Friday, October 25, 2013

Chris’ Dive Experiences: Seal Island, South Africa - Heaven & Hell

 Photo courtesy of Morne Hardenberg

The following story may be too graphic for some.
Discretion is advised.

Very few things in life seem to live up to what you see on TV, unless you’re at the right place, at the right time. Seal Island, South Africa, is one place you can count on for living up to what you’ve seen on TV! Most of us have seen "Shark Week" on TV at some point in time and no doubt have seen the show or pictures of 'Air Jaws' in slow motion. Seal Island is the place where 'Air Jaws' was filmed.

On a recent adventure to South Africa, I had the opportunity to venture out to this infamous island. Arriving just at sunrise on a cloudy, misty morning, my fellow adventurers and I were greeted with loud, boisterous barking from approximately 60,000 Cape Fur Seals. When the wind would changed direction, along with the noise came a smell which could be likened to the worst port-a-potty you have ever been around.  All 60,000 Cape Fur Seals make their home on Seal Island, which is only a half a mile long and 164 feet wide.

 Photo Courtesy of Morne Hardenberg
Barely 2 minutes after our arrival on the scene, as we were cruising past the edge of the island, our captain, Morne Hardenberg, directed our attention to the port side of the boat. Looking over I could see a few gulls in the air intently watching below as a pair of Cape Fur Seals were flying in and out of the water, attempting to make their way toward the island. I really don’t recall ever seeing seals move as fast as these two were and I would soon know why. Another jump out of the water by these two seals and back in, and literally a split second later there was an explosion from the sea that took longer for my brain to process what I saw, then it took to happen. Looking around, many of us were initially silent, playing back what we had just seen, before hoots and hollers broke out, almost everyone uttering to each other “did you see that?” It was mind-blowing when the reality of what I had just witnessed sunk in.

In that split second, two Cape Fur Seals jumped out of the water in opposite directions, persued by a 14-foot Great White Shark that had launched itself completely out of the water. The lucky seal that chose to jump right had made a life-saving decision, where as the one that choose left balanced in mid-air for maybe a few hundredths of a second, just above the open mouth of the shark, before the jaws snapped shut around it. This action ended with another huge explosion of water when the 1000-pound Great White went crashing back into the water.

 Photo Courtesy of Morne Hardenberg
As those of us on board were discussing what we had just witnessed, our boat was already on the move to the next hunt. It seemed like only a minute or two had passed from the first predation before Morne called out “single Fur Seal twelve o'clock”. As a pair of gulls hovered above, squawking, we spotted this lone seal hauling butt, as the others had before him, toward the island. This time as we watched, the fleeing seal made a hard left turn before disappearing below the surface for 10-15 seconds. When the seal reappeared, it was now heading hard right toward the edge of the island. The seal was still moving at a very good clip, jumping in and out of the water, making now both left and right turns on its jumps out of the water, as it continued to head toward the island. On its next jump out of the water it almost did a back flip. In close persuit was another huge Great White Shark, its upper body breaching the surface, its mouth open wide. The seal's aerobatic jump kept it alive and the fight was still on. For the next minute the seal kept thrusting itself out of the water and back toward the tail of the shark. The shark kept circling and attacking, thrashing with its huge tail creating waves of water, all this time with its mouth agape, hoping to feel the seal near it’s mouth for the victory of a meal, but to no avail. This time the seal won.

 Photo Courtesy of Morne Hardenberg
Seal Island, South Africa, is a heavenly buffet for the White Sharks who have ample chances to feed every morning and evening on Cape Fur Seals who must venture off the island for food and eventually return. Seal Island also supplies a nice haul out spot for the Fur Seals because it is close to ample hunting grounds for the seals. The only issue is it’s hell to leave and return to for them.

Bearing witness to the fight for food and survival in such a brutal and decisive way happen right in front of my eyes was something I don’t think I will ever forget.  I left out a lot of details trying to keep this somewhat enjoyable for most people. Just trust me when I say when there is a predation there is no doubt about it from what you see.

Cage Diving At Seal IslandPhoto Courtesy of Morne Hardenberg
Seal Island is a place that lives up to the hype; no doubt about it. On a typical trip out to the island with Shark Explorers, it’s not unusual to see over 10 natural predations, many of which involve HUGE sharks completely out of the water. This is followed by towing a decoy for an hour trying to get sharks airborne for viewing and photo opportunities, which is finally followed by cage diving.

View From The Cage
Photo Courtesy of Andy Murch
This Seal Island adventure was just a very small part of what South Africa has to offer the visitor. On our trip we actually saw 11 different shark species while diving. Mix that with the beautiful landscape of South Africa, as well as wildlife such as the lions, elephants, cheetahs, crocs and baboons and you will find this country seems to offer an endless opportunity to witness wildlife in its natural habitat both underwater and above.

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1 comment:

  1. Great article Chris, very discriptive and educational. Makes me want to go see for myself. Thanks for sharing.