The African continent is full of terrestrial and underwater wildlife. From southern Mozambique to the extreme south of Africa, the richness of the waters, currents, underwater biodiversity and migrations have allowed a particular fauna to settle. Indeed, it is one of the rare places on earth where it is possible to meet and dive with as many species of sharks, about a hundred, from the largest, the whale shark of 12 m, to the smallest, the 20 cm cat shark: such a trip to this wild country definitely changes all your prospects!
This is the story of a fifteen-day expedition specifically dedicated to the discovery of Selachians in this region. We will travel on the southern coast of Mozambique in search of the formidable bulldog shark, then the coast of Natal where lives the mystical tiger shark, finally the southern tip of the African continent for an unusual encounter with the enigmatic great white shark, supervised by a figure of no less charismatic diving, Brian, our guide, owner of the company South Africa Discovery.
Diving, but not only!
For budding “globe-palmers”, this destination remains emblematic because of the quality of the underwater encounters. But this distant journey is also the unique opportunity to discover the extraordinary terrestrial fauna that these countries offer you. For over thirty years Brian has also been an African wildlife specialist. Three times during the stay, he will guide us in reserves allowing the observation of large African animals ...
This is our first night on South African soil and we are already in the bush. At nightfall, going to bed, not without crossing lush vegetation, it is not uncommon to cross impalas and warthogs at the foot of our door! Welcome to Africa! The next day at sunrise, we finally take the full extent of the scenery, with a lot of surprises ... Nile crocodiles of more than 3 m live around our bungalow!
On the same day, we set off for the immense reserve in northern Natal of more than 19 hectares! The entrance reminds us of Jurassic Parc! Brian takes us in his rickety 000X4 through embankments and ditches to flush out these animals he knows so well. It is possible to meet the “big five”, namely elephants, lions, leopards, buffaloes and rhinos, as well as zebras, antelopes and hippos.
Later in the stay, we will visit St Lucia Lake which is home to the world's largest concentration of tree species and bird species. The attraction of the place is especially the stroll on the lake in search of some 1500 hippos and 500 crocodiles that inhabit it.
Ponta Do Ouro, a paradise under the sea
After crossing the border of Kosi Bay on a paved road, the arrival in Mozambique is staggering! Not a road, nor even a path or a path, but rather tracks just traced through the bush by the few vehicles that preceded us! The transition is radical! We are only 15 km from our destination. It will take us more than 30 min to achieve this.
The first impression when you arrive in Ponta is the tranquility in which the population lives. The conditions are precarious, but unlike the South African urban areas which recall England under the sun, there, the scenery is total! The locals are very welcoming and indulge in the most popular local practice, partying and drinking the famous R&R at the Fernando pub! The main activities of this tiny seaside resort are diving, marine mammal watching, sport fishing and surfing.
This small town grew out of the Mozambique Channel between the mainland and southern Madagascar, an area conducive to the proliferation of underwater species. This high place of diving will delight lovers of big and small. We will dive into the modest but very professional Back to Basics Adventures club, run by Ruppert and Jenny. The dives are carried out in pneumatic exits and the passage of the wave just like the "beachage" on the return, can sometimes be hectic. The most distant site is Pinnacles, 30 mins and 40 m deep or even more, known for its bulldog shark community and pelagic fauna. The other reefs are between 5 and 20 minutes from the beach and you can meet all types of benthic and pelagic species, on a depth of 20 m. The water temperature, variable, oscillates between 20 ° C and 28 ° C. The dives take place early in the morning, at 6:00 a.m. for the first on Pinnacles, followed by a return to the club around 9:00 a.m. for a new start at 11:00 a.m. We will dive there for 4 days. To see: humpback whales, dolphins, whale sharks, tiger sharks, bulldog sharks, hammerhead sharks, fringed sharks, dusky sharks, silver fin sharks, schools of mobulas, eagle rays, manta rays, sailfish marlins ... and so on. !
Brian and his protégés
Brian is an atypical character. After traveling as an engineer and heavy equipment salesman for 30 years on the African continent, in the islands of the Indian Ocean, in Southeast Asia and in Madagascar, this sniper, policeman, champion of Combat shooting and wildlife specialist, started shark diving on the Natal coast with his friends over 15 years ago. He specializes in one species in particular, the bulldog shark, which he seems to have "tamed" since he dived on Pinnacles, almost 10 years ago. Not only a professional diver, Brian is also passionate about everything related to Africa. He is a licensed guide by the Kwazulu-Natal Department of Tourism in diving, nature, Zulu culture and military history of this region.
