Newsletter: Batten down the hatches

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

No diving

The weather forecast predicts that we are soon to be lashed with 50 km/h winds, a 7 metre swell, and no small amount of rain. It seldom is as bad as the forecasts claim, however the swell size and direction will hammer False Bay. Despite Sunday’s weather looking peachy, I don’t think the ocean will be, so we will plan for a dry weekend… It is winter after all.

Shark Spotting at Fish Hoek beach
Shark Spotting at Fish Hoek beach

Shark Spotters supporters program

We are proud to announce that we have signed on as official supporters of Shark Spotters. We are Silver partners, and for larger businesses there are higher levels of support on offer. (We are hoping to encourage some of the other dive centres to consider supporting Shark Spotters, too…) Individuals can also sign on to the supporters program, or donate in many different ways.

Shark Spotters is part-funded by the City of Cape Town and the Save Our Seas Foundation, and the rest comes from public donations. The Shark Spotters provide beach safety, a world-first environmentally friendly shark exclusion net at Fish Hoek beach, conduct educational programs at local schools, and conduct shark research in and around False Bay.

We’ll write a blog post with more information soon – but in the mean time, we’re very happy to be contributing to the important work of Shark Spotters. If you’d like to as well, visit their website to find out how to lend your support, or drop me an email and I’ll connect you with the right people.

regards

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

Diving is addictive!

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Bookshelf: Manta

Manta: Secret Life of Devil Rays – Guy Stevens & Thomas Peschak

I found this book to fill a significant gap in my manta ray knowledge, which was (to be honest) virtually nonexistent. Author Guy Stevens is founder of the Manta Trust and a Save Our Seas project leader, and has spent 15 years in the Maldives studying these enormous, charismatic elasmobranchs. The Manta Trust co-ordinates global manta research efforts, with the aim of protecting and conserving mantas and their relatives.

Manta
Manta

The photographs in this book are by Thomas Peschak, co-founder of the Manta Trust, with whose extraordinary work you should be familiar. (If not, look here, here and here.)

Everything you might want to know about mantas is here, without being glib about the fact that there is still much we do not understand about these animals. The text covers their biology, life histories, threats to their survival, an identification guide, and numerous accounts by field scientists who study mantas and devil rays. (It was hard not to be envious reading some of the day-in-the-life bits!)

This is a beautiful, substantial book. Get it here.

Bookshelf: Nicole

Nicole: The True Story of a Great White Shark’s Journey into History – Richard Peirce

Nicole’s story is not new, and can be summarised briefly. She was a great white shark, tagged in Gansbaai near Dyer Island in November 2003. In February 2004, Nicole’s tag popped off as scheduled, 11,000 kilometres from where she was tagged, in a location off Western Australia. In August 2004 Nicole was again identified in Gansbaai, having made the return journey.

It was the first, furthest and fastest recorded transoceanic migration by a white shark. Its most important consequence was that it provided scientific grounds to advocate for extended protections for white sharks, outside of South Africa’s territorial waters.

Nicole
Nicole

The book Nicole chronicles Nicole’s journey, and the work of the researchers who studied her, many of whom have gone on to illustrious careers (but be warned, the names of several of the scientists are subject to creative misspellings). The book beautifully put together, with a lot of photographs. This and the simple, vivid writing style make it an ideal gift for shark-obsessed youngsters. In imaginative interludes the author describes what Nicole might have experienced as she swam to Australia and back.

The scientific paper describing Nicole’s migration can be found here (paywalled) and here (pdf), and there’s some excellent information about Nicole on Michael Scholl’s White Shark Trust website. He was the researcher – now CEO of Save Our Seas – who identified Nicole’s distinctive dorsal fin on her return to Gansbaai. Read a review of Nicole and an interview with the author here.

Get a copy of Nicole here (South Africa), or here.

Newsletter: Winter closing in

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

Sunday: Boat dives from Simons Town jetty at 9.30 and 12.30 (suitable for Open Water divers)

It feels very much as though winter has arrived (minus the rain), mostly in the early mornings. When daytime temperatures rise into the twenties, it’s not totally unpleasant! Sunday is one of those days, and we will launch from Simons Town jetty at 9.30 and 12.30. Both sites will be a maximum depth of 18 metres as I have a bunch of Open Water students to qualify.

