The fall shorebird southerly migration is winding down but there is still much to see if you look carefully on the barrier beaches off Chatham. We have had family & friends visiting for the past week and have had a chance to explore some of our favorite places.
Having spent nearly three weeks away from Cape Cod we were eager to get out and see how the various migration activities were progressing and just be out on the water. Our first day back was a monumental day in the annals of wild life conservation as it turns out. We captured a few images but mostly just followed the news as it was posted on various internet blogs. As those who have followed our travels recently will know we are passionate about Chatham’s evolving role as the “ground zero” for understanding the Atlantic White Shark. We have spent many days out on the water in Chatham waters in search of this mystical apex predator.
We have been aware of the work of Chris Fischer and his Ocearch team on white sharks around the world especially most recently in South Africa. We followed the groups work as it was documented on the History Channel show – Shark Wranglers. The approach is very bold and quite invasive on the sharks they tag as they actually bring the fish out of the water on a hydraulic elevator specially designed for this purpose. Their efforts are regarded as controversial by many in the shark conservation arena but researchers, including Greg Skomal are keen to see for themselves how this approach might help science learn more about these mysterious predators and thus supported an approach to allow Ocearch to work outside the three mile limit of State waters and away from our swimming beaches. The weather can be difficult here as autumn approaches and Ocearch’s process requires very calm seas to be successful. With that in mid after a number of delays their efforts to come into Cape Cod waters finally brought them to Chatham waters just in time for our return and we were able to see their operation. In the few days they have been able to work they were successful in tagging two very large female white sharks with SPOT tags. This event was monumental for shark researchers everywhere as for a period of five years these animals will be able to be followed via satellite information recorded from transmitters on these sharks no matter where they are in the world. Very fortunately the sharks appear to be functioning normally after the trauma of their capture and surgical implantations. One of the sharks, now known as Mary Lee, is pictured below – and it is a mega shark. Some researchers now believe this shark could be 50 – 60 years old and a critical breeding female to the propagation of the species! Incredible animal. If you care to follow the Ocearch progress check (See – http://sharks-ocearch.verite.com/). All of the sharks they have tagged are posted for following.
Our friend Dr. Greg Skomal and his team have been successful in finding and placing tags for research purposes on fifteen great whites in Chatham waters since 2009. We support his efforts and those of the team on the F/V Ezyduzit who have been the primary tactical team for placing tags on sharks and gathering data from the research buoys that are in place off of Chatham and the outer Cape Cod region. In 2012 Dr. Skomal’s team has tagged 14 great white sharks nearly doubling the number of animals previously tagged.
Thus on September 13, as Ocearch was working off shore outside the state territorial limits of three miles the crew of the Ezyduzit was also search for white sharks and tagged two on this day. One was estimated to be 16 – 18 feet long and was tagged inside Chatham Harbor off of Light house Beach. The other off of South Beach near Shark Cove.
Massachusetts Department of Fisheries Researchers learned from down loading data from a receiver on this buoy that tagged white sharks had entered Chatham Harbor on August 30 and September 9 and they were successful in tagging a very large shark on September 13 as mentioned.
We clearly saved the best of our South African adventure for last as we hooked up with our good friends Chris and Monique Fallows for a beautiful day on False Bay aboard the White Pointer 2. Chris and Monique are the owners of Apex Shark Expeditions and are among the world’s most experienced naturalists in observing the behavior of Great White Sharks having observed and recorded more than 6000 natural predation attempts by sharks on the Cape Fur seals. White Sharks frequent Seal Island during the South African winter months feeding on the smaller seals that were pupped earlier in the year. Generally in early September the sharks move away from the island and begin to feed elsewhere as spring approaches. That said, luck was with us on this day as flat calm conditions and spectacular activity from the entire food web were evident right from the first rays of light of the day. On this day we witnessed approximately 2000 common dolphins gorging on anchovies even as hundreds of Cape Gannets, kelp gulls and terns swooped in for their share from above. Throw in some feeding Southern Right whales a humpback and some fantatstic white shark action and you have a very special day indeed.
Check out this link to movie of the adrenaline filled encounter John had with a 12 foot white shark from the cage on the White Pointer 2.
In South Africa’s Northwest province a beautiful reserve has been organized in the relative recent past called Madikwe. The 75,000 hectare area is massive and borders Botswana. We spent several days observing the dawn of spring here. The days were warm but the evenings were cool. We especially enjoyed the night game drives as so much in the bush comes out after dark.
The end of winter in the Lowveld region of South Africa means the end of the long dry season. Temperatures are warming , small green buds can be seen trying to germinate in local shrubs and trees. The rains are right around the corner. Many animals have recently borne young and are nurturing youngsters in the bush. The very first European bird migrants are starting to return to their summer home in the South. We had some fantastic views of the regions most beautiful residents. Second in a series.
A beautiful wedding celebration of good friends beckoned us to the Western Cape of South Africa and our timing was pretty good for catching the beginnings of the wonderful change of seasons to spring in southern Africa. Cape Town is truly one of the world’s most spectacular cities and was our base for two and a half weeks of exploration. This will be the first of several postings as we saw much during our travels there.
One of the very special and unique features of this area especially in spring is its natural flora – known in the plant kingdom as Fynbos. Some may recognize a few of these plants that have now migrated into gardens all over the world.
The Cape Fynbos is a wonder of the world. It is the term given to a collection of plants (a vegetation type) that are mainly shrubs and is comprised of species belonging to South Africa’s southwestern and southern Cape. Fynbos makes up four-fifths of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which covers an area of less than 90 000 square kilometres (the size of Malawi or Portugal) and hosts 8 600 plant species. To put this in perspective, the British Isles, three and a half times larger, have only 1 500 plants and less than 20 of those are endemic. Table Mountain alone has almost 1 500 species in 57 square kilometers.
So special is the Cape Floral Kingdom that it has been designated as one of the earth’s six plant kingdoms, alongside for instance, the Boreal Forest Kingdom. It is the smallest Floral Kingdom in the world and in quite a league of its own. The Cape Floral Kingdom contains 526 of the world’s 740 erica species, 96 out of the world’s 160 gladiolus species and 69 proteas out of 112 on earth.