices in the reef, Christo directed all of us to exciting discoveries with his torch and pigsticker (a metal kebab stick slash pointer that must have a different name but I don’t know it), and Esther maintained her sense of wonder and calm as she brought up the rear of our little group on most dives. On one of the dives a very strong current gave us opportunities to use our SMBs, which was an excellent learning experience and a reminder of how important a safety sausage is, no matter where you are diving.

The air temperature was warm, the wind hardly blew, and for a while we could forget that at home in Cape Town it was cold, frequently dark, and overflowing with commitments and obligations. We returned the way we had come, but feeling a little more ready to cope with the rest of the Cape winter. We’ll be back in a couple of years, Ponta!

(I’ll share some little videos and more photos from the trip over the next couple of weeks.)

Home testing of the SharkShield

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.

Tony testing some SharkShields in the pool
Tony testing some SharkShields in the pool

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.

The Freedom7 unit outside its neoprene case
The Freedom7 SharkShield unit outside its neoprene case

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…

The shark repellent cable that was tested at Glencairn this summer is a massively scaled up version of these retail SharkShields. It is essential that development and testing of non-lethal shark mitigation devices continues, to provide an alternative to measures such as the KwaZulu Natal shark nets, and the French government’s shark fishing activities at Reunion in response to multiple shark bite incidents at the island.