Catshark egg case
Catshark egg case

Citizen shark science

We are big fans of citizen science, so it is great to hear about ELMO’s catshark reproduction study, for which they need volunteer divers. Read more, and sign up, here.

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!

Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium 2015 – welcome evening & public events

Bluebird Garage
Bluebird Garage

The organisers of the 2015 Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium made an effort to include the public in the celebration of False Bay, the marvelous ecosystem on our doorstep.

#LoveFalseBay speaker evening

The first event to do this was a free speaker evening, held at the Bluebird Garage in Muizenberg on Monday 7 September. Hundreds of people attended; I took the photo above before the room got so full that no one could move!

Eleven speakers presented short talks about False Bay. We heard about the whales, sharks, orcas, and invertebrates and how they are being studied; about transformative social work taking place in the waves; and about what we can do to care for the bay.

Photographic exhibition

Also taking place starting during the week of the symposium and continuing all summer, is a free public photographic exhibition of Joris van Alphen and Mac Stone’s images of False Bay, taken last summer. You can visit the exhibition along the catwalk between Muizenberg and St James. It’s in the same spirit as the Sea-Change exhibition that was up in Sea Point last summer, and I am excited that it will allow non-diving residents of Cape Town to see some of what goes on under the surface!

Welcome evening

Shark & Ray Symposium welcome evening
Shark & Ray Symposium welcome evening

Storify, which I originally used to curate the tweets about this evening, is dead. However you can access the story as a pdf by clicking this link.

Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium 2015 – workshops

View from the top of Red Hill, over Simon's Town
View from the top of Red Hill, over Simon’s Town

The final day of the 3rd Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium comprised three workshops.

The first, hosted by the staff of the Two Oceans Aquarium, was about safe and ethical handling protocols for sharks and rays. Scientists apply tags, take samples and measure animals in order to learn about them, and some contact is inevitable. It is vital to do all the work as quickly as possible, and with as little stress to the animal as possible. I didn’t attend this workshop, but comments from participants indicated that it was extremely useful and practical, with a hands-on section conducted outdoors.

The second workshop, hosted by the team from the Save Our Seas Shark Education Centre in Kalk Bay, was about science communication, which is dear to my heart. I tweeted quite a lot of detail from this workshop (keep reading…), and it was fantastically useful.

The final workshop was hosted by the Save Our Seas Foundation and its CEO Michael Scholl (also known as “the drone guy”!), and dealt with automated identification of sharks from the shape of their dorsal fins – FinPrinting! I didn’t attend this workshop either, and would be interested to hear more about it.

As for the first and second day of the symposium, I created a storify timeline that compiles tweets and images from the day. Storify is no more, so you can view it here (large pdf).

Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium 2015 – second day

View from the top of Red Hill, over Simon's Town
View from the top of Red Hill, over Simon’s Town

Overall impressions from the second day of the Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium, which was held from 7-9 September at the Blue Horizon Estate above Simon’s Town, are these nuggets of sharky goodness:

  • Collaboration between scientists leads to amazing things, like the massive acoustic tracking system that covers the entire south and east coasts of South Africa.
  • You can tell a lot about what an animal is doing, without necessarily being right next to the animal all the time, with some clever technology and mathematics (yay maths!)
  • There are tiger sharks that are partially resident off Ponta do Ouro, Mozambique. They are being tracked and studied. Something to bear in mind next time you visit!
  • Sharks that cross borders (e.g. tiger sharks, great white sharks) are hard to conserve and face huge risks when they move out of protected areas.
  • False Bay’s great white sharks are incredibly well understood (great work has been done in the last 5-10 years), and at the same time the more we know, the more questions there are!
  • We are beginning to get a better understanding of sevengill cowsharks in False Bay and research is ongoing. Plus, did you know there’s a huge sevengill population around Robben Island?
  • Many of the shark and ray populations around South Africa’s talks are not comprised of separate groups of animals (e.g False Bay’s white sharks, Gansbaai’s white sharks and so on), but interbreed all along their range. This means you can’t protect one aggregation site and expect the species to survive and thrive – you have to think about threats along the entire range of the animal. This was a common theme in the genetics talks (which is a difficult subject to explain to peasants like me).
  • Juvenile hammerhead sharks aggregate in Mossel Bay at certain times of year! (This wasn’t the point of what was an excellent talk, but I was excited to hear it.)

