THE ELASMODIVER SHARK AND RAY FIELD GUIDE

 

SHARK GUIDE

SHARK PICTURES

WHAT'S NEW?

SHARK BLOG

MERCHANDISE

SHARK TRIPS

SITE MAP

E-MAIL

 

 SHARK INFO

SHARK & RAY FIELD GUIDE

SHARK PICTURE DATABASE

SHARK TAXONOMY

SHARK

BIOLOGY

SHARK EVOLUTION

SHARK FACTS FOR KIDS

 

SHARK DIVING

SHARK DIVING EXPEDITIONS

SHARK DIVING 101

SHARK DIVING HOTSPOTS

SHARK DIVING STORIES

SHARK FEEDING ADVICE

SHARK

ATTACKS

 

CONSERVATION

SHARKS UNDER THREAT

PREDATORS IN PERIL

 

PHOTOGRAPHY

SHARK PHOTO TIPS

DAILY SHARK IMAGES

 

RESOURCES

SHARK NEWS

SHARK LINKS

SHARK BOOKS

SHARK FILMS

SHARK TERMS

 

WEB STUFF

CONTACT ELASMODIVER

ABOUT ELASMODIVER

ANDY MURCH ELASMO GEEK

 

WHAT IS ELASMODIVER?

Not just a huge collection of Shark Pictures: Elasmodiver.com contains images of sharks, skates, rays, and a few chimaera's from around the world. Elasmodiver began as a simple web based shark field guide to help divers find the best places to encounter the different species of sharks and rays that live in shallow water but it has slowly evolved into a much larger project containing information on all aspects of shark diving and shark photography.

There are now more than 10,000 shark pictures  and sections on shark evolution, biology, and conservation. There is a large library of reviewed shark books, a constantly updated shark taxonomy page, a monster list of shark links, and deeper in the site there are numerous articles and stories about shark encounters. Elasmodiver is now so difficult to check for updates, that new information and pictures are listed on an Elasmodiver Updates Page that can be accessed here:

WHAT'S NEW?

Shark picture - green sawfish

_

 

 

 

 

FANTASTIC FALSE BAY

Published in Diver Magazine Volume 39, Issue 2.

 

Sevengill Shark cover

 

Protected by the towering sandstone cliffs of the Cape of Good Hope, False Bay has long been a safe haven for ships seeking refuge from the ferocious winter storms that pound the Atlantic Coast of Southern Africa.
In 1488 Bartolomeu Dias wrote of the gulf between the mountains in his epic voyage around Africa to find the Indian Ocean. Later mariners coined the name False Bay because of the bays similarity to Table Bay that lies on the other side of the Cape of Good Hope.
During the 1800s, the British Navy established an important military base in Simons Town on False Bays sheltered western shore. Great Britain retained control of the region until South Africas independence when the base was turned over to the newly established South African Navy. Today, Simons Town has evolved into a thriving tourist enclave but it retains much of its former maritime charm.
False Bay is warmed by the Agulhas Current that radiates around the southern tip of Africa from the Indian Ocean. Consequently, north facing Simons Town boasts a Mediterranean climate and water temperatures six degrees warmer than that of Table Bay on the exposed side of the cape. That influx of warm, nutrient rich water, supports an incredible variety of marine species from hundreds of migrating humpback and southern right whales to thousands of resident African penguins.

 

Migrating Humpback Whale in South Africa

A migrating Humpback Whale in South Africa.

 

