Day 5 was a really good day in our holiday. We were in Simon’s Town and scheduled for our first white shark breaching trip. These trips are run by Chris and Monique Fallows and their website is www.apexpredators.com. Their photographs are some of the most amazing I have ever seen but also they were really really nice people. They do a lot of work to try to conserve the great white shark as it is being attacked so much more than it attacks. South Africa is thought to be ahead in terms of shark conservation but it seems like they are protecting it with one hand, only to kill it with the other.
Our trip started at 6.45am at the harbour. By heading off when it’s still dark you have the greatest chance of seeing great whites preying on the seals at Seal Island. They leap out of the water with their whole body as they zoom up from the bottom to take seals swimming on the surface. I had a bit of a panic early on as the boat goes quite fast and I was still very shaken from the rough seas of the previous day. Monique and Chris were so kind though that I was able to get through it and enjoy the trip.
There were only 5 guests on the boat and Chris and Monique so we had lots of opportunity to talk to Chris and Monique about their work. They do a lot of research into white sharks and documented every shark we saw to contribute to what we know about sharks. They also were involved in making the shallow seas part of Planet Earth on the BBC – the bit with white sharks was filmed on their boat with them!
Although we didn’t see any breaching, we did see about 8 different great whites during our trip. The trip lasts until about 1pm. They don’t need to chum around Seal Island as there are so many sharks there, they just have a decoy (a carpet cut-out of a seal) and a bit of tuna. The atmosphere on the boat was like nothing I have experienced. Chris and Monique really love the sharks and could tell us so much about them. I have been reading about sharks for years, but they knew much more than I did. Also it was calm and relaxed and most of the sharks were very calm and relaxed too.
Often the sharks would swim silently up to the boat, take a look at us and swim round. We got fantastic views of the sharks, and also time to observe them behaving quite naturally. Each individual shark had its own character. One shark which we called Myrtle was quite cunning as she would wait under or near the boat until we weren’t expecting her and then come very quietly and pinch the bait before we had noticed! She did this so many times that eventually she got all the bait!
It was also really interesting to see how Chris and Monique identify the sharks and write down their identifying features so that if they see the shark again they will be able to recognise them. Some sharks had beautiful mottling on their dorsal fin, and others were very white by their tail fin. Another one had dark spots on its side and quite a few had scars where the seals had fought back.
I had gone to South Africa hoping to see a great white shark. Already I had seen 13, but also had had the opportunity to share that experience with people who love and know a lot about great whites. With so few people on board I was soon brave enough to ask my questions and Chris and Monique were so nice and friendly that I was able to ask everything I could think of. In fact that evening Ben and I tried to think of more questions to ask the next day!