DiveCareDare

DiveCareDare

Tony Isaacson - Diving Naturalist. As a PADI Scuba Diving Instructor, AWARE shark conservation specialist and adventurer, I have dived in some of the most amazing diving locations on the planet. I have been scuba diving since 1970 and have logged over 3000 dives in more than 20 countries around the world. I’ve documented the marine diversity in exotic locations like Komodo, Fiji, Vanuatu, PNG, Tahiti and the Galapagos Islands. In 2013, I inspired Navy Clearance Diver and bull shark bite survivor, Paul de Gelder and a 60 Minutes film crew to dive with bull sharks at the Ultimate Shark Encounter in Fiji. I was a consultant on the making of documentaries on Leafy Seadragons (for Channel 9), The Great Barrier Reef (with Richard Fitzpatrick for the BBC) and filmed underwater footage in Indonesia and off the Queensland and New South Wales coasts for TRAVELTHERENEXT TV. In July 2014, I headed to South Africa for the Sardine Run and dived with the great white sharks from Durban to Cape Town, South Africa. I’m a great advocate for sharks, sustainability and ecotourism, and I regularly volunteer for Reef Check and Grey Nurse Shark Watch in Australia.

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Slideshow
Slideshow

Dare to Dive with Sharks

Dare to be different. Dare to stand out from the crowd. Dare to dive with sharks.

DIVE SHARK SAFARI | SOUTH AFRICA JULY 2014

THRILLING ADVENTURES WITH SHARKS OFF SOUTH AFRICA’S WILD COAST

DiveCareDare leaves for its first official adventure later this week as an international group of 5 divers and a snorkeler, from Australia, Austria, Fiji and Angola.

We are off to Durban via the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board and uShaka Marine World.

Then we are off for the big shark action of the Protea Banks where Tony completed his first NOMAD African Dive Safari in 2011 with Fern Perry of Lutwala Dive.

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Tony featured in this diving compilation of Mozambique to Protea Banks.

We are driving from the Protea Banks along the Wild Coast (formally known as Transkaai) near Nelson Mandela’s birth village, to catch up with the Sardine Run at Coffee Bay and the Waterfall Bluff that featured in the BBC series.

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Along the famous sand Garden Route to Cape Town we plan to have more encounters with winter wildlife including the great white sharks and their big breaches off Simon’s town with Chris Fallows of  Apex Shark Expeditions

This experience is a different one to our previous at Gansbaai in 2012 where we caged dived with Brian McFarlane of Shark Cage Diving. Apex operate with smaller cages not the large ones with a capacity for 8 divers, so it is a much more personal encounter. We hope to meet with Chris Fallows, a world legend on great white encounters.

So since you can’t join us in person, follow us and our exploits on our new web site or your social media of choice including Facebook, Twitter, Google+ YouTube or Instagram.

 

‘MUTANT’ REMORA ON SHARK DIVE

On a baited shark dive at Aliwal Shoal, South Africa one remora stood out from the crowd.

What looked like a ‘mutant’ remora turned out to be an unfortunate little guy who had obviously had a clash with something much bigger than him, possibly a shark who was a little hungry at the time. And of course, he came off worst. He looked like he had a nasty hair lip, but on closer inspection both his upper and lower jaw were badly damaged. However he had managed to heal well and live another day, although he was a bit more frightening to look at compared to his cloned mates!

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Remoras are also called sucker fish, and for good reason. They have a sucker in their mouth which sticks to the belly of large fish including sharks, whales and turtles. Their job is to clean parasites off their host, and in return they get to eat leftover food of their host. Where there is a shark there will be remoras, and we find them fascinating.

