Update!   It is possible for you to follow the track of the 42 great white sharks tagged for research as  part of the Ocearch Expedition by going onto the Google Earth supported site http://sharks-ocearch.verite.com/ .  I had a look today 18 July, Mandela’s Birthday, and although at first it took a while to navigate my way around the site, I got the hang of it and could see that only 1 of the tagged great Whites has been hanging around the False Bay area.  He is a male shark named Madiba – I kid you not – and he has been patrolling off Cape Point for over a week.

Background to the Tagging for Research of Great White sharks in False Bay, Gansbaai and Mosselbay. 

Spokesperson Zolile Nqayi of DEA Dept Environmental Affairs is reported in News 24 and IOL as having said that the permits to tag great White Sharks have been re-issued.  However, Chris Fischer’s team on the Ocearch vessel have to limit  their activities to Gansbaai and False Bay, and may only tag six sharks at most per area.  The permits would be valid until the end of May or when 12 sharks had been tagged. 

The DEA cancelled the permits to tag great white sharks after the tragic death of bodyboader David Lilienfeld in Kogel Bay on 19 April.  Following the public uproar after the shark attack with people blaming Fischer’s activities for attracting sharks to the bay, the DEA investigated the attack and announced that there was no link.  “Over the following 10 days further information, including that of the movements of the tagged animals, strengthened this position,”  “A strong case was put forward regarding the benefits of this work, not only for understanding and conserving sharks better, but also for in future being able to provide for public safety [like] close to real time advice on risk areas for potential shark attacks.” Ngqayi said.  

The Ocearch vessel was allowed back into Gansbaai waters on Friday 4th May and would move to False Bay on May 14.

Background information

Four Great White Sharks were caught and released off Seal Island in False Bay after receiving satellite tags on 15 and 16 April 2012.  When the weather improves Chris Fischer’s team of researchers on the OCearch Expedition accompanied by local shark scientist Alison Kock plan to tag an additional 6 great white sharks in False Bay.  Some media reports have raised concerns about permission being given to the OCearch Expedition to chum to attract the sharks to be fitted with satelite tracking tags.

Independent reports from both Alison Kock the research manager of the Cape Town based Shark Spotters and marine biologists Oliver Jewell and Alison Towner of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust have confirmed that chumming for the sharks was “insignificant when compared to daily natural chum created by Seal Island and through normal fishing activities” (Shark Spotters )  However as any amount of chumming is controversial, no chumming is permitted within 2km of the Mainland.

Local researches are very excited about the access to information provided by OCearch’s long term satellite and acoustic tags on a sample of white sharks visiting False Bay, Gansbaai and the South African coast.  “To generate enough funding for expensive research is not easy and this is the perfect platform to allow us to understand the great white shark better. The data Chris Fischer and his team are making possible is unprecedented,” says Towner.“  Interested members of the public will also be able to track the sharks tagged off Seal Island on OCearch’s Facebook from early May 2012.  The tracks of sharks tagged off Mosselbay are already accessible in keeping with Chris Fischer’s vision of bringing `the seas into people’s homes’ to help create appreciation for our marine environment. 

 “The satellite tags from the larger sharks will transmit for up to 5 years and for the first time we will know where these sharks go when they leave our coastline, discover new foraging areas and possibly even, where they are mating and pupping.  Andy Stephany a shark conservationist living in Kleinbaai commented: “It’s been such a mystery since Nicole was tagged and swam to Australia and back. Why she did it and if others have done it since has been a mystery until now. Ten years on we will be able to get some long waited answers to these questions.” 

While tagging the captured sharks, the researchers aged, sexed, and measured them as well as collecting blood and tissue samples for genetic analysis and parasite and bacterial samples.  The information and samples is going to researchers across the country.  The four sharks caught at Seal Island earlier this week were all females and ranged between 3.9m and 5m in length.  They had to be brought aboard the OCearch ship’s working deck to fit the real-time tracking tags.  They were kept calm and wet and showed no signs of stress after being released back into the water.  Two of the four sharks demonstrated evidence of the hazards for sharks of sharing the oceans with humans.  One was entangled in fishing gear which the researchers were able to free her from while the other had signs of an old injury to her dorsal fin which looked like propeller damage.  

Alison Kock who was on board during the whole operation in False Bay was impressed with the skillful way in which the sharks were handled and reported that the welfare of the sharks and crew was paramount.  According to the permit conditions, the OCearch Expedition has permission to tag six more white sharks in False Bay before the end of April.

