Earlier this week members of the tourism industry were hosted by Chris and Monique Fallows of Apex Shark Expeditions at a function appropriately held at the Two Oceans Aquarium. The auction and raffles of a variety of luxurious and adventurous getaways raised R 19 000.00 for Eyes on the Horizon and Save The Rhino, organisations dedicated to protecting the planet’s marine and wild life.
After a welcoming sherry and the chance to look around the superb aquarium – a must do if you have not done it yet! – Chris entertained his guests with an illustrated talk about the work that he, Monique and their colleagues do in False Bay.
The well-known couple’s passion for sharks and for False Bay is obvious. “False Bay is undervalued and under-exposed,” says Chris. “With an area of 1000 km2, it is one of the biggest bays in the world. Seal Island and Dyer Island within the bay are shark and bird hotspots. For centuries sharks have been part of the rich tapestry of the bay.”
In 1989 Chris became involved in a programme to get local fishermen to release sharks. The trek fishermen have since helped to tag more than 1 500 sharks and rays – “an exciting programme that has raised awareness and the profile of sharks close to shore. When the South Easter begins to blow in September, the sharks move closer to shore. It is all part of a natural process,” says Chris. “For the most part, sharks show no attention to people, they usually move away. The Shark Spotter programme has created greater safety for sharks and people.”
Enchanting his audience with his beautiful photographs of the marine life found in False Bay, Chris spoke about the magnificent experience of watching sea birds diving for fish. “The African penguins glide though the depths after fish, as if they were flying. Cape Gannets have pockets of air trapped in their wings and in their nostrils which break the impact as they hit the water at 140 kms per hour. The concussion goes right through you and is very audible over a long distance, attracting dolphins- in pods of up to 3000 at a time. Having dolphins swimming alongside the boat is a most exciting experience.”
Prior to 2009 Chris and Monique had not seen orcas in False Bay, but have since seen them on twenty two occasions. “Shoals of fish are not as actively being netted off Cape Point, which has led to an increase in the number of dolphins and so the orcas have started appearing,” remarks Chris.
“Seal Island is the jewel in the crown. False Bay is home to 65 000 Cape Fur seals which produce about 25 000 pups each year. The seals love playing in turbulent seas and when diving with them you may have several of them pulling at you at once – an endearing encounter.”
Seal Island has three pinnacles on it colonised by Bank cormorants, of which there are only 800 left in South Africa and 1700 worldwide. It is also the hunting ground of the Great White sharks and it is here that Chris has taken the remarkable footage of these 700kg plus predators breaching high into the air. He and Monique and their colleagues at Apex Shark Expeditions have assisted with the filming of 60 documentaries of the Great Whites hunting, their breaching behaviour being one of “nature’s greatest spectacles.” Seal Island has been the first choice of Discovery Channel, National Geographic and BBC for their documentaries which include Air Jaws and Planet Earth.
“We observe this predatory behaviour during the months of June, July and August. In one day we see more predation than is seen at the next best spot in the world in one year.”
The Apex Shark Expeditions are “marine safaris rather than a quick adrenaline rush. The trips are restricted to only twelve guests together with four crew members. “Guest have an intimate experience on a natural history trip as opposed to a commercial experience. The boat is a 32 ft catamaran, a walk around vessel and the cage takes 2-3 guests at a time into the water for 20-30 minutes. The cage is not totally submerged.”
Guests were able to purchase a signed copy of Chris’s book ‘Great White and Eminent Grey Chronicles’,which tells of his personal journey from being a “penniless shark enthusiast to his and a colleagues discovery of the breaching behaviour of the Great Whites. The book is available from leading book stores as well as amazon.com.
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