For more check out:

Cageless Diving with 50+ Oceanic Black Tip Sharks at Aliwal Shoal, South Africa

Cageless Shark Diving at Aliwal Shoal, South Africa

Remora Remora | Sealife With A Good Sucker | A Dive Buddy That Sticks To You

REMORAS | SEA LIFE WITH A GOOD SUCKER | A DIVE BUDDY THAT STICKS TO YOU

Remora remora is the name for the common remora. They have a highly modified dorsal fin that expands during their development to become an efficient sucker disk on the top of their head. Remoras attach to sharks, mantas, whales, turtles, ships, divers and just about anything to save energy until their next feed. It’s hard to imagine that powerful, open ocean swimmers like mahi-mahi [dolphinfish] and amberjacks are related to remoras. Your opinion about these opportunistic freeloaders might change when you consider what 50 million years of evolution has done by tinkering with the muscles and bone structure of a dorsal fin to produce their quirky edge for survival.

In nature there are relationships like predator-prey and parasitism where one half of the equation benefits at the expense of the other. There is mutualism, a form of symbiosis where both organisms benefit from the relationship to the extreme where one cannot survive without the other. Commensalism describes relationships on a scale between parasitism and mutualism. Where does the relationship between remoras and other sea life belong?

Does the removal of parasites as a service to a host improve survival, longevity or the energy budget of a host like this humpback whale? It must have a hundred or more remoras that increases the effort needed to move through the ocean using precious fat reserves for energy. This mother is feeding its calf on the long journey to summer feeding grounds off Antarctica, so how far south do remoras go before their free ride gets too cool to survive? Do remoras provide a parasite removal service that is worthy of them tagging along or is this an extreme form of commensalism that’s nudging parasitism as a way of life? Remoras are up their with platypus and other anomalies of the natural world that make me wonder what the creator was on while doodling the prototype or was the design brief given to a committee? Continue reading

DIVING WITH CROCODILES | DARWIN NT

This was another DiveCareDare opportunity for a Surface Interval activity with a difference. In between dives at Nightcliff Island, just outside Darwin, we decided to explore Crocosaurus Cove in downtown Darwin’s CBD. A long standing business, their point of difference from other similar businesses is their offering of the ‘Cage of Death’. Yes, Cage of Death. Mmmmm. Our minds pondered.

Well Tony just couldn’t resist to check it out. But it turned out that we were well behind the 8 ball as the spots were all booked out well in advance. So we decided to gate crash someone else’s experience, and, well our photos and videos tell it all.

To read more go to:  http://www.traveltherenext.com/blogs/61-diving-with-crocodiles-darwin-northern-territory

This is one of the videos for your viewing in that blog post:

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If you get the chance, you MUST do this. There is no where else in Australia where you can experience this thrill of a lifetime. Go on, just DO IT!

 

[Our thanks go to Jan Jnr and Jan Snr Mahotka from South Australia, for allowing us to video their experience. Photos and videos by Tony and Irene Isaacson]

 

 

 

 

SERENE TURTLE MOMENT AT END OF A ‘SHARK SOUP’ DIVE | ALIWAL SHOAL SOUTH AFRICA

BEAUTIFUL TURTLE MOMENT AT THE END OF A SHARK DIVE

For you turtle lovers out there (ok guys, come on, we know you are in to them too!) here is some lovely footage of a lone turtle doing its thing. Just cruising by at the end of a dive, up near the ocean surface.

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This was an introductory dive for a group of international divers who joined DiveCareDare and African Dive Adventures for the Sardine Run, 2014. At the end of a baited shark dive with Aliwal Dive Centre, we paused to enjoy the calm of the loggerhead turtle while oceanic blacktip sharks continued to search for tiny scraps of fish in the water. The baited dive was a controlled experience for our group to have close passes from all directions ahead of the 3D action of the Sardine Run when dolphin, seals, whales and Cape gannets coordinate with sharks down to the last sardine.

Another operator had a top and bottom baited drum, as well as two divers and a dozen snorkelers in the water within 20 metres of our baited drum. There were plenty of oceanic blacktip sharks to keep both groups busy. At times we were completely surrounded by ‘shark soup’, one shark even bumping into my camera! The experience had been priceless and then as it was time to surface we looked up and there it was. A beautiful loggerhead turtle, just gently cruising, outlined by the sun above, a truly magical moment. With all the shark  activity below, here this turtle was oblivious to it all.