In the centre of the 30km wide bay, sits Seal Island; an 800m long strip of rock that is home to more than 70,000 cape fur seals. Although the island is often shrouded in fog, the acrid aroma and forlorn chorus of barks and howls emanating from countless fish eating pinnipeds, is more than adequate as a navigational aid for passing fishing boats.
Perhaps the most iconic species associated with False Bay is the great white shark. Although they patrol the shallows around many other seal colonies throughout the world, this is the place where white sharks regularly breach completely clear of the water in their efforts to snatch a passing seal.
Surprisingly, there are only a handful of shark diving operators that carry divers to the island. One of the most experienced is Shark Explorers owned and operated by shark fanatic Morne Hardenberg.
Morne sets sail for Seal Island under the cover of darkness each day, arriving just as the first rays of sun break over the mountains. This is the magic hour when the seals slip into the cold green water and huddle together in the shallows plucking up courage to head out to sea. Upon some signal lost on the human spectators, the flotilla of seals suddenly launch en masse into the shark infested depths, weaving and porpoising past one another in order to confuse the waiting predators. If an inexperienced newcomer decides to run the gauntlet alone, or if a seal becomes tired and loses the pack, its chances of survival are minimal.
Each morning, Morne witnesses dozens of natural predations. Not all involve spectacular full breaches but most result in the demise of another cape fur seal. It is a perfect example of natural selection at work. Thanks to the abundant population of white sharks around Seal Island, only the strongest and smartest animals live on to produce the next generation of fur seal pups. As for the white sharks, the slowest go hungry or swim towards shore in search of easier prey.
After an hour or so, the natural predations slow down. Morne then tows a seal shaped decoy to encourage the sharks to breach in a predictable spot that his camera-toting clients can train their viewfinders on. The savviest sharks know better than to waste precious energy on the decoy, but now and then a conical nose breaks the surface and gives it a casual nudge.
Its not easy to keep staring through a camera at the decoy while the boat pitches from side to side in the choppy water, but on an average day, patient guests are generally rewarded with at least one or two dramatic breaches. Watching a large white shark explode out of the water with such speed and ferocity that it clears the surface by one or two body lengths, before crashing back into the ocean is an experience not soon forgotten.

 

Breaching Great White Shark

A white shark breaches on a decoy near Seal Island.


By mid morning the sharks lose their interest in breaching and drop out of sight. At that point Morne throws a chum bucket and his custom-built shark cage over the side of the boat and waits for the sharks to notice. It rarely takes very long. Sometimes alone and sometimes not, the enormous grey shadows materialize.

 

Great White Shark in False Bay, South Africa

A hunting white shark at Seal Island in the heart of False Bay


The crew issue a warning to the guests to submerge at just the right time and the eager divers push themselves under against the buoyancy of their thick suits and hook their feet under the toe bar of the cage, then stare wide eyed at the giant fish that eyeballs them as it grazes past the viewing window. It circles around and they fight the urge to breath in order to watch the second pass before popping back up and gasping for breath. It is a primitive form of shark watching but none the less impressive.
The sharks generally lose interest by mid afternoon and Morne heads back to Simons Town. He has enough business to keep him busy at Seal Island for the entire year but white sharks arent the only cartilaginous predators that inhabit False Bay.
 

Sevengill in Bamboo Kelp in False Bay, South Africa.

Sevengill against a backdrop of Bamboo Kelp


A fifteen minute boat ride east of Simons Town, there is a shallow reef at Millers Point called Pyramid Rock. As the boat pulls up and anchors in the sand, the only visible signs of the reef below are dense mats of kelp undulating gently in the swell. From the deck, the thick foliage looks impenetrable but this is bamboo kelp (Ecklonia maxima). Rather like the bull kelp of the Pacific North West, each frond has a buoyant, coconut-sized pneumatocyst at the top that suspends the flowing blades at the surface where photosynthesis can readily take place. The thin leafless stipes (stalks) form a wide-open, bamboo-like forest that is easy to swim through.
When the sun shines through gaps in the canopy, the forest alone is a sight to behold, but at Pyramid Rock the mega fauna will steal your attention. This particular stretch of kelp forest is teaming with enormous sevengill sharks. Almost three meters long and extremely rotund, the broadnose sevengill is the king of the aquatic jungle.

There are so many that it is unusual to look around and not see one or two weaving through the bamboo or skimming over the sand next to the giant granite boulders that form the foundation of the reef.


Diver with many sevengill sharks

Diver with multiple sevengills in False Bay

 

Sevengills remain in the forest for two reasons. Firstly, sevengills are one of the favourite snacks of great white sharks but white sharks dont like to enter kelp forests. Secondly, sevengills are extremely partial to catsharks and if you think there are a lot sevengills in the forest, youd be amazed at the diversity and sheer number of smaller sharks!

 

Puffadder Shyshark


On an average dive it is not uncommon to encounter leopard catsharks, pyjama catsharks, puffadder shysharks and dark shysharks. Now and then, divers also encounter Natal shysharks and yellowspotted catsharks.

 

Dark Shyshark in False Bay

Dark Shyshark

 

Leopard Catshark

Leopard Catshark


As if that isnt enough of a buffet for the patrolling sevengills, where the giant boulders that make up the reef come together, many small caves have formed. Within these, 1.5m long spotted gully sharks swim patiently back and forth, waiting for the cover of darkness when they can venture out to hunt in relative safety from the sevengills.

 

Spotted Gully Shark

Spotted gully sharks wait for the safety of darkness before venturing out in the open.