You can read a summary of all the day two talks in this quite large pdf – Storify died.

Newsletter: Fence sitting

Hi divers

Weekend dive plans

None, boo hoo!

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

We had exceptional conditions last Saturday and again on Tuesday, and I’m not just saying that because we had cake on the boat on both days… It was clean, cold and spectacular. It is the time of the year for that. This weekend, somewhere out there someone is going to have spectacular conditions… They are just not going to be near us. Sadly the forecasts have big swell from different directions, varied wind speeds and a different opinion on cloud cover. For us it mean we will not plan anything specific. We will however be ready to rock and roll on Sunday, at very short notice… If things change.

Sharks

On a more serious note: check out the summaries of the talks presented at the shark symposium this week. It’s not often one gets such a good look “under the hood” at what work is being done, much of it right on our doorstep in False Bay, to understand sharks and how to protect them. There are many people, in science, government and industry, who are working hard on all sorts of shark-related things – like ways to keep humans safe from sharks without harming the sharks, ways to manage shark populations sustainably, and on understanding how sharks interact with the rest of the ecosystem. Clare has also written a short summary of the first day of the symposium if you want a broad overview.

Be sure to head down to the walkway between Muizenberg and St James to see a great outdoor underwater photography exhibition sponsored by Save Our Seas which is a tie-in to this week’s symposium. It’ll be there through the summer.

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!

Southern African Shark & Ray Symposium 2015 – first day

The view from the top of Red Hill, over SImon's Town
The view from the top of Red Hill, over Simon’s Town

Earlier this week I had the great privilege of attending the 3rd Southern African Shark and Ray Symposium, which was held from 7-9 September at the Blue Horizon Estate above Simon’s Town. I am not a shark scientist (these days I am probably best described as a lapsed mathematician) but have an interest in the subject so I went to listen. If I had to provide some bite-sized takeaways from the first day of the symposium, jotted down without applying any of the science communication principles I learned at the workshop yesterday, it would be these:

  • Shark mitigation – avoiding negative interactions between humans and sharks – is HARD and a lot of smart people are working on the problem.
  • The City of Cape Town is a world leader in shark mitigation efforts, along with Shark Spotters. They really think about the problem, and care about both people and sharks.
  • If you are not blessed with high coastal terrain and surface-swimming sharks (which would permit a shark spotting program like Cape Town’s one), other shark mitigation measures are in the pipeline… From orca-patterned surfboards (and wetsuits?) to shark exclusion nets to large-scale electrical repellent cables.
  • The KZN Sharks Board catches a lot of sharks, rays and other animals in their gill nets and drum lines, and this is upsetting and far from ideal. But they facilitate an incredible amount of scientific study, too – their catches do not go to waste.
  • The KZN Sharks Board is committed to finding measures other than gill nets and drum lines to keep bathers safe, and they are actively working on the problem (refer to the electrical shark repellent cable I mentioned above).
  • Sometimes scientific research doesn’t look the way you expect or imagine. Ruth Leeney of Protect Africa’s Sawfishes spent months on the ground interviewing Mozambican villagers in the far north of the country to assess the population status of sawfish in Mozambique. She collected data that no one else could have obtained by other means!
  • Smaller, less charismatic sharks, like catsharks, need more love. There are also whole families of sharks that divers don’t see (such as dogfish) and hence aren’t really aware of. They are caught prolifically as by-catch and not much is known about them. But some smart people are working on this!
  • There are motivated, talented scientists working hard in South African government departments to protect our marine resources and making recommendations to manage them sustainably. (There’s also many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip, but they are trying very hard.)
  • Technology – be it cameras, software, or tags – is enabling great leaps in our understanding of what’s out there, which will enable us to protect and conserve things better.
  • Ocean acidification as a result of climate change could affect sharks directly, by actually wearing away their denticles (tooth-like structures on their skin). Denticles protect sharks and help them to swim faster.

