You need this: the Shark Spotters smartphone app

The Shark Spotters app
The Shark Spotters app

After a successful Back a Buddy campaign, Shark Spotters launched their free shark safety smartphone app in the summer of 2016. The app has had excellent uptake by water users of all stripes, but I’d like to draw it to your attention in case you aren’t familiar with the ways in which it can make your beach life better and safer! Whether you’re a surfer, a diver, an ocean swimmer, a beach comber, or someone who looks forward to long summer days under an umbrella on the sand, the Shark Spotters app can make a difference to you.

The list of Shark Spotters beaches
The list of Shark Spotters beaches

Shark Spotters operate at eight beaches around the Cape Peninsula: four (Muizenberg, St James/Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek & Caves, Kogel Bay) year-round, and another four (Glencairn, Clovelly, Monwabisi and the Hoek, Noordhoek) from October to April, during the warmer months.

The app allows one to set a home beach – you can see from the image above that mine is Fish Hoek – and when you start the app, you’ll get information for your home beach immediately. Tapping on the home beach block at the top of the screen (where it says “Tap for more”) brings one to a series of screens that you can navigate through by swiping the bottom block on the screen.

The information provided is extensive. You can see information on the last three shark sightings at your home beach, the weather and sea conditions (temperature, wind direction, tides, moon phase, swell), and information on what marine life is in the area. This latter information is not a nice to have so you can look out for dolphins from shore, but an important indicator of the likelihood of a shark being in the area. Dolphins, rays and schools of fish can draw white sharks, while sunfish (and even seals) may be mistaken for a shark when viewed from a distance by an untrained observer.

There’s also information on what facilities are available at the beach, and a short video for each beach, usually taken each morning, showing the prevailing conditions.

All this information is available for all the Shark Spotters beaches, not just your home beach, and you can view a different beach by selecting it from the list that appears under your home beach on the home screen.

Digging into the app, you can find a detailed list of all the recorded shark sightings, and in the settings you can turn notifications of sightings on or off according to your preference. I have them switched on, because I like to be reminded of a world outside the office.

Shark Spotters app menu options
Shark Spotters app menu options

The further menu options, shown above, give you access to a large amount of data about the Shark Spotters program, the exclusion net at Fish Hoek beach, how the flag system works, great white sharks, and more. Most of the menu options also provide links to more detailed information online, if you want to know more.

You can download the app for iOS here, for Android here, or use the download links from the Shark Spotters website. The app is completely free of charge, but Shark Spotters is funded by the City of Cape Town, Save Our Seas Foundation, and other generous sponsors, including individuals. Shark Spotters welcomes donations. Click here to donate.

A Day on the Bay: Looking for whales

Date: 27 October 2014

Ready to roll on the slipway
Ready to roll on the slipway

One day in October last year (there are no acceptable excuses for the delay posting this, so we’ll just leave it at that), Seahorse and her skipper were chartered by a multi-disciplinary team who are working on a project called Sea-Change. If you’ve visited the Sea Point promenade recently, you might have seen a beautiful array of mini-billboards featuring photographs of sevengill cowsharks, kelp forests, and other marine life, including recreations of how early humans may have interacted with the marine environment in the Cape.

Misty morning
Misty morning

The Sea-Change team wanted to find a co-operative whale to swim with and film, being in possession of the necessary permits (many pages of paperwork). It was late in the season for whales in False Bay, and we spent a morning looking for them without any luck. Reports of whales on the Atlantic seaboard led us to Hout Bay about a week later.

Leaping seals
Leaping seals

It was a misty day, and we went as far north as Clifton without seeing any whales. We did see a large sunfish and lots of seabirds (including rows of terns perching on pieces of kelp), and we spent some time at the seal colony at Duiker Island, where the team spent over an hour in the water… without wetsuits! Just as we were about to call it a day we spotted a whale at the entrance to Hout Bay – it may have been there the whole time but the mist was too thick for it to be seen. Unfortunately it didn’t want its picture taken, so we had to call off the search for another day.

Check out the Sea-Change website for more information on the project. There’s also a just-published feature about the project in Africa Geographic that I highly recommend you check out.