Aliwal Shoals, the skirmish of sharks
After our four days in Mozambique, we go down to South Africa and go through St Lucia before joining the small town of Umkomaas at 45 km from Durban.
It is a few miles opposite, we will dive on the famous reef of Aliwal Shoals. This area is particularly famous for the large community of tiger sharks, lined sharks and bull sharks that cross a large part of the season.
Unlike Pinnacles Reef in Ponta, Aliwal Shoals is spread over a very large area. In order to attract a maximum of sharks as close as possible to the divers, the diving structures practice "baiting" or "baiting" to bring in the shy tiger sharks - see articles on the tiger sharks, in The Mag N ° 63. We are supervised by Brian and his friend Lloyd, a professional videographer who has been diving for more than 20 years with tiger sharks. Early in the morning, we pass the wave on the tire as in Mozambique and go on the reef to perform our first diving. Later in the stream, a washing machine drum filled with 20 kg of sardines, liver oil and blood was drifting to attract sharks. During this first dive, we go in search of bull sharks that can be observed only part of the year, in large caves on the reef where they come to breed. The second dive is drifting and is explained to us by Brian. Water fluctuates between 23 ° C and 26 ° C.
Here same program that in Mozambique, the zodiac leaves early in the morning with enough blocks on board for two dives. We will stay there for two days. The high season for bull sharks is from June to November, the tiger sharks from December to June and the sharks are visible all year round.
Magical False Bay
The day after our last dives on Aliwal Shoals, we take the plane to Cape Town. False Bay is a bay framed by the Cape Peninsula to the west and Cape Hangklip to the east. It is therefore located at the southern end of the “Plaine du Cap”. About 40 km from Cap Town is Simon's Town, the last town on the peninsula before Cap Point.
It is also a naval base. We take our quarters on the heights of the hill overlooking the port. The city has many Victorian houses and colonial monuments such as the Admiralty House (1814) and the Wesleyan Chapel (1828), the Dutch East India Company Hospital (1764) as well as museums including the Naval Museum from South Africa.
Simon's Town is also a small commercial and holiday port as well as a seaside and tourist resort. Boulders Beach has been home to a wild colony of Cape penguins since 1985. Opposite, 30 minutes by boat in the middle of the bay, is Seal Island which brings together a community of over 45000 Cape Fur Seals. The Table Mountain reserve with Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope is located 25 km south of Simon's Town.
But the main attraction of this ancient colonial city is sharks diving. We dive at Shark Explorers, a family diving club that offers unique outings to uncover sharks. If we take a closer look, the business shark in this area is above all a family story. Thus Sharkman Aka, Mike Rutznen and his family share False Bay and Gansbaai a nursery of white sharks. We are wonderfully welcomed at Shark Explorers by Mike's sister, Ria, and her nephew Morne, owner of the club and professional videographer for the BBC.
The weather, capricious in this region, can change 10 times a day! No outing is programmable in advance and is therefore decided on the morning of departure, or the night before, thanks to the weather forecast. Equip yourself with a good wetsuit because temperatures vary between 11 ° C and 21 ° C!
Inshore dive or predators versus prey
Usually, the diving packages include two dives in the morning. Back on the platform to 11h30, noon, which allows you to enjoy your afternoon. For these dives, departure to 7h00 or 9h00 morning depending on weather conditions. We arrive in combi on the dock where we are received on a semi-rigid 10 m, our equipment already on board and the second bottle for the second dive. We leave the port at the first light of the morning. The atmosphere reminds us of the sunny Brittany coast, with the decor of an old Scottish port coming out of the mist. We hear almost bell sounds! Both sites are within minus 20 of Simon's town, along the coast that leads us to Cape Point. We start either with Cape fur seals or with Kelp Forest.
For sea lions, it's impossible to dive into the Seal Island's Great White Pool, but there is a small island on which lives a community of about 100 sea lions. The dive is between 5 and 10 m, where they come to play and cool off. Important safety note: do not try to touch sea lions that still have a series of impressive fangs! In addition, swings, they spin in all directions, in front of, behind, between your legs, above, below the divers in a flexible waltz at a very fast tempo. Almost impossible to know where to turn, except when one of them takes interest in you and allows you to share a moment of intimacy ... Happiness! The coral bottom is also extremely rich! You will admire nudibranchs of all species and all colors, shells, crabs, sponges fluos, starfish and the shark Pajama (Poroderma africanum). No limited dive time. If you are too cold, do not forget to go back because a second dive is waiting 30 min later. Sea lions are visible all year round.