Its odd for a reef to have more visible sharks than bony fishes but the smallest catsharks eat mostly crustaceans and mollusks so they are able to fill that niche in the food chain. One rather odd looking resident of the reef below the canopy is the South African hagfish. This virtually blind, jawless ancestor of modern fishes, is able to evade the interest of the omnipresent shark population by exuding a noxious slime from its skin that tastes foul and clogs the sharks gills. One exploratory bite is usually enough for a curious shark to learn its lesson.
Keen eyed divers will also find a whole slough of endemic nudibranchs, crabs, octos and other miniscule invertebrates that collectively fall under the heading of catshark food.

 

Leathery tunicates top a reef packed with exotic invertebrate life.
 

Sea LionsFurther down the coast at Partridge Point, a tiny islet overcrowded with cape fur seals, breaks the surface like a scaled down version of Seal Island but without the resident white sharks. On the seaward side of the islet there is a submerged shelf about three meters below the waves that makes a relatively safe play area for young seals to practice their acrobatic maneuvers.
Morne anchors as close to the island as possible and cautions his guests to stay well away from the deep drop off, just in case the man in the grey suit is in the neighborhood.
Filled with trepidation, the divers slip one by one into the dark water and kick towards the shallow shelf but as soon as the playful seals arrive, all thoughts of sharks are forgotten.
Unlike most ocean creatures that are obsessed with eating and reproducing, cape fur seals apparently have nothing better to do than float upside down at the surface while rotating their necks almost 360 degrees, or seeing how fast they can spin around visiting divers while staying just out of reach. Although this may seem frivolous and comical, those are the very skills that young seals need to perfect, if they hope to evade the jaws of an attacking white shark.

 

If all this talk of predatory sharks has you running for dry land, False Bay has some world-class, terrestrial wildlife encounters to keep you occupied. For example, take a 2km stroll along the coast from downtown Simons Town and youll end up at Boulders Beach Penguin Colony.
Cape PenguinsFlightless and fearless, it is not surprising that the African penguin was nearly wiped out by settlers in this region. Penguin eggs were sold as a delicacy up until the 1950s. In a classically short-sighted act of barbarism, egg collectors would smash all the eggs they could find a few days before a scheduled collection in order to make sure that the eggs they collected were freshly laid. Fortunately, penguin pie was outlawed just in time and the adorable potbellied penguins are well on their way to recovery.
A raised boardwalk at one end of the beach will take you right into the heart of the colony where penguins of all ages can be seen interacting or waddling by, within a flippers reach of the delighted tourists.
Each morning a stream of adult penguins flop into the water and swim off to hunt for pilchards, anchovies and squid. Their vulnerable eggs and newborn chicks are guarded by at least one parent at all times until they are one month old. At that stage, the juveniles join a crche with the other chicks so that both parents can head out to sea to find food for their insatiable offspring.
It takes between 60 and 130 days for the chicks to become independent. Once fledged, they head out to sea to hunt on their own, returning after a year to molt and adopt their adult plumage.
While at sea, African penguins have to deal with the same problems as every other bite-sized marine organism. Unless youre an orca, surviving in and around False Bay inevitably comes down to whether you can outgun, outwit, or out-swim the sharks but the diving here is second to none, so dont let that put you off.

 

False Bay has some of the most vibrant reefs you can find in temperate seas.

 

Pyjama Catsharks

Pyjama Catsharks exploring False Bay's beautiful reefs
 

 

Author: Andy Murch

Andy is a Photojournalist and outspoken conservationist specializing in images of sharks and rays.

 

 

 

For more information about diving in False Bay, please visit:

 Http://BigFishExpeditions.com/South_Africa_Shark_Diving.html
 

 

IF YOU LIKE THIS PAGE PLEASE SHARE IT Share

 

 

 

RETURN TO SHARK STORIES MAIN PAGE

ELASMODIVER HOME

SHARK PICTURES

 

 SHARK TRIPS

 

MORE EXPEDITIONS

 

SPONSORS

 

ADVERTISERS

 

ELASMO-BLOGS

SharkPictures   Shark & Ray Field Guide   SharkPhotography   SharkDiving   Taxonomy   Evolution   Biology   SharkAttacks   Books   Shark Movies   Stories   Extinction   Protection   Updates   SiteMap

 

CONTACT ELASMODIVER

elasmodiver@gmail.com

250-588-8267

P.O.Box 8719 Station Central, Victoria, BC., V8W 3S3, Canada