Isn’t nature just wonderful. What a perfect end to a great dive.

Some of the best shark encounters in the world can be had at Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks with Raggies [grey nurse sharks/sand tigers], Zambezi [bull sharks], tigers, duskies and hammerheads mixing it with humpback whales and other sea life of significance. Highly recommended diving.

FOR MORE SEE PREVIOUS POSTS: 

CAGELESS DIVING WITH 50+ OCEANIC BLACK TIP SHARKS |ALIWAL SHOAL, SOUTH AFRICA

CAGELESS SHARK DIVING | ALIWAL SHOAL, SOUTH AFRICA

GREAT WHITE SHARKS | GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA

GREAT WHITE SHARK TOURS, GANSBAAI, SOUTH AFRICA – CAGED DIVING

Gansbaai is 160kms, about 2hrs drive, from Cape Town in South Africa and is one of the best places on the planet to see great white sharks in their natural habitat.  They are the world’s top predatory fish, growing to 6m, and have the ability of launching their 2 ton bodies completely out of the water when predatory breaching for seals. This area is a major drawcard for day trips for local and international tourists to see these amazing creatures. There are many local operators offering up close and personal shark experiences.  One of the oldest, most reliable and reputable is Brian McFarlane who runs Great White Shark Tours.

Great White sharks Gansbaai

I had the pleasure of going out with Brian two years ago, and when returning with our small group of intrepid shark divers this winter, I couldn’t recommend any other outfit. I knew despite the unusual conditions everyone had been experiencing over the last few weeks, Brian would still be able to offer us a great opportunity, and I wasn’t wrong. He is also the only operator to actually offer a money back guarantee if a shark isn’t sighted, so with that assurance, we all signed on.

Great White sharks Gansbaai

From left to right: Brian with Mo, Dominik and Tony

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DIVING WITH COW SHARKS AND CAPE FUR SEALS | SIMONSTOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

COW SHARKS AND CAPE FUR SEALS | PISCES DIVERS FALSE BAY, SOUTH AFRICA

Simonstown on the western side of False Bay near Cape Town has an international reputation as the place to go to see great white sharks breaching 3m out of the water off Seal Island. This is a spectacular experience provided by naturalist and photographer Chris Fallows and his wife Monique of Apex Shark Expeditions.  They label False Bay as the ‘Serengeti of the Sea’ because of its marine diversity, and as well as their infamous shark cage diving and shark breaching trips, they also promote two other types of dives which are contracted out to local dive operators.

These experiences include an opportunity to dive with Cape fur seals and the primitive seven-gilled cow sharks in the kelp forests of False Bay. These dive sites are on opposite sides of a rocky outcrop known as Partridge Point near Cape Point Nature Reserve where there is a small seal colony.

Winter time (June to August) is best for diving here because the plankton count is lower making visibility much better. 5-8m visibility is good in these waters and anything better than 10m is an outrageous bonus. However weather conditions and currents can impact on this so checking local conditions before a dive is a good idea, although a luxury that most divers can’t afford because of their need to book ahead.

We dived today with Mike Nortje, owner of Pisces Divers. He was easy to spot as he wore contrasting shades of yellow fins and had an uncanny sense of where to point in anticipation of a shark or two moving past. While divers might be wary of a passing great white shark at any moment given their prominent numbers in False Bay, Pisces divers don’t appear to have a history of any sightings of great whites. It seems that the great whites just don’t approach scuba divers according to Mike.  So believe me when I say you can concentrate on the diversity and colour on these dives and not be looking over your shoulder constantly!

We dived off Mike’s boat although both dives could have been shore dives and were a maximum of 18m only. The boat drove 15mins out of the harbour to get to the dive sites and the water was a ‘warm’ 17 degrees.  I had on 4 layers of clothing being toasty warm for each of our 45-50 mins dive but a ‘local’ diver from Johannesberg wore a dry suit.

