In honor of Shark Week, I’m reposting one of my very first blogs from 2010. Getting in the water with Great White Sharks was one of the most thrilling things I have ever done. Today sadly, Great White Shark sightings are down due to the arrival of Orcas who have killed some of the sharks to feast on their calorie-rich liver. In 2017, several Great White carcasses (sans livers) washed up at Gansbaai and there is speculation the sharks have left to avoid the Orcas. Two brother whales, given the names of Port and Starboard due to their flopped dorsal fins, have been named as the likely predators. As a result, additional Orcas have now moved into the area to hunt.
I’m glad I have this memory to treasure.
We Star in Our Own Episode of Shark Week. While some of you were sleeping soundly, we were up at dawn and ready for our next great adventure – getting in the water with Great White Sharks. I know I speak for both of us when I say, this has been one of the most exciting and incredible experiences we have ever had. Read the rest of this entry
Thanks to our daughter and her fiancé we had a wonderful time on our morning whale-watching excursion. Leaving from Balboa Island at 9 AM, I quickly forgot my concerns about the (really) chilly weather and potentially rough seas, when we spotted two grey whales just as we left the harbor. We followed the whales for quite a while as they headed south on their long journey from Alaska to Mexico. As the marine haze lifted it turned into a beautiful, clear day.
During the 2-hour trip with Newport Coastal Adventures, we zoomed around in a 6-passenger zodiac at 20-30 mph and that was a thrill ride all its own. Another highlight was finding ourselves in the middle of a pod of hundreds of playful common dolphin.
It was a blast. We loved it!
This afternoon, we headed out for an official whale watching expedition – this time looking for Humpbacks. We elected to take a smaller excursion than offered by the cruise line, and had booked with Dolphin Tours. We left from picturesque Auke Bay (just as all other local trips), and traveled up Stephen’s Passage against a backdrop of snow-covered peaks and tall spruce forests.
It seemed like the trip was over in minutes, but in reality we were on the water for about 1.5 – 2 hours. We did see Humpbacks, not as closely as I would’ve liked, but quite a few. Local laws required vessels be 100 yards from whales and we were not going to get in any trouble violating any laws. We did see four whales together and that is considered unusual, AND that group had a baby and we saw the baby breach. The breech was also considered unusual since it is generally a mating ritual, but the naturalist said the whales were teaching the baby. Humpback Whales are identified by the pattern/color/scars that appears underneath their tail, readily visible when they dive. We did get to see several flutes (tails) diving and looking at my pictures I can clearly identify the whales known as “Spot” and “Midnight” among them.
We were met at the dock in Auke Bay by a dear friend who lives in this part of Alaska and came over to see us. We visited Mendenhall Glacier’s Visitor Center ($3) in the Tongass National Forest and enjoyed the great exhibits and touching the small iceberg on display, as well as the terrific photo-op. Before heading back to the ship we had a tasty dinner at the Twisted Fish Company Alaskan Grill, located near the pier area.
We Star in Our Own Episode of Shark Week. While some of you were sleeping soundly, we were up at dawn and ready for our next great adventure – getting in the water with Great White Sharks. I know I speak for both of us when I say, this has been one of the most exciting and incredible experiences we have ever had.
I decided to be among the first group to get in the water ~ just in case I chickened out later. Although the water was cold, it was tolerable (my biggest problem would turn out to be getting out of the cage). The saltwater in this part of the Atlantic is different – seems less salty and much lighter and more refreshing on your skin.
“Divers” are outfitted with very thick wet suits, boots, hoods, and masks – when a shark is coming in, you simply hold your breath and go under! This works fine, unless you are having trouble breathing in general. To put it mildly, the experience was “breath-taking.” It’s amazing and frightening that when you are in the water you can’t see the sharks until they are right in front of you.
The crew was using chum, tuna heads and a seal board (just like on Shark Week) to lure the big guys in. We were with Marine Dynamics in Gansbaai – on a boat named Shark Fever; they have been featured on several Shark Week programs, as well as a number of Nat Geo and BBC documentaries. Some months of the year, they visit sharks in nearby “Shark Alley”, but this time of year the sharks are in an area called “The Shallows” (about 30’ deep). They were trying to monitor some females they had tagged, but they were elusive today. Our onboard marine biologist said we saw 7 different Great Whites today. With some of the sharks, the differences were quite obvious. For our Canes fans – he also said last year they had 5 interns from the UM program.
We were each probably in the water for about 30 minutes. What I saw suited me just fine – sharks moving gracefully around us, but my husband had some real excitement. A shark got the tuna head (which they are not supposed to get) and was chomping on it with his mouth wide open – basically inches in front of him and one other woman (she was actually screaming underwater). So they got to see the full shark “smile”, with all of rows teeth up close and personal!!!
In summary, every minute was an incredible adrenalin rush – we saw multiple sharks at a time, numerous episodes of them coming head-first out of the water and pretty much solid action for several hours.
Interestingly, you board the boat on land and then are launched into the water. Our group of 20 passengers was a real international crowd and we were the only Americans and probably about twice the age of most on the trip. I have some pretty decent video, but it will take to long to post here, so we will stick with stills for now.
All I have to say is ~ you’ve gotta do this!!!
Once back at Grootbos – we cleaned up and got them to drive us over to Hermanus for a little more whale watching. What a cute town in a breathtaking setting. Lots of cafes, a town “Whale Crier” and outdoor theater built into the ground for sitting and contemplating the whales. We walked on the Cliff Walk and positioned ourselves on a rock outcrop to watch whales for a while. Then it was time for gelato and the ride “home.”
What a day.
It will be an early night since we leave at 6am to head off to the Cape Town airport on our way to the first of four safari camps! It’s anyone’s guess when we will have a connection to post again . . .