Early on Tuesday morning I sped off in car boldly displaying new signage: www.rethinktheshark.com and heavily loaded with dive gear and underwater camera gear – it was to be a big day for Elle, the raggedtooth shark, she was only 1 day away from freedom. Matthew was left holding the fort with builders, plumbers, plasterers and painters hard at work at The Save Our Seas Shark Centre in Kalk Bay, Cape Town. I met my crew at 7 am at the Two Oceans Aquarium to film the removal of Elle from her holding pool on the aquarium roof, down to the transit tank for her penultimate journey home.
Elle was a really great girl and complied with all that was asked of her, it was almost as if she knew what was happening and where she was going. Everything went extremely smoothly and she weighed in at 165.4kg. Soon enough, she was settled in her transit tank and after everything was ready and triple checked, the convoy chugged out of the V & A in the mid-morning traffic.
As we headed out onto the N2 highway, wellwishers waved the convoy on and soon we were slowly climbing Sir Lowry’s Pass. Many stops were made along the way to check on our brave girl, and we arrived at the slipway at Struisbaai near Cape Agulhas in the late afternoon, having driven through heavy rain and high winds. The Two Oceans Aquarium staff sprung into action and Elle’s water was quickly replaced with comfortable, warm Indian Ocean.
Arriving 4 hours later at our destination, Struisbaai, a small fishing village, and under the watchful eye of her keepers, Elle was settled down for the night while the team of scientists began to carefully prepare her satellite tags and monitoring equipment.
Dr. Malcolm Smale of Bayworld in Port Elizabeth and an AOCA board member, Mike Meyer of Marine Coastal Management (MCM), and Mike Farquhar Curator of the Two Oceans Aquarium, and myself enthusiastically recalled anecdotes of previous releases with the rest of the team while having a barbacue until regretfully late into the night(our call time was 5.30am the next day!)
My team for the filming of Elle’s release consisted of Charles Maxwell (underwater videographer), Phil Parr (videographer), Mike Nortje (Owner of Pisces Divers and our competent skipper), Jan de Bruyn (boom swinger), Gemma Pellett (production assistant), Mark and Sophia Stander (stills photography), and Verona Smith (She who can organise anything, conjure up delicious hot meals, accomodation and 24/7 snacks).
Bleary eyed but very excitied we awoke on Wednesday morning to terrible weather – our hearts sank when the decision was made to postpone Elle’s release till Thursday. Our adrenalin subsided and we all settled down after a leisurely breakfast.
Suddenly the call came through, despite conditions the release was on again! Everyone jumped into action and in record time all boats were ready, divers kitted and equipment loaded. Elle’s tags were attached and inserted and she was lowered into her boat tank on Aquarium 1.
Fighting the swell we tore through high seas and strong winds and 1.5 hours later, we safely made it to the (relative!) calm of the water east of Saxon Reef.
Elle at this point seemed very wide awake and was apparently quite insistent on going home!
Divers, cameras and I quickly jumped into the water in anticipation for the magic moment, Elle’s first moments back in the ocean. But all too quickly Elle disappeared into the terrible visibility without giving any of my film crew a chance to capture a single frame or shot! But Elle was finally home, she was happy and we hope to hear from her in four months when her satellite tag pops up to the surface revealing her secret journey.
It was naturally disappointing for me not to have spent at least a little time with Elle before she disappeared as I’ve done with the other 3 released sharks. We are, however, secure in the knowledge that Elle is healthy and is home at last contributing toward science.
Without the participation of our team – Verona Smith, Phil Parr, Jan de Bruyn and Gemma Pellett, the wonderful sponsorships from Mike Nortje of Pisces Divers, Jannie Wessels of Brightweights, Ken Taytasac and Big Five Graphics, The Save Our Seas Foundation, AOCA, Charles Maxwell of Underwater Video Services, the Two Oceans Aquarium team, Dr. Malcolm Smale of Bayworld, Mike Meyer of MCM, and all those wonderful people who so generously gave their time and talents, plus last but not least to the Save Our Seas Foundation who have generously sponsored the SOSF M-Sea Programme for the last 5 years, Elle might never have been returned to her beloved open ocean. She joins Maxine, Val, and Dee who were released in 2005, 2005, 2006 respectively as part of the M-Sea Programme, an AOCA initiative – go to www.aoca.org.za to find out more.
Watch this space!