First Marine Dynamics guest blogger - Adam Mustoe
Adam decision to come to Cape Town in December of 2011 was dominated by his desire to see the Great White Shark in the wild. "It's one of those creatures which you really need to see with your own eyes to appreciate. My experience would have been different in South Australia or Guadalupe. I felt it made sense for Cape Town to be my first encounter with this animal which is a fantastic symbol of the areas bio-diversity."
"I was referred to Marine Dynamics shark tours by chance meeting with a fellow traveller (and photographer) Harry Stone. The experience and knowledge which was available onboard was invaluable to the creation of a piece of work I am really proud of, so thankyou to everyone at the company. The fact that so little is known about the Great White make it a fascinating and fullfilling candidate for study and research. Appropriate management, & conveyance of wildlife research to the general public through eco-tourism experiences like this can ultimately elevate conservation efforts & awareness. For the tourist, you get an experience of a lifetime (although you'll probably go back!)."
Without further adieu, our first guest blogger, Adam Mustoe, take it away!
"Great white hype"
by: Adam Mustoe
It is astonishing how often you hear sharks referred to as misunderstood creature's. I must have heard this phrase hundreds of times during my stay in Cape Town. This particular species has had to shoulder decades of mis-understanding and media interpretation. Having waited a long time to see it in the wild, I was filled with anticipation at the prospect of coming face to face with it for the first time. The Great White Shark.
The boat was due to leave around eight o'clock in the morning so whilst I scrambled to get ready (having nearly slept through my alarm & without waking my room-mates) the sun was rising on yet another beautiful day in The Cape. Journeying for three hours around False Bay (and through the beautiful Kogelberg nature reserve) we arrived at the small fishing village of Kleinbaai, where a well needed breakfast awaited!
December is low season for Great Whites and conditions weren't ideal for sightings. The weather was reassuringly warm and we had calm seas but the prospect of getting into the drink (at a chilly 12C) was less inviting. Remaining optimistic and fuelled up with scrambled eggs, toast and local Boerewors, we set off from the harbour accompanied by Caspian Turns, Black Oyster Catchers and the ever present Cape Gull.
No sooner had we anchored and a juvenile female approached the boat. Her camouflage was remarkable despite excellent visibility. I found myself gripped with fascination from the start. Her appearance prompted the call to put on our wetsuits and in light of the conditions I opted to be first in the cage to grab the opportunity whilst it presented itself.
The Great White is a tremendously efficient predator growing up to six metres in length and 1000Kg in weight. Juveniles are quite capable of severely injuring stray limbs against the cage with their body or tail, let alone by more notorious means! Stunningly adapted to its environment, it has remained un-changed for millions of years. Sadly the shark finning industry, trophy hunting & over-fishing have contributed to its rapid decline. A now endangered species, it is estimated that less than 3, 000 remain in the wild.
Upon entering the water we were greeted by Pollock and Sea Bream who relished the opportunity (whilst the shark remained elusive) to nibble at the tuna heads a few metres in-front. Soon after, the same shark returned (uniquely identifiable from her dorsal fin) and treated us to fantastically intimate encounters at the cage. Typically females grow larger than their male counterparts but even at 2.5 metres in length this youngster was astonishing. In the weeks leading up to the dive I read various marketing material about this "adrenaline" fuelled experience, but the reality couldn't have been further from that viewpoint. Throughout the dive I experienced a tremendous sense of calm whilst the shark gracefully went about its business. She appeared inquisitive and gentle for the most part, tenderly probing the bait with her highly sensitive snout and making the occasional exploratory bite (distinctive by the lack of upper jaw protraction). It was in the moments when eye contact appeared to be made where the experience really sank in. Her majesty leaving me awe struck, I had just seen one of the most enigmatic predators on the planet. The decision to be in the first group was vindicated as she faded into the emerald green of the ocean, having left a permanent impression on me. It would be the one and only sighting on what was an undoubtedly powerful & eye opening encounter. Certainly not what is prescribed to us in the media.
Whilst on our way back to harbour I was saddened to learn of plans for the construction of a nuclear power plant only ten kilometres away, which will quite rightly face opposition from local conservation groups and marine users. I couldn't help but wonder what the future may hold for this spectacularly abundant and diverse coastline. In a supply and demand energy market, should we start acknowledging our influence on corporate decision making and can we demonstrate the compassion necessary to protect this much maligned, influential creature (and its habitat)?
A more holistic understanding of the Great White's role and behaviour in the ocean appear intrinsic to its conservation. Quite clearly, a vacuum of knowledge has been left in the wake of dramatisation & eco-tourism encounters like these can help to fill that void whilst also providing for social & economic development. This purposeful & elegant creature can and should be celebrated alongside some of our more revered, media friendly predators. I will undoubtedly watch Jaw's in a whole different light in future (we didn't even need a bigger boat!). It’s Jurassic Park from here on out.