Cow sharks and Cape Fur Seals False Bay

Mike and Tony in the kelp forest

The scenery here more than matches anything I have seen on the Great Barrier Reef as feather stars, anemones, urchins, sea squirts and sponges provide a kaleidoscope of colour and an environment that is a macro-photographers dream.
Cow sharks and Cape Fur Seals False Bay  1
Cow sharks and Cape Fur Seals False Bay

Cow sharks and Cape Fur Seals False Bay

Continue reading

GREAT WHITE SHARK HUNTING WITH CHRIS FALLOWS, SIMONSTOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

GREAT WHITE SHARK HUNTING WITH CHRIS FALLOWS AND APEX SHARK EXPEDITIONS OF SIMONSTOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

Our trip began by being picked up at 8am by our driver Alistair at our City Loft roof apartment in Bree St, in the centre of Cape Town.  We were told to have essentials on board including a towel, bathing costume, sunscreen, water, and camera

After picking up another handful of hopefuls staying at other accommodation, we drove off to first do a sight seeing tour of the South African National Park of Cape of Good Hope, which includes the South Western most point of Africa, and then the lighthouse at Cape Point.

The park is beautiful and showcases the fynbos (‘fine leaf’) landscape of South Africa, as well as wandering animals including gibbons and ostriches. The sea is the Atlantic Ocean and was full of kelp along the shoreline.

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Fynbos flora

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Fynbos flora

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Wild ostrich on shore at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

We were taken to the most southern west point, Cape Point, to take our photos by the classic signage before another half dozen buses arrived and spoiled our moment of serenity being the only ones there.

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Our group of Irene and Tony Isaacson, Mo Riggs and Dominik Radler at Cape of Good Hope, South Africa

Then we set off again to Simonstown to meet Chris and Monique Fallows at their shop.  Chris and Monique are well known world wide for their photos of great whites breaching in False Bay, less than an hour from Cape Town They are wildlife naturalists with a strong interest in sharks and their behaviour. Chris first witnessed the breaching predatory habit of the great whites in 1996, and in 2000 created their business Apex Shark Expeditions around breaching, predatory activity and cage diving. He is one of the leading shark experts in the world and has been involved in shark research, facilitated documentaries and written books on sharks.  Every boat trip to Seal Island logs sightings and activity, water visibility etc., and his database of over 5500 predatory events is second to none.

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Tony Isaacson, Chris and Monique Fallows

 

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Chris’s famous shots in postcard format

Today we were on a mission to finally meet this legend and go out with his crew on Apex Predator for an afternoon trip to hopefully get in the water with these amazing sharks, in a cage of course (in case you are wondering, no one is allowed to swim or dive with great whites without a cage, except for one researcher in Cape Town who has a special licence to do so).

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However Chris had to inform us that we may be very unlucky to be one of the few clients of his that do not see a great white. The current season has been very unusual and for the last 3 weeks with the heavy storms and rains, the sharks had virtually gone away, as also had the reef fish which usually accompany them. That morning they had only had one shark sighting, which was a far cry from 20-40 sharks at the peak of activity. But we were dutifully informed that we could still go out or we could cancel our trip as all other operators in the town had done so. However we all decided to push on and take our chances as we had come so far to do this. One client had even flown in from Germany for 2 days for this opportunity and thank god he had been on a trip with a sighting.

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Chris Fallows boat moored in Simonstown Harbour

We set off heading to Seal Island which is about 30 mins out of the harbour. The crew of three including Nick, a marine biologist from the UK, Woods Makeba who joined then in 2010 and Poenas Jacobs, the skipper, an exceedingly knowledgeable and experienced shark operator who had been with the company since 2005.