I was tweeting from the symposium twitter account, and along with some of the other attendees we produced a fairly comprehensive summary of each talk, along with some visual media. Here’s a link to the day one compendium as a pdf (quite large).

A Day on the Bay: Fishing for photos

Clouds over Muizenberg and surrounds
Clouds over Muizenberg and surrounds

Date: 20 December 2014

We have been following the work of two young photographers, Mac Stone and Joris van Alphen, who were recent recipients of the 2014 Marine Conservation Photography Grant from the Save Our Seas foundation. Both of them arrived in Cape Town early in November last year to commence work on their photojournalism stories: Mac’s is on sharks, and Joris is interested in the reef fishes of False Bay, in particular Red roman.

We felt quite sorry for them – November and December are historically months of appalling visibility and surface conditions in False Bay thanks to the south easterly winds that prevail, and November always seems to play host to at least one massive storm to top things off! Despite having to work with the worst of what False Bay has to offer, the two of them have produced some incredible images, and I’ve admired their persistence and creativity in dealing with murky visibility and adverse surface conditions. (You can follow them on facebook to get regular updates – Mac and Joris.)

Taking pictures at Batsata Maze
Taking pictures at Batsata Maze

Joris was on the boat just before Christmas, getting some of the final set of photographs that he needs for his reef fish story. On this particular trip he wanted to photograph fish on the hook: False Bay is the site of both commercial and recreational fisheries, land and sea-based. Our aim was to track down a Kalk Bay fishing boat that he’d worked with twice already, but they were nowhere to be found (despite being large and yellow, and despite us searching all the way down to Cape Point)! Hailing them on the radio was futile as they likely did not want to broadcast their position.

Working at Batsata Maze
Working at Batsata Maze

As a consolation prize, Joris and his personal shark spotter Brandon were able to spend time in the water with three recreational fishing boats. The first two were at Batsata Maze/Smits Reef at the southern end of Smitswinkel Bay. The crew of both boats were using handlines to catch roman and hottentot. The sea was quite choppy and working in close quarters to a pitching boat strewn with fishing lines was challenging. The fishermen were very kind and co-operative! Brandon’s presence was necessary because Joris was on the surface, absorbed in his work, next to boats that were hauling twitching fish onboard, and throwing back fish guts and bits of bait (basically chumming). All these things are very interesting to men in grey suits.

The third boat we found fishing with rod and reel on Caravan Reef, the large, shallow reef that lies close by to the south and east of the wreck of the SAS Pietermaritzburg. We were now a bit further north in the bay, and the large swell that we’d experienced at Cape Point and Smitswinkel Bay had been modified and reduced on its path towards Muizenberg. It was calmer in the water, though the visibility was still only 2-3 metres. Joris was looking for split shots, with fish half in and half out of the water, and it seemed to be getting easier.

I had a great day tagging along on the boat, but my interest in the scale and nature of the fisheries in False Bay was piqued, and if I manage to find out anything of interest I’ll share it here. Did you know that both commercial and recreational fishermen visit the reefs that we dive on, and remove the fish that we like to look at? Those in the no-take zones are obviously exempt (apart from the occasional chancer or ignoramus), but we found commercial fishing boats inside Buffels Bay in the Cape Point nature reserve, close to shore. There was a fisheries patrol boat close by, but they were not prevented from fishing there. I found this puzzling and troubling, because when we visited the Cape Point reserve as recreational divers, we had to jump through a variety of bureaucratic hoops just to be allowed to drive a boat through the reserve with dive gear on board! Never mind taking fish out of the water! More to follow on this subject – and perhaps Joris’s story will also help us to understand this issue better.

Tying up at the end of the day
Tying up at the end of the day