Part 2. Summing up the surprises of the 2016 white shark season, Seal Island, False Bay
Successfully snatched our decoy and gaping at it in the flawless water conditions
Further, seeing some of our favourite sharks returning to the boat over consecutive days, a special mention (and thanks) to some of the stars this year: “Zebra,” “Dodgey L,” “Prop,” “Jika,” “Patches,” “Captain MF Hook” “Stumpy Freddy,” “The one with the bent dorsal (Orca/Nemo)” and a few OCEARCH tagged sharks, including “Vindication” and “Maureen.” Of course once we’ve named them, we get very emotionally attached. They become like a puppy dog, really cute but with rather sharp teeth, eating all your personal belongings. When naming and identifying individual white sharks, its usually from a distinguishing feature, scar or behaviour. However, it is incredible to see how much their behaviours’ vary, not only between the different individuals, but even for a particular shark on a particular day. With the number of times I’ve seen a shark put all its effort into the most magnificent breach, only for its targeted seal prey to get away, its not difficult to believe that a shark can have a bad day. Sometimes we’d see sharks hunting and making successful kills still visiting our boat and scavenging at our bait. Surprisingly, and unlike me, sharks don’t seem to have bottomless pits for stomachs, and therefore once they have eaten, they are often uninterested in us, or our bait. Maybe it’s a class thing, why would you eat a stale sandwich when there is fillet steak on offer? It may be more expensive, but totally worth it right?
“Zebra”- Stealing our hearts (& bait) since 2016
“Captain MF Hook”- I only have a picture of her dorsal fin because she was simply too big to fit in the frame at a massive 5 m in length (we’re going to need a bigger boat).
Another highlight this season was the revisit of the shark “Prop,” named for the propeller scars running along the leading edge and across her dorsal fin. I had first seen her in 2014 when the scars were still fresh and an unmistakable identifying feature. If it weren’t for her stumpy pectoral fin and the fact that she is a particularly large girl, closing in on 5 m, we would not have even recognised her this year. The scars on her dorsal fin had healed up so well being no more than very faint lines across her dorsal fin.
A simple, yet perfect example of the perfect predator, proving just how resilient they are and that their ability to heal and recover, is beyond comprehension. There is never a dull moment working with these animals, the more we try to understand them, the more we are left with a whole new set of questions rather than answers. Every day, heading out to Seal Island, you don’t know what you’re going to get. By describing this season as “surprising” “unusual” “unexpected” “unpredictable” is quite appropriate really, because all these words fundamentally define and describe “nature.” If nature were predictable, it would not be as fascinating as it is. To us, what appeared to be “inconsistencies” in the season, served as an important reminder of just how dynamic nature is and it has allowed us to continue marvelling in the mystery that is the white shark.