Newsletter: Humpback winds

Hi divers

Planned dives

Saturday: No dives planned

Sunday: Boat dives from OPBC or Hout Bay if conditions permit

Midweek launch: From OPBC to see the Volvo Ocean Race yachts arriving in Table Bay

Dive conditions

The wind is forecast to do some real south easterly blowing over the next few days, so False Bay is messy but the Atlantic is a bit cleaner. There is too much wind on Saturday for any kind of pleasant diving or boating, but Sunday has less wind (according to some of the wildly contradictory weather forecasts) and I think the odds are good that Table Bay will be a better option than Hout Bay, if the water cleans up enough to make dives worthwhile. It is difficult to say for certain where would be best but we will make that call on Saturday afternoon. The plan will be to dive North and South Paw if conditions permit. Let me know if you’d like to be on the watchlist!

Baby basket star by Georgina Jones
Baby basket star by Georgina Jones

Last weekend we dived out of Hout Bay, visiting the BOS 400, Star Walls and then Tafelberg Reef. The water was less clean than expected: 8-10 metre viz and a very cold 9 degrees. Thanks to Georgina for this picture of an itsy bitsy basket star! On Monday I was out along the Atlantic seaboard for a film charter and despite the fog we found dolphins, a sunfish, a whale, hundreds of seals, and incredible bird life once we were far offshore. There’s an album of photos on facebook.

Volvo Ocean Race

The Volvo Ocean Race first leg comes to an end next week and the yachts are expected to arrive at the V&A Waterfront from Tuesday onwards. There is currently less than 9 nautical miles between the top four after several thousand miles of open ocean racing. The finish will be really exciting and we plan to launch as many days as possible next week to hopefully catch a glimpse as they race by… And perhaps a photo or two. Let me know if you think you’ll be able to take a midweek day of leave to go out on the boat.

Diversnight

Diversnight is an international night diving event that we try to participate in each year, just because. This coming Thursday, 6 November we will meet at Long Beach in Simon’s Town at 7.30 pm with the aim of starting the dive at 8.00 pm. We must be in the water at 14 minutes past eight to “count” and the aim is to set a new world record. There are currently 16 countries participating in this event. You can RSVP to the event on facebook, and read more about Diversnight here. There is no charge apart from any gear you may need.

If you need to rent gear, please let me know by Wednesday morning. You don’t necessarily need to be an Advanced diver to do a night dive, so give me a call or send me a mail to talk about it if you’re unsure. If you’ve been thinking about an Advanced course, though, this is a good time to get started.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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False Bay photo cruise

First light in the yacht basin
First light in the yacht basin

When diving conditions aren’t great, but it’s nice enough to be on the boat (and occasionally when it’s not!), a tour of False Bay is just the ticket. This particular winter’s day, bundled up in our warmest clothes, we set off at first light from Simon’s Town jetty to get to Seal Island nice and early. We were distracted by the sunrise beauty of Roman Rock lighthouse, and a pod of dolphins on the way out to the island. The dolphins checked us out briefly but didn’t want to stick around, so we left them alone.

Roman Rock at dawn
Roman Rock at dawn

Once we got to the island we were able to witness a couple of breaches of great white sharks chasing seals, as well as one on the decoy towed by Stef of Shark Explorers. He promised us a breach, and delivered! Witnessing these events is so much a matter of luck – you have to be looking in the right direction at the right time, because the sharks don’t give any visible warning of where they’re going to strike. Keeping an eye on small groups of seals returning to the island is the best way to improve your chances of seeing a jumping shark.

Sunrise across False Bay
Sunrise across False Bay

After a while at the island we headed north towards Macassar and Muizenberg. There is a huge, shallow plateau here that stretches far out from shore at a fairly constant depth of 5-7 metres. It was here that we saw quite a bit of whale action on last year’s whale watching trip with Simon’s Town Boat Company. Following the coastline from Muizenberg we admired the quaint old buildings of St James and the colourful beach huts there, and then popped into Kalk Bay harbour to see the fishing boats.

Ashley slip streaming behind the boat
Ashley slip streaming behind the boat

After leaving Kalk Bay we headed towards Fish Hoek, where we encountered our next door neighbour Ashley, out on his paddle ski. He wanted to catch up with his buddies, so we motored slowly out of the bay with him riding in our wake until the gap was closed. We meandered back past Glencairn, the quarry, and the Clan Stuart, finishing up back at Simon’s Town jetty.

Glencairn quarry
Glencairn quarry

These trips are ideal for photographers (or adventurers) who want to see the beautiful coastline of False Bay from a different angle. There is also the opportunity to see some of the marine wildlife that inhabits our bay between the mountains – birds, whales (when in season, and from a distance), dolphins, sharks (if lucky), sunfish (if lucky!), seals, and penguins. If you’d like to be informed about future False Bay photo cruises, get in touch or subscribe to our newsletter for advance notice.

