One of our many white shark chum trips resulted in us witnessing an incredible natural predation in close proximity of the research boat. One of the photography interns had come along with us to get some high quality shots with his camera while us interns carried out our usual chumming trip duties – writing down the data collected by the field specialists, chumming with sardines, and taking dorsal fin shots with the camera. We saw plenty of very active sharks some of which were trying their best to get the tuna head bait.
A very memorable moment during the trip was when a large shark between 3.5-4m in length did its best to obtain the tethered tuna head bait by suddenly shooting up vertically and in front of Justin (the skipper) and as we were standing behind him, we could see the snout of the shark pop up over his head while he was bait roping. It really gave us some perspective about just how massive and powerful these sharks are. We then heard a splash on the starboard side and looked over to see what it was. All of the sudden we saw a shark move up towards the surface with a seal in its mouth – there was so much blood and for a second we all just stood there watching, stunned – luckily Justin reminded us to grab our cameras and we were able to get shots with the surrounding blood in the water. It was all over very quickly and lots of gulls had already started moving in to pick up any scraps left over.
While it was a very dramatic event to witness, it really made me appreciate the power of these sharks and reminded me of their role in Mossel Bay as predators of Cape fur seals that inhabit seal island. We were in their territory attempting to learn more about them. While we were able to appreciate their beauty from the boat, they were still efficient apex predators.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed my Oceans Research internship in Mossel Bay, South Africa. It was really nice having so many trips out on the boat for chum trips, seal surveys, and sea fishing and also participating in important maintenance and projects at the aquarium. We also gained experience on an intertidal project where we learnt how to identify various species, helped scan the bay for dolphins and whales during the ‘land dolphin’ surveys and also the incredible opportunity to observe and assist with sevengill tagging. We were also given several lectures on hammerhead genetics, GIS and photo ID and also had plenty of experience entering data following chum trips.
I really was amazed at how much experience you gain and also the amount of information you learn in just one month during the internship. During our month (September 2015), we managed to see and gain experience with six species of shark (great whites, pyjama catsharks, leopard catsharks, sevengill sharks, smoothhound sharks and puffadder shysharks) , two species of dolphin (bottlenose and humpbacks), two whale species (humpback and southern right), Cape fur seals and plenty of intertidal organisms. After gaining such a myriad of skills with so many different marine species, I knew I had made the right decision in taking the time to travel and learn about the creatures that had fascinated me as I was growing up and learning about in lectures at university. It really is an amazing privilege to get up close and help out with contributing to marine research at such a beautiful, accessible place as Mossel Bay, South Africa.