We had the shark cage on board, a 2-3 man one, much smaller than what we had expected, lighter framed and much more ‘intimate’ for a shark experience. They had a bucket of burley and a few big fish heads to act as the deeper bait, as well as the rubber decoy seal ‘bait’ as the surface bait.

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows 46

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Fish for burley for the great white sharks

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Decoy seal as surface bait for the great whites

The idea is that the deep bait attracts the shark by sight and smell and encourages them to come up to the surface, and then they get interested in the decoy, which if manipulated correctly will try to keep the sharks interested at the surface.

We were divided into groups of 2 or 3, and each group was given a safety and dive briefing on the procedure that would follow a sighting. Wetsuits (10mm) were provided and masks and snorkels for the 18 degree ‘warm’ water.

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Approaching Seal Island, False Bay

We arrived at Seal Island to be greeted by a wonderful earthy aromatic smell of seal and bird poop. The island homes up to 40,000 seals and 60,000 cormorants depending on the time in the season, and you can certainly smell it on arrival. The noise of the seals calling to each other especially the big bulls makes one hell of a racket too.

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A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Seals, penguins, cormorants on Seal Island

We lowered the anchor just off shore, followed by the cage. Once it was fixed in place alongside the boat, our rastifarian crewman Woods proceeded to drum on the side of the boat to attract the sharks by their finely attuned hearing as sound goes much further than smell or vision.

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Shark cage ready for action

And then we waited, and waited and waited.  And nothing happened. Like that infamous Monty Python The Minute sketch…”and yet another minute went by, and nothing happened”…

Yep, we bobbed around for about two hours and despite altering our position closer to the island at one point, nothing happened. Not even the reef fish were biting which was very ususual.  And rastifarian’s African drum beat did nothing for the sharks, perhaps they just weren’t in the mood for it today.

But the seals seem to be enjoying it. They were having a ball on the rocks, diving into the water and being thrown back on to the rocks by the strong waves beating their coastline. Even the penguins were having fun waddling around amongst the seals and the cormorants.  Apparently the seals are safe in the water next to their rocks as its too shallow for the whites to approach them without fear of being beached or hurt, and boy did they knew it. They were having a party in the surf. The boys moved the boat in closer for us to get a better look and smell, to enhance our experience and memories to take home, and so we took our last photos.

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We set off back to the harbour after a fruitless afternoon of ‘no banana’. But then just 5 mins outside the harbour we saw 3-4 Southern Right whales. They were possibly mating as they seemed to be chasing a female whale. Apparently they are known to harass a female for 24hrs or more trying to mate, even if she has a calf nearby. There was also a bit of tail slapping and blowing to entertain us.

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Southern Right Whales in False Bay, South Africa

Great whites will feed off a whale. Poenas in the past has been witness to one particular shark breaching 15 times right next to a whale in the harbour.  The blubber is what they are love.  If they accidentally eat the meat they are seen to leave it behind. A dead whale is a smorgasbord for them and one carcass will feed a shark for a month.

Poenas told us though that the current policy if a dead whale is found close to shore is to tow it to the beach, and then put it on a truck and drive it 2 hrs inland to pour fuel on it and incinerate the carcass.  Instead of letting the sharks eat it at sea as is normal behaviour and then not be hungry for another month, they pull it into shore followed by sharks trailing the carcass to where people are.  What human ignorance and unnecessary expense.

The sharks in this area are not aggressive hunters of people. They feed on the seals mainly and are known to visit Seal Island regularly year after year. They are noted to hunt within 500m of the same spot each year.  So regular are some that they have been given names such as Scarlet, Shy Guy and Colossus. Colossus has been the star of a National Geographic documentary in the past and has been tracked around the coast.

The shark activity varies in the year. The season starts around Feb until September. Initially they are lazy and are natural scavengers feeding off dead birds or seals. Then they become more active and begin to hunt. Baby seals are born around December and usually don’t leave the island and their mother’s milk for 6 months. So June is around when the sharks begin to actively hunt as the seal pups take their first swim off the island to fish for food.

