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  • In Gansbaai, the largest white shark ever caught was at Danger Point and measured up to 5.9m. The exact world record white shark is a contested issue, but chances are it is between 6-7m.

  • If you see a white shark in the water don’t panic. Chances are high that the shark has already detected you and isn’t interested. White shark attacks are normally associated with poor visibility, so avoid murky conditions.

  • White sharks have a unique system called a “counter current heat exchange”, which keeps their body  tempreture +/- 7C above the surrounding water temperature. 

  • All sharks have an incredibly unique system on the tip of their nose called the “ampillae of Lorenzini”. These are small pores filled with a gel that transmits the electrical currents in the water to the shark’s brain so that it can assess its environment.

  • White sharks give birth to live young (not eggs), and they give birth to 6-8 pups at one time. Pups are usually between 1.0-1.5m in length and are born with teeth.

  • Body language has been a well documented form of shark communication and has identified body arching, jaw gaping, and other postures as specific social tactics.

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The Dyer Island Conservation Trust

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The Dyer Island Conservation Trust

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust was founded in 2006 by Wilfred Chivell.  Operating in the incredible marine environment of Gansbaai in the Overstrand area of the Western Cape, this area is home to the Marine Big 5™ – a hotspot for the great white shark; the breeding ground of Southern right whales; home of the endangered African penguin; a breeding colony of Cape Fur seals and dolphin species that visit these shores, as well as plenty of incredible seabirds.

Together with eco-tourism partners Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises, the Trust conducts valuable research, conservation and education. The companies support the Trust financially and are essential in fundraising for the Trust.

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust delivers unique conservation and research programmes in the fragile and critically important marine eco-system at the southern-most tip of Africa. Here we strive to protect the largest surviving colonies of the endangered African Penguin whose numbers are at an all-time low; the globally important breeding and calving grounds of the Southern Right Whale; and, the world's densest populations of the vulnerable Great White Shark.

DICT is a registered Public Benefit Organisation (930032314) in terms of section 30 of the Income Tax Act 58 of 1962 and donations to the organisation are exempt from donations tax in terms of section 56(1)(h) of the Act.

Trustees

Trustees of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust include scientists and entrepreneurs – Wilfred Chivell, Prof Les Underhill (Animal Demography Unit, University of Cape Town), Mike Gibbs (UK), Tertius Lutzeyer (Grootbos), Deon Pitzer.

Partners

Partners include but are not limited to: Department of Environmental Affairs; CapeNature; SANCCOB (Southern African Foundation for the Care of Coastal Birds); Animal Demography Unit - University of Cape Town; Mammal Research Institute – University of Pretoria; WWF (World Wildlife Fund); Overstrand Municipality; Birdlife Overberg; WESSA (Wildlife Environment of South Africa); the Two Oceans Aquarium Cape Town.

The Trust projects focus

The Trust projects are focused on the Marine Big 5 surrounding Dyer Island. Dyer Island lies 8kms off Kleinbaai harbour and is a breeding colony for the African penguin, a species endemic to southern Africa. The Island is managed by CapeNature and is considered an Important Bird Area by Birdlife International.

The population of the African penguin has decreased by 90% in 30 years, leading to their being listed as Endangered with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature IUCN (May 2010).  This decline is influenced by various factors but the historic guano scraping in the 19th and 20th centuries, for use as agricultural fertilizer, left penguins forced to nest on the surface instead of the soft guano burrows they would normally make.  This has left them exposed to heat stress leading to nest abandonment and subsequent predation of the eggs and chicks, most especially by the Kelp Gull. 

Chivell identified the need for shelters that would mimic the natural burrows of the penguin, essentially creating homes for the breeding pairs and improving the chances of fledgling survival success.   He created a fibreglass/mesh resin nest that is lightweight yet durable and could be made by the local community.  The project was given a name, Faces of Need, and officially launched in March 2006, leading to the establishment of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust to manage this and other projects.  To date over 800 nests have been placed on Dyer Island and are monitored by a researcher, as to their affect on the breeding success.  These nests have also been placed at other breeding colonies. The project has featured locally and internationally and won various awards. Funding raised for this project has contributed to penguin rescue and tracking of penguin movements, to establish the energy expenditure required for feeding and the possible need for a Marine Protected Area around the colony.

Two penguin conferences (2008/2009) were arranged by the Trust and held in Gansbaai and brought together scientists and conservationists to look at the issues. This was instrumental in having the status changed from Vulnerable to Endangered.

The Trust is the local centre for injured and oiled penguins and other seabirds and works closely with SANCCOB where the birds are sent for rehabilitation. All vagrant and visiting seabirds are logged and GPS positions supplied for scientific research. 

The Great White Shark

The Great White Shark is a much misunderstood and mysterious creature. In a competitive shark cage diving industry that could be used solely for commercial gain, Marine Dynamics is a leader, in using the time spent at sea to benefit our understanding of the marine environment and actively be involved in research. Biologists on board take hundreds of photographs every day adding to our database of identifying individuals. Marine Dynamics has been instrumental in building a database of thousands of photographs of shark dorsal fin ID. Sharks returning to the bay can be successfully identified and a pattern of behaviour determined. Being on the shark boat daily, an amazing opportunity was provided to witness the wound healing capability of a great white and this poster was presented at the International White Shark Symposium, Hawaii (2010).

The current Faces of Need Shark project, involves acoustically tagging the great white and manually following their movements in the shallows of Gansbaai during the summer months. Little is known about their small scale movements and through tagging various questions such as why they move to the shallows - food or mating; interactions with other species; and the population dynamics and effect of sea conditions – will hopefully be answered.  A study on the parasites found on sharks and the effect on their health is also underway.
 
The Trust has a dedicated research boat which is used primarily for the shark tagging project, and available for other research.

The Southern Right Whales

Every year the Southern right whales make their appearance in the area from June to December, as they come to mate and calve. Dyer Island Cruises is a member of the South African Boat Based Whale Association and all data on whales and their behaviour is recorded and this information given to Oceans and Coasts (O&C). The crew collects whale faeces, for the Mammal Research Institute (MRI) (University of Pretoria) to assist with a study on the feeding habits of the Southern right whale.

Chivell is part of the South African Whale Disentanglement Network, led by O&C, and is specially trained and equipped to handle entangled whales. Should there be a whale or dolphin stranding in the area, Chivell and a biologist will attend to do sampling and measurements for the MRI and O&C.
 
The MRI team is hosted every year during their annual aerial survey of the Southern right mothers and calves. In 2010, together with the MRI, the Trust hosted the 1st African Marine Mammal Colloquium; bringing together scientists, students and eco-tourism companies.
 
A PhD study is underway looking at the actual population dynamics and ecology of the Southern right whales in the area, as well as looking at other cetaceans. This study will continue for three years. Past studies on the humpack dolphin have also been supported, a rare species. Collaboration with other researchers in neighbouring bays has assisted in identifying distribution and behaviour.