The Joy of Autumn Storms in South Africa

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Autumn Storms in South Africa

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Curzon

I have definitely begun to notice we are heading into autumn/winter here in Cape Town as I find myself craving the cosy warmth of casseroles after a day at sea, oatmeal in the mornings to wake me up at 5am and multiple layers of clothing to wear when the south east wind blows across us at Seal Island. I absolutely adore this time of year! Whilst it is chillier and the sun sits lower on the horizon, many of the mornings begin with spectacular sunrises as we head out to sea and the pre-dawn light is very beautiful. The shortening of the days reminds me that we are heading into peak shark season and I have the joy of welcoming return guests from last year and new guests for their adventures with the wildlife of False Bay. I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing old friends, new faces and sharing the peak season of 2014 with them. I particularly enjoy our specialty expeditions as I have an opportunity to get to know our long-stay guests well. These guests quickly turn into friends and the boat has a real family feel to it as we begin each new day together.

I also track the changing seasons by my movement on the boat. As the winter months approach I become firmly aware of precisely what time the orange sun peeks above the horizon and where it will stream light upon the boat first. My internal heating system is a little lazy and I find myself moving around the boat with the sunshine during our decoy seal tows in the early mornings and towards the end of the day. I adore the moment the sun begins to warm my shoulders and face as we gaze excitedly at the decoy seal hoping for a breaching shark. The season for breaching sharks has begun and the sharks are becoming more active around the decoy seal.

Autumn Storms in South Africa

Photo courtesy of Nicholas Curzon

I experienced my first real winter day of the season this week and it was fantastic! We had been blown off the water by a storm for two days and we headed out to sea after the wind had died down and left a very moody sky behind. That morning the clouds were thick and grey and hung low over Simons Town like a woollen blanket. The dawn light was nowhere to be seen and we headed out in what felt like darkness. It was perfect shark conditions as we rounded the break water and rode the swell and chop to Seal Island. The storm had certainly left behind a decent swell and I knew the island would look stormy and atmospheric. I found myself smiling as we approached the island and all of the seals were huddled down in small groups that day against the cold. We often find the seals are either spread out enjoying the sunshine or all swimming in the shallows to cool down. That morning they had formed small groups and were closely tucked in next to one another as the wind freshened from the north-west. We decided to anchor at the southern end of the island at our winter anchoring point, which is next to an area we call the ‘launch pad’. This is where groups of seals gather before heading out to sea to feed. The swell rolled past us all morning and crashed upon the reef just behind the launch pad. It was stunning watching the ice blue waves tumble down and we smiled as the seals rode the waves and played in the surf. Any excuse for some fun on a winter morning! It also caught our attention that the visibility that day was at least 9m and we could see the sharks and reef below us. Our divers had a wonderful trip and were visited by some of our well known and favourite sharks of this season so far; including the much loved females Deux Rossi and Scarlett. We also saw my own personal favourite shark Zamalek. I have such a soft spot for this male shark as he is so gentle in nature and just likes to potter around the boat on the same route every day. He always turns right, he always turns close to the cage, appears from the same point below the boat and he rarely goes off course. I watched as he investigated the bait away from the cage one morning and no sooner had he taken one left turn than he quickly went back to his old route around the boat.  He is a man of routine and I hope he stays with us for a long time to come.

The bird life that morning was also incredible. During stormy weather we find some species of oceanic bird are brought into the bay and we saw a white chin petrel and also a giant petrel. They have such character and are a pleasure to see close to the boat. I find the giant petrels particularly amusing with their noisy nature and how they like to investigate everything we place within the water. I have previously seen them nibbling at the bait, pecking the decoy seal and only moving lazily away when a shark came up to investigate what was occurring. My Dad recently visited Cape Town and went cage diving with us. His first experience of the giant petrels was when one nibbled his finger and sat close to him throughout his dive. What a close up experience. We were also very lucky to see over twenty tiny and delicate Wilsons storm petrels this week. I have never seen so many of them in all my time here and they danced above the water picking up scraps of fish. They are very delicate and beautiful and one of our guests commented that they would expect to find such a bird in a garden not on the open ocean. These tiny birds are one of the most abundant oceanic bird species and their size clearly doesn’t limit their capacity to cope with life on the southern seas.

It really was a wonderful trip that morning and I am eager to see what future storms bring our way. I for one will be keeping a close eye out for any albatross species and for the arrival of other sharks we know from previous years. For those of you that will be joining us in the months to come, I look forward to meeting you and welcoming you in the shop with some warming hot drinks and muffins.

 

Also published at: http://www.apexpredators.com/our-blog.html

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About Author

Kathryn has lived in the UK, Egypt, South Africa and New Zealand and is a trained scuba diving instructor and Great White shark safari guide. She is the author of No Damage (December 2014), the Managing Editor of The Scuba News New Zealand, a freelance writer, public speaker and co-founder of the marine conservation cause Friends for Sharks (August 2014). In 2015 she organised and completed a 10-month global speaking tour in aid of shark conservation: 87 events, 8 countries, 7000 people. Learn more about Kathryn’s book, No Damage at: http://www.kathrynhodgsonauthor.com/books/no-damage/

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