Shark breaching action can be ‘natural’ breaching which is very rare, or ‘predatory’ breaching when they are chasing seal pups or bait. They usually are most active in the mornings as the light is best then and they are hungry. Afternoon sightings are usually quieter.

No one swims in this area because of the number of great whites around.  Sharks have been sighted in 3 metres of water although they do not usually like shallow water.  They have a natural fear of being beached and are not as maneuverable as other sharks.

Our day ended once we docked the boat, and we headed off a few hundred metres down the road to Boulder where the jackass (named after their donkey-like noise) or African Penguins roost and mate. The sun was just setting after the most glorious sunny, blue sky day.  The light was fantastic to witness these little guys waddling around their rockery on the beach. You could even see little lines of pearls coming in on the ocean…penguins in linear formation about to do a beach landing to join the rest of their flock.  Cute little guys, often in boy-girl pairs, almost holding hands or mimicking each other like mirror images. Very endearing.

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

‘Twin’ jackass penguins at Boulders Beach

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

Boy – Girl jackass penguins

A day with Apex Shark Expeditions and Chris Fallows

End of the day – beautiful!

So, despite ‘no banana’ re a shark experience, we had a great day out with nature with seals, birds, whales and penguins, and some great information about the natural habits of the sharks in this area. Formal shark research counts for little as far as I am concerned as these guys witness the natural behaviour or these sharks on a daily basis. It is priceless information.

And how best to protect our oceans and wildlife? Well perhaps stop tagging it, dissecting it, killing it…, in fact, just leave it alone and it will do very well, thank you!

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CAGELESS SHARK DIVING |AFRICAN DIVE ADVENTURES | PROTEA BANKS, SOUTH AFRICA

CAGELESS SHARK DIVING WITH AFRICAN DIVE ADVENTURES ON THE PROTEA BANKS, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 2014

The Protea Banks is about 7km out of Shelly Beach and Margate, which is two hours south of Durban, on the Indian Ocean.
Roland and Beulah Mauz of African Dive Adventures have operated here for the last twenty years on the north and south pinnacles of the Protea Banks.

The Protea Banks are world famous for advanced, thrill seeking adventure divers, especially for cageless shark diving. They are known for their population of zambezi’s, tigers (March to June), hammerheads and others including dusky sharks, as well as 1200 species of fish as well as whales, mantas, dolphins and turtles. It is also the home for the ragged tooth sharks, what we know better as grey nurse sharks, a place where they often rest.  Occasionally great whites and whale sharks may also be encountered.

African Dive Adventures-aunching boat Protea Bank

We had arranged for two dives on the north pinnacles with Roland, the first being a baited shark dive. This baited dive is quite different to that offered at Aliwal Shoal as it is a deeper dive and is on a reef not a sandy bottom, so there is much more diversity to be seen. The semi-rigid inflatable dive boats are often launched from the surf beach (very exciting!) or the mouth of a nearby river.

African Dive Adventures-aunching boat Protea Bank-bait ball and attached fish

Baited shark dives have certain procedures to follow to ensure the safety of each and every diver.  Instructions from the Dive Master and Bait Master need to be followed at all times, after all they have a 100% record of no injuries after more than 500 baited dives.  Bright coloured fins or equipment is discouraged, and there should be no loose or drifting pieces of equipment to attract a shark’s attention.  Divers are encouraged to stay as a group as if someone separates away the sharks may become more interested in them.  Rapid movements or touching the sharks is a no no.

African Dive Adventures-launching boat Protea Bank-bait ball-throwing bait ball over side

The dive is also a drift dive so you are going with the current, and for as long as you are vertical in the water and stay with your group and on the correct side of the bait scent or scum slick, you can basically be motionless in the water for an hour and a half at the designated dive depth of 5-15m.  The ocean floor below you is much deeper at 30-40m.   You also have to try to keep out of the chum slick or a shark may engage you by accident.