We will keep readers updated, and now I am off to see if I can track one of `our’ False Bay sharks on http://www.facebook.com/OCEARCH

KimK

The Dyer Island Conservation Trust Media Release about the OCearch Expedition’s satellite tagging of Great white Sharks in Gansbaai. ’

Smooth Sailing Success for OCEARCH in Gansbaai – First Hand Insights on the South African Collaborative Shark Study South Africa (14 April, 2012)

On Thursday the 12th of April, the vessel OCEARCH began the second leg of their white shark research expedition in the area of Gansbaai. Over the course of two days the team managed to successfully attract in and satellite tag 8 individual great white sharks in the area ranging in size from 2.5m to over 4.55m total length.  The Dyer Island Conservation Trust’s marine biologists Oliver Jewell and Alison Towner went on board the vessel. “I have to say I am thoroughly impressed with the whole operation of the OCEARCH crew,” says Jewell.

“The two days I’ve spent onboard have been two of the best of my career and the way in which the sharks were handled was world class. The sharks were efficiently brought aboard the platform and the tagging andreleasing process took an average of 12 minutes. All the sharks swam away healthily andone even circled the boat a couple of times before moving off on her way. It’s so important that this area was sampled and we’ve already learnt so much; the sharks were bigger than we thought and we now know we have sexually mature males in the area. The satellite tags from the larger sharks will transmit for up to 5 years and for the first time we will know where these sharks go when they leave our coastline, discover new foraging areas and possibly even, where they are mating and pupping.  

Furthermore we’ve collected blood, genetic, stable isotope, parasite and bacterial samples which are going to researchers across the country on what really is a nationwide study.” There had been some concern over difficulties working in an area in which eight operators are running cage diving expeditions, however good communication between those onboard OCEARCH and the commercial operators ensured things ran smoothly with sharks being sampled at Dyer Island during the morning and then the more active inshore areas in the afternoon once cage diving trips were finished. There was speculation as to how much bait and chum OCEARCH had on board and we can confirm they used only sardine and tuna, approximately 35kg a day.

Wilfred Chivell, chairman of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (www.dict.org.za) and CEO of Marine Dynamics Shark Tours (www.sharkwatchsa.com) is a passionate conservationist who has supported and sponsored shark research in Gansbaai for over a decade. “Gansbaai is a very important area for the Great White shark and I am happy that this area has been included in the project,” says Chivell. “Our biologists are each taking part in this research, in fact, it has brought all South African shark researchers together, as one united team. To generate enough funding for expensive research is not easy and this is the perfect platform to allow us to understand the great white shark better. I‘m also happy that the government have helped to accommodate such a project.”

“The data Chris Fischer and his team are making possible is unprecedented,” says Towner. “As an observer on the vessel I was able to stand back, away from the cameras,and watch the whole operation. I can only complement the team on how well they worked together and handled the sharks. They are clearly experienced and know what they are doing. Now four of the tagged sharks are already transmitting data, three of which are still within the Greater Dyer Island area.”  All tracking data collected from sharks tagged in the Gansbaai area will be collected by the Dyer Island Conservation Trust for analysis and used for their biologists PhD’s. Other data collected from the sharks will be utilised by researchers across the country, as part of a national study. Andy Stephany a shark conservationist living in Kleinbaai commented: “It’s been such a mystery since Nicole was tagged and swam to Australia and back. Why she did it and if others have done it since has been a mystery until now. Ten years on and finally we will be able to get some long waited answers to these questions. It is a very good thing to have and I will be sitting on eggshells waiting for the results to come in. There’s always something new we can find out and now we will – it’s absolutely fantastic!” Kleinbaai’s Harbour Master reports, “From our side we can say that everything went really well, the OCEARCH team were professional and no conflict occurred between them and other vessels in the area”. 

 About Dyer Island:

Dyer Island is a 20ha Nature Reserve, situated 8.5 Km from Kleinbaai harbour in Gansbaai. It is the easternmost, of the chain of seabird islands of the Western Cape. Dyer Island is managed by Cape Nature, primarily for seabirds and shore birds. Some of the birds breeding on the island include the vulnerable African Penguins and endangered Bank Cormorant and Roseate Tern. The island is recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA), which gives Dyer Island the same status as an IBA anywhere else in the world.   There are 1228 IBAs in Africa, and 101 in South Africa. Thus, from a national bird conservation perspective, Dyer Island is one of the hundred most important sites in the country. Email:  Dyer Island Conservation Trust 

What is OCEARCH?

“OCEARCH is a non-profit organization that works around the globe to champion the social, economic, and environmental benefits of sustainable fisheries management; protect and encourage sportfishing access as a key catalyst of conservation; support efforts which identify, reduce, and prevent the occurrence of marine debris; and advance ocean research and education. 

We believe in a balanced, science-based approach to rebuild, sustain, and conserve our living marine resources. Working with Heads of State, policy makers and conservation organizations in the United States and abroad on ocean-based environmental issues OCEARCH’s cooperative approach focuses on results instead of politics.

With a true global reach for unprecedented research, our team has conducted numerous expeditions to successfully capture, study, tag and release giants of the ocean including over twenty great white sharks. This research provides critical data to unlock the many mysteries surrounding this vulnerable apex species. The research supported by OCEARCH can be seen on the hit series Shark Men televised globally by the National Geographic Channel.”