Exploring: Sunny Cove

Tony has been wanting to dive Sunny Cove practically since he first set foot in Cape Town, having read in an old book on South African dive spots (The Dive Sites of South Africa – Anton Koornhof) that seahorses had been found there in the sea grass. Tony loves seahorses.

I put my foot down, repeatedly, until it was the dead of winter and the Sharkspotters website told me that not a single great white had been seen patrolling the coast for a couple of months. Sunny Cove is at the end of Jagger Walk, the catwalk that runs along the western edge of Fish Hoek Bay. It’s the site of at least one fatal munching by a great white, and I didn’t want to take any chances.

Sunny Cove railway station
View from the bridge over the railway line towards the dive site

It’s a shore entry, and we parked on the road at the bottom of the steps over the railway line. It’s quite a strenuous walk over the bridge with all your kit on. We spent a while figuring out where to get in – you have to clamber over some rocks, and make your way through dense kelp before getting to a clear spot. Once we decided where to get in, we were glad to be wearing thick wetsuits, otherwise we would have been scraped and scratched quite liberally! There is a huge submerged concrete block just where we got in – at first I tried to swim over it, but realised it was in only a few centimetres of water, and made my way around it. (Fortunately there was no one on the shore with a camera!) Cape Town shore diving is hard on your kit.

Sunny Cove
Our entry point is on the far left, almost out of the photo, where the straight piece of rock sticks out.

The actual dive site is aptly named. The sun streams in through the kelp, and the sea floor looks a lot like Shark Alley near Pyramid Rock – lots and lots of urchins, with pink-encrusted rock formations. We saw a little bit of sea grass, and spent a lot of time examining it for signs of life, but didn’t even find a pipe fish, let alone seahorses! There’s a lot of invertebrate life on the rocks – feather stars, brittle stars, abalone – and we saw quite a few fish.

We did see the deep channel that the sharks probably use to get in and out of Fish Hoek Bay. We were hoping to spot the beacon that records movements by tagged sharks past Sunny Cove, but no luck there. We did not explore much to the south of our entry point – that’s on the to do list (along with more sea horse hunting) for another shark-free day.

Verdict: Shallow, easy dive but a fairly tricky entry and exit. Infrequently dived, so rather more lush and unspoiled than busier sites. Videos of our dive are here and here.

Dive date: 4 July 2010

Air temperature: 21 degrees

Water temperature: 13 degrees

Maximum depth: 10 metres

Visibility: 6 metres

Dive duration: 32 minutes

FAQ: What about sharks?

You had to ask! I’m glad you did. As divers, we are venturing into the sharks’ domain, and it’s a risk we take. This might sound scary, but it’s important to bear a few things in mind. First, the ocean is a big place. It’s very unlikely that we’ll meet a shark, unless we go looking for them. Second, even though sharks are wild animals, they don’t like to eat people. Great white sharks need a huge amount of energy to keep their incredibly powerful bodies warm and mobile. That’s why they eat seals – conveniently packaged in a very thick layer of calorie-rich, nutritious blubber. Humans just don’t have the same appeal. That’s why many shark attacks are “bite and release”: the shark takes an exploratory nibble, because he thinks you’re a seal, and when he realises you’re not as tasty and fatty as he thought, he lets go and swims away. Unfortunately, with so many sharp teeth, a shark’s exploratory nibble can hurt you quite badly.

You might be thinking that what you’ve just read proves it’s a terrible idea to dive where sharks are found… especially since we often see seals on our dives in Cape Town. What’s to stop a shark from getting confused between a diver in his black wetsuit, and a sleek little seal? The answer to this relates to how great white sharks hunt. Their hunting technique is to launch themselves from the bottom of the ocean, up towards the seal on the surface. This enables them to reach enormous speeds and to take the seal totally by surprise. Often the shark will breach right out of the water with the seal in its mouth.

Why doesn’t this worry us? Because we spend most of our time on the bottom. For one thing, sharks can’t usually get underneath you to attack. There isn’t much chance of the shark mistaking you for a meal – in fact, it’s more likely that if you see a great white, he’ll just cruise right on by without paying you any attention. Another reason is that the places we dive that are frequented by seals (Partridge Point, Duiker Island in Hout Bay, the Clan Stuart, Long Beach for example) simply aren’t deep enough for a shark to mount an attack. They prefer to get their snacks out at Seal Island in the middle of False Bay (where the shark cage diving takes place), where there is a deep channel around the island perfect for hunting.

There has never been a great white shark attack on a diver in the Cape, despite the attacks we have had on swimmers, spear fishermen and surfers. That’s because surfers and swimmers are usually flailing around on the surface, and spear fishermen are usually dragging a handful of dead or dying fish behind them sending out distress signals to all the predators in the vicinity, so you can forgive the shark for getting confused and thinking they were a meal! You can see some general shark attack statistics (for the whole world) here.

