Christopher Neff visits the Shark Centre

10th June 2011

WEEK ONE: Part 1 – My Month Aboard the Save Our Seas Shark Centre!

One week ago, I entered Cape Town and came aboard the Save Our Seas Shark Centre, a building along the beautiful Kalk Bay coast. Right away, two things stood out:

1.) I was struck by the Bay – False Bay! Just amazing.
2.) Alison Kock was keeping me pointed in the right direction!

As you all know, Alison is the leading shark scientist here – but did you also know that she is consummate host! From picking me up at the airport, to taking me to the grocery store (Spar), to introducing me to the staff I could not have been in better hands! Especially since I was only half-conscious for the first day … Thank you ALISON!

view from window

view from window

By day #2, it was time to get to work.

I am here for a month to do field work on my PhD at the University of Sydney, but I am also very fortunate to have just received a Save Our Seas grant. As an SOS grantee, I feel like I’ve been welcomed into a very smart, cool and sharky family! OK – so onto the sharky work:

I have three tasks while I am here: 1.) interviews with diverse group of folks who helped put the Shark Spotter program together; 2.) research at the University of Cape Town, and 3.) getting to know sharks better. So this is about learning about people, policies and sharks!
This is clearly going to be fun!

On Thursday (day #3), I met my first great white shark.

I went on the Save Our Seas Research Boat with Adrian (Skipper/masters degree student), Timo (funny/German/crewmate) and Jake [here in his red jacket]. We went out to Seal Island, in False Bay, to view white shark predations and do research on sharks that approached the ship.



Here’s how it works when you go out on the Save Our Seas boat:

1.) You are up at 5am on the boat, out to sea, by 6:30am.
2.) Cruise around for the first hour to see where sharks are jumping (breaching) to predate on seals. And then report on those predations ( i.e. how long they go on for, what the seal was doing).
3.) Then around 8:30am, we anchor off Seal Island to spot white sharks to try and tag, gain tissue samples and record size as well as fin identifications.



I had the clip board and needed to check on the water temperature, visibility, wind direction and then watch for the predations from the top deck, and then look for markings, etc when sharks came up to the boat. BEST JOB EVER!!

So our collective job then was to wait. Seal Island is not an aquarium, it is a thriving ecosystem. And after a good deal of patience, a 3 meter great white shark popped its head up and I saw it’s nose come out of the water. It was massive and fantastic! It had a circle on its nose, a bit off-colour and it was FAST! As fast as you think a shark can move – yup, that fast. It stayed with us for a few minutes – returning and saying hi to Timo at the back of the boat. And then it was gone! It was brief, but unbelievable.

No sight for the rest of the day. It’s mystery intact, but having introduced itself to me and the team, the shark had returned to the surroundings of Seal Island. WOW!

We headed back to land. I had seen my first great white shark, marked incredibly cool things down on the clipboard, and met a great team. Sounds like a good day on Seal Island in False Bay to me.

OK – part II and the story of the rest of the week coming soon!