Berna's travelblog Marco Bernasocchi's adventures blog

The great white

You probably all know Jaws, maybe even Dark tide and probably many other similarly stupid movies that depict the great white sharks as the perfect human assassin. Pity, really, because if we where as scared of car accidents as we are of great whites, nobody would drive anymore.
And also pity because they are magnificent, powerful and elegant at the same time.

Anyhow South Africa is supposed to be an amazing place for diving with stunning natural phenomena such as the sardine run and the great whites breaching happening annually. Today I had the privilege to assist at the latter.

but lets go with order, 2.50 the alarm clock goes off, first reflex, WTF… second reflex, yayyyy!!! 3.10 Werner is here and we leave for Simons town in Falsebaai. 6.00 we’re at a sleeping wharf in a, looks like, beautiful little town. must be here, we meet some guys loading frozen sardines on a boat, we ask and indeed we are correct.
after a random couple asking us: “are we at the right place?” we know we should shave or maybe shower :)

our guides Stephen an Morne from show up and after the usual signing your life away we are ready to rock… and roll, and two of our three other trip companions will not like the rolling part :) must suck to be seasick foremost when you are anchored downwind of a seal colony :D

but, first things first, breakfast time, not for us, for the great whites. The winter (June – August) months at seal island are the favourite place for great whites to live out their hunting nature.

The seal pups born around January have been finally cut off their milk feeding in the last weeks and have to start swimming to fish their own food.
“young and carefree” they head out in the deeper water looking for fish, and guess who knows it?
taking advantage of the relatively bad visibility, the sharks hide themselves deep enough to be invisible to the seals but still being able to see the siluette against the brighter sky. The shatk has then more or less a single chance to catch a seal by swimming upwards very fast, snapping the seal and breaching the water surface due to its inertia. If the shark misses, the seal is at advantage due to its superior agility and will tail the shark knowing it will not be able to bite behind the tail.

Sunrise is the time of the day when the great whites feed, and as Morne says, it sucks to be a seal at that time. And that is why we stood up at 3. Even before we get a briefing predations start, no breaches yet but happy gulls and gannets scavenge on pieces of seals left back by successful attacks. Lots of excitement, we all look here and there waiting for the big jump, and then bam bam, two big, beautiful breaching within 30 seconds. amazing :) we drive around a bit more looking for more breaching, but the action is slowing down, the sun is higher and the bellies fuller. Time for Frank to make its glorious entrance. Frank is the decoy seal of, a pup like looking plastic seal that gets towed behind the boat to allow seeing a breaching at a foreknown location. We move around slowly until we get another big fat breach, amazing.

Time for the cage, anchored on the downwind side of Seal Island, we start chumming the water to attract some big one to the boat. The chumm is what most people would see as a disgusting soup, saltwater and mashed old sardines. This odd looking broth gets thrown in the ocean to create a “yummy trail” for the sharks without actually putting a bait in the water. No real food is available. I imagine it as a smell only restaurant :)
Almost an hour later, the chummer is still mashing sardines with his feet, the Canadian lady is sicker and sicker and I sleep… got to love not being seasick. We move. The plan to stay downwind of the island to avoid the choppy water didn’t work. It’s gonna get bumpy but we try, and what a good decision by Morne and Stephen, 10 minutes later, we get a big feisty male to start looking around, cage down, wetsuit up and lets get wet…
The cage is for 3 persons, I enter first, then Werner and then the Swiss girl. Cage closed, standby cage and dooownnn… loud and clear are the commands coming from the boat that will lead me to my first phenomenal encounter with a great white shark, the king of the ocean, the perfect predator or simply the most impressive view I ever had underwater. Power and grace bundled in a 3.5m streamlined body. Awe inspiring…
The lady, gets out of the cage, another guy comes in, the guy exits and Werner and I have the spectacle all for ourselves, standby cage, and dooownnn. hold your breadth, sink underwater and admire, again and again, for about 45 minutes. fantastic.

Back to land, big grin on, awe overloaded we go for a quick visit of the nearby penguin colony at the boulders. Started by 2 penguins in 1985, almost wiped away in 2000 when an oil tanker had a major spilling in the area, it now counts over 3000 breading animals thanks to the effort of almost 20000 volunteers that helped recover, wash, feed and tag the oiled penguins. The penguins where then moved to Port Elisabeth 800km further up the coast and released. Two weeks later, they were back to the by then cleaned up colony.

what a day, we leave all happy knowing that in two days we’ll go dive again :)

One Response to The great white

  1. marco says:

    Here a nice paper by Ryan et all about the estimated populationo in RSA

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