Chasing sunfish

I certainly hope that this isn’t the only time I’ll see an ocean sunfish (Mola mola) underwater, but if it is, I can live with that. During a dive in Maori Bay last weekend, exploring the BOS 400 and SS Oakburn shipwrecks, sharp-eyed Liam spotted a large sunfish swimming alongside us, but some distance away. We had advance warning that there were sunfish about (they’d been spotted from the air near Kommetjie, the previous day), so I was mentally and physically prepared with a strategy that I’ve repeatedly rehearsed in my mind to be ready for underwater encounters with marine megafauna.

I switched my camera to video, pointed it at the sunfish, and took off towards it like (I imagined) a bat out of hell. I figured that if I didn’t get close enough to take a proper photo, I would still have a murky video record of the encounter. (Lo and behold, that is all I do have. See below.)

I swam for what felt like a blistering pace for several kilometres (in reality, a sluggish burst of probably 20-30 metres), and then realised that I’d overbreathed my regulator, was taking in quite a bit of water through a tear in the mouthpiece, and that if I didn’t stop finning I’d pass out. During this time the sunfish gained considerable distance on me, got out of focus and out of frame in my video, and then disappeared.

So I stopped, panting, and watched the animal disappear effortlessly into the blue gloom, waving its fins calmly and slowly but – it was clear – moving at a terrific pace. (The overbreathed regulator situation corrected itself swiftly when I started demanding more reasonable amounts of air again.)

I was reminded of other occasions when I’ve tried to keep up with a fish, or a turtle, in order to take its photo or spend just a few more moments in its company. Perhaps there is no shame in being out swum by a fish weighing over a ton with fins to match, but I’ve been humiliated by 30 centimetre long Red Roman, rejecting my friendly advances and outpacing me with a decidedly less impressive fin-to-body size ratio! Next time I want to enjoy the company of an ocean resident for just a little bit longer I’ll try to remember that I’m not in my natural element, and the decision as to whether we get to be close to one another rests almost not at all with me.

Newsletter: Fine time

Hi divers

Weekend plans

Saturday: Boat dives at 9.30 am to Outer Castle and at 12.00pm to Maidstone Rock

Sunday: Boat dives at 9.30am to Atlantis Reef and at 12.00pm to the SAS Pietermaritzburg wreck

Klipfish on the BOS 400
Klipfish on the BOS 400

Conditions report

We dived out of Hout Bay last weekend, visiting the Oakburn and BOS 400 on one dive, and the kelp forest a bit north of Duiker Island for the second dive. Liam spotted a huge ocean sunfish in Maori Bay while diving the BOS, and Clare chased it (unsuccessfully), filming this dodgy video. Even though the fish is moving its fins at such a leisurely pace, it’s powering through the water. We had beautiful conditions above and below the water, with surprising 15 degree temperatures, and enjoyed our unseasonal Atlantic jaunt.

Loryn descending at Duiker Island
Loryn descending at Duiker Island

This weekend

We have not had good weekend weather for quite a few weeks this winter, so it’s great to see another warm, windless weekend coming up. We plan to visit some of False Bay’s beautiful reefs, colourful and bursting with life. Atlantis has a couple of shallow pinnacles and a jumble of rocks and pillars that drop down to 27 metres on the sand, if you feel like a deep dive. It’s also perfectly suitable for Open Water divers. We will also do a wreck dive to the SAS Pietermaritzburg on Sunday. This special ship participated in the D-Day landings at Normandy during World War II.

Whale watching trip

We are planning to do a boat based whale watching trip in False Bay with Dave Hurwitz of Simon’s Town Boat Company one weekend in September or early October, depending on availability. Dave is licensed to approach whales to within a few tens of metres, whereas the rest of us mortals must stay 300 metres away from them unless they surface or approach near us, and even then we have to move away as soon as possible.

We did this trip last year and it was a wonderful experience. There is nothing quite like being close enough to a whale to hear it breathe. If you’d like to come along, please let me know before the end of this week, so that we can include you in the planning. The trip is R850 for adults and lasts several hours. For an idea of recent whale activity, check out the Boat Company facebook page.

Punishment

Occasionally divers on our boat will refer to certain items of dive gear as flippers and goggles. This drives me nuts and for a long time I have wondered about a cure. I have one now. All divers will be required to have a credit card on board. Spot fines, or liquid punishment as I would like to call them, will then be issued for transgressions. These can vary wildly but the minor issues such as flipper will carry less of a fine than harsher offences such as requests to “open my oxygen” or “turn me on”. We can also fine the first person to say they are “cold” or “I was sweating underwater”, or uses the word “toasty”. These payments can be made instantly as we now have a credit card machine on the boat.