If you dive with me, I will give you a shark briefing if I feel it’s necessary. I’d also like to encourage you to join me sometime for a dive at Shark Alley in front of Pyramid Rock in False Bay. This is a shore entry site where sevengill cowsharks can be seen in large numbers, with near certainty. They are beautiful creatures, up to about three metres long, and are not harmful to divers. We swim to the sandy patch among the kelp where they like to hang out, and then sit on the sand and wait for them to visit us. They are curious, and swim very close to take a look, and then swim away. It’s breathtaking – in a good way! You can see some videos of past dives I’ve done with these sharks on my YouTube page. Diving with these magnificent creatures will change your perception of sharks in general, and may also help you to master any shark-related fears you may have.

Sevengill Cowshark near Pyramid Rock
Sevengill cowshark at Shark Alley, near Pyramid Rock. These curious sharks will approach to within a few feet of divers to get a closer look.

For information on shark spottings in Cape Town, visit Sharkspotters (here too). For information on the relative risks of a shark attack compared to other things (lightning strikes, bicycle accidents, etc – the home improvements section is highly recommended!) go here.

As of yesterday (25 August) I can speak from first hand experience – after a just under a year in Cape Town, I was buzzed by my first great white shark. She circled us, and then left. It was awe-inspiring, and left me feeling honoured to have encountered one of these incredible creatures. I mentioned it in my newsletter today.

(This information also appears on my website, here.)

Newsletter: Diving, a way of life

Hi everyone

The water has been very pleasant this week. The viz yesterday was 8 meters and I had three students on a dive. We were extremely lucky to see a great white swim gracefully by us. The most impressive feature for me was the shark’s girth, it was massive, solid looking and very sleek without a single blemish or scar. I felt honoured to have seen such a majestic creature, so close (it swam by less than three meters away), in its own domain, and very grateful that sharks tolerate us in their space. According to this website there has only ever been one incident of a diver being attacked and that was on the surface.

Diving this weekend

Saturday I have a few Discover Scuba experience students so I will be at Long Beach in the morning.

At 2.00pm we plan to dive the Clan Stuart providing the swell allows or alternatively we will do a navigation adventure dive at long beach and swim the navigation route found here. There is an unidentified huge anchor somewhere out there, as well as a 22 metre yacht and an old shipping container (Jeff’s box).

Saturday night conditions will be perfect for an adventure night dive and we meet in the parking lot at Long Beach at 6.00pm to decide where to dive.

I am trying to find ways of getting more people interested in the ocean, diving and conservation.

So these are my plans:

I am running a special introduction to scuba diving for anyone interested in the experience. For the month of September I will conduct Discover Scuba experiences for anyone that’s keen for the small amount of R350 per person, 7 days a week, minimum two people at a time. Anyone signing up for the Open Water course after this event will receive a full credit of this amount on their course.

I will also run a special Advanced course during September providing there are four people that all do the course at the same time. The normal price is R2400, but for the month of September it will be only R2000. Remember this is five dives, two of which will be boat dives where we will dive a wreck and do a mandatory Deep dive. Both these dives will in reality be deep dives so you gain more experience in this area. The remaining three dives can be a combination of Peak Performance Buoyancy (can you swim through three hoops at different depths without using your inflator hose?), Search and Recovery (lose it, find it and raise it with a lift bag), Photography, or Night diving, to name a few, but must include a Navigation dive. If you have done adventure dives with me in the last 12 months this will count as a credit towards your course.

Two Divemaster candidates start September (both bossy type girls so I hope I survive that!!) and Open Water course starts 11 September.

During September we will have a world clean up day and I plan to rally every one of you to join me on a dive with a garbage bag to clean up one of our dive sites… details next week, you may be lucky and get your picture in the newspaper… in a wetsuit and dive gear!

Be good and have fun

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

Bookshelf: Books about sharks

Sharks! All about sharks! Get some actual, scientific facts here. You can dive as deep as you want into the subject – here’s a wide selection of shark books for you to choose from.

Living with sharks

Start here!

South African special interest

Shark biology

Shark research

Shark attacks

Shark photography

Documentaries: By subject

Here’s a summary of the documentaries we’ve posted about, categorised loosely by subject.

BBC

Nature’s Great Events
Oceans
Shark
South Pacific
The Blue Planet
Wreck Detectives

Conservation

Blackfish
The End of the Line
March of the Penguins
Oceans
Saving the Ocean

Discovery Channel

Underwater Universe

National Geographic

Blue Holes – Diving the Labyrinth

Reality shows

Deadliest Catch, Season 1
Deadliest Catch, Season 2
Deadliest Catch, Season 3
Deadliest Catch, Season 4
Deadliest Catch, Season 5
Deadliest Catch, Season 6
Deadliest Catch, Season 7
Deadliest Catch, Season 8
Deadliest Catch, Season 9
Deadliest Catch, Season 10

Deadliest Catch – Tuna Wranglers
Deadliest Catch – Lobster Wars

Trawlermen, Season 1

Whale Wars, Season 1
Whale Wars, Season 2
Whale Wars, Season 3
Whale Wars, Season 4

Sharks

Air Jaws
Blue Water White Death
Sharkwater
Shark Week featuring Mythbusters – Jaws Special
Shark Men, Season 1
Shark Men, Season 2
Shark Men, Season 3
Shark

Shipwrecks

Wreck Detectives
Treasure Quest
Treasure Quest – HMS Victory Special
Ghosts of the Abyss