About half way through September and our month-long internship, we arrived back from an amazing morning chum trip where we saw nine Great whites – two of which were very active and jumping out of the water in attempts to get the bait. One of the active sharks was between 3.5-3.75m which was incredible to witness. We had a delicious lunch made by the staff at the house with my absolute favourite – crispy chicken burgers and chips (anyone who has interned with Oceans Research will know what I mean!).
After lunch we had exciting plans for the afternoon. An opportunity popped up for Oceans Research to tag sevengill sharks and we were lucky to be interns for the month of September as it is the time of year they are caught around Fransmanshoek – specifically males. The entire team went out in the van after Oceans found out through one of the locals who runs his own extreme angling tours – Shawn Mey – that he had caught male sevengill sharks in the area and one was available to be tagged.
We arrived at the bay at around 2.30pm and put our bags down amongst the rocks while the staff were chatting with fishermen about what was happening. We were then lead down through the rocky cliffs to a holding rock pool where a sevengill shark had been put after being caught the night before.
Once we arrived, we were amazed to see the size of this natural pool – it was really big and deep enough for the shark as we were able to see it swimming about peacefully in large circles and it was aware of our presence once we arrived at the edges of the pool – we were able to watch his eyes following us as we got closer to the water. It was a really beautiful feeling having such a stunning shark found in such a different habitat and way of life than us, acknowledging our presence.
After seeing the shark, we then headed back up to the fishing spot as they had already caught another sevengill and had it in a shallow rockpool in tonic prepared for acoustic tagging. I was really excited and offered to hold the go-pro to film the procedure as well as constantly asking if there was anything else I could do to help out. We were able to watch the incision, acoustic tag insertion, suturing, application of antiseptic powder splashed with water afterwards to seal it and the safe release of the shark. The shark’s claspers were also pointed out to us and also how to tell if they were mature – via the level of calcification and also whether there were any mating scars as an indicator they had already mated.
We then headed back over to the shark in the holding pool and filmed its behaviour for 20mins as a pre-tag insertion observation, and afterwards we took a few photos of the shark and underwater footage of it swimming towards the camera. We were then able to watch as Shawn and his client collected the shark in a special stretcher and carried him to a shallower pool nearby. The suturing process was carried out on this shark and afterwards he was put back into the holding pool.
Following the shark’s return to the holding pool, we then filmed his behaviour for another 20mins as a post-tagging observation as the use of an accelerometer was discussed as a way to quantify the response of the shark to the tag. We remained at the site until 10pm and no further sharks were caught that day.
The following day, we started the day with another chum trip where we got to see 13 individual sharks and I really enjoyed being on chumming duty. Once again the sharks were really active, making for another exciting start to the day.
For the afternoon we set out again as more sevengill sharks were being caught in a different area and on Cape Vacca Private Nature Reserve. On the drive towards the gate we stopped where we saw a tortoise which we got very excited about and were surprised to see how fast they move when they want to. Once we were able to gain entry to the bay we drove towards the fishing station which was set in front of a beautiful guest house that can be booked for holiday visits, we parked the van up and looked around at the surrounding shrubby bush and plenty of rock pools, as it was low tide when we arrived.
While waiting for a sevengill to be caught, the other interns and I took the time to explore the rock pools where we found an octopus, spiny sea stars, plenty of dwarf cushion stars and gastropods. The nature conservation manager at the reserve – Acheley, came over and took us to the boulder reefs where plenty of interesting species could be found. He pointed out sea cucumbers, a nudibranch, brittle stars and a beautiful iridescent limpet known as the broad-rayed limpet as well as identifying some of the species we were curious to know about.
For the remainder of the afternoon, us girls hung out, ate, laughed, assisted with another sevengill tagging, wrote in our travel diaries, stargazing and explored the rock pools at night where we were able to see shore crabs making the most of leftover baits, predating on them.