Weekly nags

You need your MPA permit if you come for a dive in False Bay. I have temporary permits available but it’s much more cost effective to go to the post office and get one that’s valid for a year. Regardless of where we go, you should ideally have a surface marker buoy (SMB) and know how to deploy it, or dive with someone who does (preferably the former).

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

P.S. I am only half joking about the fines, but not about the credit card machine!

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Video (TED): Tierney Thys on ocean sunfish

I have only seen a giant sunfish once, from a distance, as it breached out of the water near Justin’s Caves on the Atlantic seaboard of the Cape Peninsula. (Their smaller relatives, slender sunfish, are also sometimes seen here.) In photographs, they have wise, structured faces. Their size is breathtaking. They are the largest bony fish.

Tierney Thys is a marine biologist who researches ocean sunfish (Mola mola). In this TED talk she spills all the secrets of this magnificent fish, including the fact that they carry (and seem largely unaffected by) a breathtaking parasite load.

Newsletter: Distant dusky dolphins

Hi divers

Weekend plans

We will launch on Saturday and Sunday, with Monday being an option if it’s not too windy and if we’re not all dived out.

Boating beneath the Twelve Apostles
Boating beneath the Twelve Apostles

Last week’s diving

We launched from OPBC last weekend and took the boat to Justin’s Caves. There is also a small seal colony there that begs to be dived. I know Justin’s can be dived as a shore dive but I am not a fan of big climbs and long swims, and the boat ride there is very beautiful! We had patches of really clean water with a very green surface layer. We enjoyed watching a small, lazy pod of dusky dolphins on the surface, and before the dive we saw a sunfish leap right out of the water, and then disappear into the depths next to our boat. Thanks to Gary Carstens for this week’s newsletter photos!

Distant dusky dolphin
Distant dusky dolphin

The south easter has blown a lot this week but has suddenly dropped off and once False Bay calms down the diving will be good. The bay does not have that terrible green colour it can sometimes have with a south easter. The Atlantic needs more wind for longer to clean it, so I reckon False Bay will be better for the weekend.

Text message list

In addition to the newsletter I have an sms list that I use to notify divers of planned dives. If you’d like to receive text messages as well when we plan to go out, please email or text me your number (if you text me, send your name too so I know who you are). There are contact details at the bottom of this newsletter, otherwise hit reply.

Memorial

For those interested, on Sunday there will be a procession of boats attempting to encircle Robben Island in memory of Nelson Mandela. This starts at 12pm from OPBC.

Rocksucker at Justin's Caves
Rocksucker at Justin’s Caves

Training

During the months of December and January we will run a Drift Diver specialty course. This is a lot of fun as you can often end up drifting over things on the ocean floor that you had no idea were down there. If you’d like to extend your training with this or one of the other Specialty courses I can teach (there’s a list here), give me a shout.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

To subscribe to receive this newsletter by email, use the form on this page!

Sea life: Slender sunfish

The slender sunfish (Ranzania laevis) is a rare species of sunfish found in tropical seas the world over. Its maximum size, unlike its cousin the locally found ocean sunfish (Mola mola, which can be 3 metres across) is about 1 metre.

Slender sunfish (Ranzania laevis)
Slender sunfish (Ranzania laevis)

I saw this specimen swimming enthusiastic rings in the water in Hout Bay, late in December. He looked as if he was showing off for us. Unfortunately he probably arrived in the cold water here after getting caught in an eddy of the Benguela current, and swept off course into water that is too cold for him. The cold water will get to him eventually and he will probably die.

A slender sunfish in Hout Bay
A slender sunfish in Hout Bay

There have, in fact, been recent reports of these sunfish washing up on beaches and seen dead at some local dive sites – this seems to happen almost annually in summer, as these articles demonstrate (the last link is particularly interesting).

It’s very sad, but part of an entirely natural process. We often see warm water refugees and creatures from far afield in False Bay and around the peninsula – we’ve spotted flutemouth at Long Beach, and a john dory there too. The Two Oceans Aquarium sometimes rescues turtles from the warm KZN waters that have somehow gotten lost and ended up on a beach in Cape Town! Furthermore, many marine animals beach themselves at the end of their lives. Sometimes it’s because of a man-made problem, but sometimes it’s just the end of the animal’s life and how they choose to finish things.

I felt very lucky to see this guy alive and so sprightly. Slender sunfish truly are beautiful creatures.