The Kelp Forest extends over a relatively large area. The dive we will do will be over a rather short distance, because as with sea lions, there is no real need to move, the subjects come directly to us. Very rich, you can come across the pajama shark, the dark fruit bat (Haploblepharus pictus) and the virli dentu (Triakis magalopterus), close cousin of the leopard shark (Triakis semifasciata). The light piercing the large branches of underwater trees which are in fact algae, gives the impression that time is slowing down or even pausing! You are rocked by the gentle swell, on the lookout for an unexpected encounter! Suddenly, a silhouette emerges at the limit of your visual field. She approaches slowly, body arched, head and axis of approach tilted from top to bottom. The size is uncovered, a good 3 m looks at you with his broad smile, brushes your suit and disappears into the Kelp Forest as quickly as he arrived. You've just jumped back 150 million years, diving with a dinosaur, the 7-slit gill shark (Notorynchus cepedianus). This forest is home to more than 70 specimens of all sizes. When you focus on the one - or those - who are - in front of you, you don't see the one slipping under your arm! This shark is absolutely not shy and approaches divers without any kind of embarrassment! An anthology meeting in slow motion for 60 minutes of pure happiness! The high season is from September to May.
Offshore dive or pelagic adventure
Early departure. Same organization as in-shore diving. A single programmed immersion. We take the semi-rigid for an outing more than 80 km off the Cape of Good Hope. It takes 2 hours of travel depending on the waves - and only if the weather is good - to find ourselves above a canyon at a depth of 500 m, in full blue, surrounded by ocean plains at a depth of 3000 m. . The water is warmer because we benefit from the Aiguilles current, around 21 ° C, which descends from the Mozambique Channel.
This area is suitable for epipelagic species. We submerge a container loaded with oil and tuna carcasses in the current. A few minutes later, yellowfin tuna weighing 100 kg appear, followed by blue sharks (Prionace glauca) by the dozen. With any luck, one or two mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) begin to prowl timidly around the canister before getting closer. If the current is low, before diving, a PMT trip is possible! No time limit for this extraordinary pelagic experience. The best period is from October to June.
Seal Island or meeting with the White Lord
In the early morning, we find the departure dock for an outing on a catamaran of ten meters. The diving, or rather the immersion, will take place on Seal Island, 45 minutes away, in the middle of False Bay. In addition to the noise of the 45000 Cape fur seals, downwind, we are struck by a nauseating smell of droppings, which fortunately disappears once we pass on the eastern side of the island. It is here, in his pantry that we can meet the star of the oceans, his majesty the great white shark (Carcharodons carcharias). It swims in these murky, dark waters in search of food, attracted by the smell emanating from the sea lions. The technique consists of putting the boat downwind into the current and creating an olfactory corridor using oil, blood and bait, so that the shark confuses the smell of the boat with that of the Isle. From the surface, it is not uncommon, even before starting the activity, to come across one or two that evolve under the surface of the water, a sea lion between the jaws. It's a hunting area! It is therefore impossible, adding to that a visibility of 3 to 6 meters to immerse yourself without protection. This is why a cage is made available to accommodate 3 people and allow them to enjoy the spectacle of this huge shark in complete safety. No diving level required. This activity is for everyone. Once the workshop is set up and the shark's attention is sufficient, we plunge our heads below the surface of the water, either from the surface or in bottles. The attraction will be to get the shark as close as possible to the cage to see it pass by you quietly.
A unique, unusual and magical meeting that is well worth all TV reports on the subject! Two outings are planned during the day. In False bay, they are observable from February to September and in Gansbaai all year long.
As you will have understood, Southern Africa is a region of the world where it is possible to live a real animal report in just one or two weeks. Between land and sea, the wildest animals on the planet are at your fingertips for unique moments to live and engraved forever in your memory.
- 09/03/15 to 19/03/15 Mozambique and the Natal coast
- 20/03/14 to 30/03/15 False bay
For more info on upcoming expeditions, do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or for more details on www.sharkeducation.com .
Steven Surina is a diving instructor in the Red Sea. In this capacity, for a decade, he has accompanied cruises along the Egyptian, Sudanese and Eritrean coasts. He worked in partnership with the Italian publishing house “Magenes Editoriale” on the project of a collection of dive sites all over the Egyptian Red Sea as an author and illustrator. He wrote a dissertation on the behavior of oceanic sharks in 2008 and distributed interactive booklets on the protection and preservation of sharks to Egyptian schools.
He participates with Dr Erich Ritter in a series of seminars. At the end of these months of work and joint experience with the Shark School Eric Ritter, he launched his own conferences in 2009. This is how he created, in 2010, Shark Education which offers shark diving trips whose objective is to help them get to know and understand them better.