African Dive Adventures-Protea Bank-shark diver round ball

Visibility on the day was such that you could see the ocean floor. The fish can often see the bait box and don’t need to smell it. A big groper, tuna, rainbow runners and a few other reef and pelargic fish also came in to feed on the tiny bits of fish coming out of the bait box.

African Dive Adventures-Protea Bank-shark and bait ball

Although going out the seas were quite calm, we had a ripping wind later on that created a two and half metre wave on the surface that was popping the feeding container up and down, shaking out the contents vigorously. There was a strong current too, which pushed us eventually quite a distance south of the north pinnacle.

African Dive Adventures-Protea Bank-black tip shark

We were in the water for an hour or so and had a handful of oceanic black tips ripping and tearing at the carcasses of larger fish in the external bait. The zambezi’s or bull sharks were much more cautious and never actually came to the same level as the divers.  They tended to hang around much deeper than us, and in fact when one of our divers went down to photograph them, this made them nervous and they scattered. Definitely not the aggressive animal many people have the impression they are.  So from that point of view there is something to listen to the advice of the Dive Master to keep away from them or you will scare them away and loose your chance and your group’s of some great photos.

Adventure Protea Banks-comb jelly

This first dive also encountered a productive layer near the top of the water column at 10m which meant there was a lot of plankton there. The water here was quite warm although the visibility was down to 10-15m but I took some great photos of jellies and salps that took my interest as they shone in the water column.

African Dive Adventures-grey nurse shark

But on our second non-baited dive, at the bottom you could see as far as the eye could see, 30m or more. This was the cleanest water I had ever seen, and the reef was quite colourful despite not being a tropical reef, aided by the cloudless sky above and the bright sunlight.  There were so many nooks and crannies to explore. We were down at the 35m and in one cave we found about 50 or more raggies or grey nurse sharks, with a conservative estimate of up to 200 or more all over the ocean floor, just resting in a soft wave-like motion of the water in their sleepy daylight state.

African Dive Adventures-grey nurse sharks

This was a real experience of one of our divers Dominic from Austria, as last year we had both had a shared experience at Wolf Rock in Queensland Australia but then had only been privileged to see 5-10 of these sharks, nothing like this.  He was totally blown away by the sheer numbers of them here.

We also saw many bull sharks, but these were in mid water and almost at the limit of our visibility when looking up. However we saw them much better on our safety stop at the end of the dive where they were just all cruising around us. In fact, if I didn’t have the attitude I have now to sharks, I would have been quite fearful of being in the water surrounded by so many of them. They were all around us, and this wasn’t a baited shark dive, this is just where they hang out on the Protea Banks in June to August.

African Dive Adventures-grey nurse sharks-raggie in cave

Coming back the seas had really kicked up and there were two and a half metre waves which dwarfed our boat. We basically had to surf them to get back into shore with yet another spectacular and thrilling beach landing, and a dry one at that. It’s quite a thrill to be flat out at full throttle and then suddenly you’re on the beach. And if you are not holding on, you’re doing a face plant!

The Protea Banks is a world reknowned shark diving reef and is sure not to disappoint. It is the mission statement of African Dive Adventures to give each and every diver the best and safest diving experience on Protea Banks and they certainly don’t let you down.

[For more photos by Tony Isaacson, see Photos-Diving Photos-South Africa]

CAGELESS SHARK DIVING | ALIWAL SHOAL, SOUTH AFRICA

CAGELESS SHARK DIVING AT ALIWAL SHOAL – 14TH JULY 2014

 Aliwal Shoal has a reputation for giving you a cageless shark diving experience you will never to forget. Their specialty is oceanic black tips and boy, do they have a lot to share around.  The reef is about 7km off shore and diving there has the reputation of being one of the top 10 dive sites in the world. The special baited shark dives are only at max of 20m deep so they offer opportunities for both scuba divers and snorkelers.

