Natural predation of a Great White Shark on a Cape Fur Seal

Natural predation of a Great White Shark on a Cape Fur Seal

Predation is one of the most fundamental interactions in nature and one of the most fascinating interactions to observe, but predation is rarely observed in the wild. Seal Island, in False Bay, South Africa, provides unique opportunities to observe natural predation by Great White Sharks on Cape Fur Seals and to observe social interactions among both species.

Breaching is one of the hunting techniques that great white sharks use to surprise and kill its prey. They  surface with such force and explosive energy that it propels the shark right out of the water. The great white shark will try and catch the young smaller inexperienced seals. The best time is just before and at sunrise and mainly at certain area’s around the island and only for a few months of the year.

This behaviour is absolutely awesome to witness in person, and if you are in Cape Town during shark season, then this trip is a “must do”. It is seen nowhere on the planet as regularly as  in False Bay and by joining us on one of our AIRJAWS trips you may be lucky enough to witness a breaching great white shark “AIRJAWS” for yourself.

We depart early in the morning as this is when the great white’s natural predatory interaction with the Cape Fur seal is the most intense. The activity lasts for around an hour and a half.

We are respectful that we are entering the territory of the great white and even though we try to get as close to a predatory event as possible, every effort is made to avoid blocking a seal’s escape path to the Island. This is a natural event we are witnessing and so we make sure our environmental impact is as little as possible.

When the  predation activity has quieted down we try for a decoy tow using a fake soft cushion cut out “dummy” seal, in which we attempt to get the great white shark to breach. This soft decoy will not harm the shark in any way and making sure that we only do this for a limited period only, it allows for the best photographic opportunity.

 

A diagrammatic representation of Seal Island ans its surrounding ocean, showing the infamous ring of death, where most attacks on seals occur. © Dirk Schmidt

A diagrammatic representation of Seal Island ans its surrounding ocean, showing the infamous ring of death, where most attacks on seals occur. © Dirk Schmidt

What happens if the shark doesn’t catch the seal when it breaches?

Not every breach leads to a successful kill. If the great white shark misses the seal, then the chase is on. It is a game of cat and mouse of epic proportions as you are rooting for the seal, yet wanting to see a predation.

When should I book? What is the best time of the year for Great White Sharks?

We would consider our high season to be from mid-April to end of August and the best months for the predation and breaching activity is during June, July and August. September is in between high and intermediate season. February and March is too early for breaching.

Signs to look out for a possible predation event are:

  1. Incoming seals abruptly changing course,
  2. Seals suddenly switching from porpoising to rapid zig-zag leaping,
  3. A group of travelling seals suddenly exploding from the water in multiple directions,
  4. Great White Shark breaching, with or without a seal in its mouth,
  5. A bloody splash, often accompanied by a spreading oily slick, or
  6. Kelp Gulls or other seabirds wheeling over or plunging repeatedly toward a discrete region of sea surface.

Join Rob Lawrence and the African Shark Eco-Charters team on one of our popular “Airjaws” trips and witness the predatory interactions between the Great White Sharks and Cape Fur Seals first-hand.