 Aliwal Dive Centre

Aliwal Shoal is situated one hour south of Durban, on the east coast of South Africa on the Indian Ocean. The dive boats go out of the small beachside village of Umkomaas by either a beach or nearby river launch using semi-rigid inflatable boats.

Aliwal Shoal wall map

We took the opportunity to organise a single baited shark dive whilst on our way further south to Protea Banks.  At 7am we met up with Aliwal Dive Centre’s operators Clare and Basie Ackermann on a dropdead gorgeous, 24C, blue sky day, with a water temperatures of 19-21C. We had four in our party as well as their four crew in the boat.

Aliwal Dive Centre owner Basie Ackermann

Aliwal Shoals is an amazing surf beach, which means divers get to experience a thrilling beach boat launch with a difference. Most Australian dive operators would never dream of tackling waves and conditions like these, but to the locals, this is the norm and they haven’t lost a diver yet!  In fact is quite a local spectator sport watching the boats go out and coming back in to the ramp. This is only to be enhanced by the 45 degree slope on the actual boat ramp itself, adding further challenges to the whole process!

Gunning the surf at Aliwal Shoal

Once out of the surf breaks, it is a short 20 min boat ride to the baited shark dive site. This is not actually on the reef itself but is based on a sandy bottom, with a depth of only 20m or so and excellent visibility. There was already another boat at the site when we arrived so we had to negotiate with them to be able to set up our bait boxes a short distance away from theirs to be able to share the sharks. The process is such that there are two bait boxes filled with local frozen fish such as pilchards. One is set about 10m deep, the other 20m deep to leave a scent or scum trail to attract the sharks.

Remora and sardines at bottom bait box

On the sandy bottom near our deep blue bait box was where the small numbers of sardines and remora ‘shark sucker’ fish generally hung out.  Maybe they felt safer being down there rather than higher up where the shark population was.

Remora "sucker fish"

The Zambezi or bull sharks and tiger sharks tend to be attracted by the deeper box throwing the scent and then they slowly come up to the more shallow bait box. It should be noted that this is not a shark feeding dive, just a baited dive where there is only enough fish to keep the sharks interested and not enough for an actual feed, so the dive operators are not altering the natural behaviour of the sharks.

When we looked and swam up we saw many oceanic black tip sharks which is what they specialise in here. These are a sleeker looking shark with a streamlined fusiform body shape for fast manoevering in open ocean waters.  They have a pointed nose and black tips on all fins. They grow to about 1.5m and are usually wary of humans so they may take 10-20mins to gain their confidence around the divers and the bait boxes.  But once confident, they crowded us in their numbers. It was amazing to have so many sharks swimming around so close and to experience the thrill of seeing so many oceanic black tip sharks all in one place totally surrounding us.  There would have been 40-60 sharks on our dive and we were right in the thick of it.

Higher bait box surrounded by black tips

Oceanic black tip sharks and bait box

Black tip shark and two divers

We didn’t see any bull sharks on our dive but this same dive site last week had a tiger shark which is very unusual for this time of year as the usually are seen from March to June.

 Oceanic black tip at close encounters

Oceanic black tips have been known to attack humans when there is food around.  So it is only at the end of the dive when we were all back on board the boat that the operators threw the remainder of the bait fish into the water. The ‘boiling water’ and ‘shark soup’ beside the boat at the end of the dive was a spectacle in itself. There were sharks everywhere, fighting for the last morsel, often breaking the surface with the classic shot of shark fins thrashing around.  The boys loved it! You couldn’t wipe the smile off their faces.

 Oceanic black tip sharks at surface

To crown it all off, a loggerhead turtle swam by as we surfaced at the end of the dive.

Aliwal Dive Centre -loggerhead in the sunlight

What a day, what another diving experience. Thanks Basie, Clare and the Aliwal Dive Centre team for an African shark diving experience of a lifetime. I’m sure we will be back.

[For more photos taken by Tony Isaacson see Photos-Diving Photos-South Africa]

 

 

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