Dear Shark Lovers
Please forgive my silence for the past few months but we have been away and happily offline for the last couple of months.
The good news is that I do have some great wildlife stories and experiences to share with you as our trip took in four different National Park across Namibia and Zimbabwe.
On the ocean front we have been experiencing the annual humpback whale aggregation phenomenon along our Cape Coast and a quick visit to Gansbaai.
Lastly, be sure to read to the end for information on a very special trip Chris & I are putting together to South Georgia in October 2017.
Humpback Whale Aggregation
Something special has been taking place off our Cape Town Western Seaboard for the last few years and that is a massive aggregation of migrating Humpback whales. These humpbacks have been aggregating in a small stretch of inshore coastline along the Sea Point, Hout Bay and Kommetjie areas usually only for a short 2 week or so period of time. It’s most likely that these humpbacks are migrating from their breeding grounds in the tropics and coming down our way to feed before heading further down south to Antarctica for their primary summer feeding grounds.
An excerpt is below but you can read the full blog here.
“ … As we approached closer the humpbacks were streaming down in a southerly direction and pod after pod of between three and eight whales could be seen making their way down. The whale traffic was continuous and most pods seemed to be made up of mostly male & female adults and some sub adults. We were very careful to be passive and not directly approach the whales but on a couple of occasions some pods made a detour and came for a good look at our boat. They almost seemed curious and would do many circuits before moving on.
There was a huge amount of non-vocal communication taking place and all around us we could see tail slapping, fluke slapping and spectacular breaches. A breaching humpback must be one of the most graceful of all whales as it majestically and in ballerina-like fashion soars through the air. If one turned in a full circle it was possible to see these non-verbal communications in almost every degree of the compass!
As impressive as this behaviour was we were curious to see if we could find the huge concentrations that people had previously spoken about. In the late afternoon we came across a most spectacular sight of what we estimate to be between 60 to 80 whales in very close confines and all feeding together. I cannot adequately describe this sight, all I can say is that it is right up with one of the most spectacular sights I have ever seen in nature. Everything was going on…incredible lunge feeding, spectacular breaching, huge tail slapping and all 80 whales were involved in a tight concentration!
When zooming in on Chris’s photographs it looks like minute little orange shrimps that the humpbacks were gorging themselves on. There must have been billions of them present to sustain the amount of feeding that was taking place.
Not only was everything visually spectacular but it was also a complete sensory overload. One of the highlights and most memorable experiences was closing my eyes and just listening to the ever present and constant noise of this huge mass of whales breathing and exhaling together. There were many different tones ranging from the general whale exhale and extending to a deep rumbling sound which sounded very close to elephant-like. This was particularly interesting to me as I had never heard any whales make a sound like this.
The smell was equally as memorable but not exactly in a good way, they absolutely stank! The smell must have been attributed to what they were feeding on and I can tell you it was pretty horrible…! ”
Chris had the opportunity a few days ago to spend a morning out in Gansbaai with CNN. I’ll let you know via our social media channels when this very positive piece about Great White sharks and shark cage diving in Cape Town airs, but it was also a great opportunity for Chris to check out the conditions as well as enjoy an awesome time with the sharks!
All the operators are working the inshore areas which is normal for this time of year, and they had seven different sharks during the morning. The water visibility was fairly poor but the surface viewing was excellent and included a beautiful 4 meter female as the highlight of the trip.
Although it is out of season for us at Seal Island we are still able to book you with our preferred operators in Gansbaai. So, for those of you who are looking to do something sharky during the summer holidays we can still help you out!
And now for a few African Wildlife experiences…
Our first stop was Etosha National Park in Namibia where the highlight was a very close encounter with a magnificent lioness.
For the full blog please read here. A little taster is below!
“There’s a Lion in the Window!
The final interaction I am about to write about is without doubt my closest encounter with a lion and also my most adrenalin filled experience!
The interaction took place on the morning we were driving out the park and into the Caprivi Strip. It was a long drive so we weren’t stopping for too much until we saw about five cars stopped up one of the side roads. Stopped cars always mean something worthwhile has been sighted and this time round is was a lion pride of about twelve all lying complacently next to the road. We are both complete suckers for cubs so when we saw there were six tiny three week old cubs we had to stop and spend some time with them.
The rest of the pride was made up of a male, five lionesses and one more cub that was maybe about eight weeks old.
When we arrived there were two lionesses lying in the shade of one of the cars and the other three were lying in the veld close to us. The tiny cubs were really bugging the mom’s by constantly wanting to suckle as well as play and the annoyed lionesses were getting up frequently to avoid the demanding cubs. A couple of them eventually settled in the shade of some bush creating beautiful dappled light to be cast over them. We moved closer and Chris was really enjoying using his big lens for some creative images when another lioness decided that the shade from our car was really quite tempting.
In a matter of moments she had sauntered over and plopped herself down right under Chris’s window and was now lying touching the car.
We are used to being in close proximity to large predators so although there was definitely something to think about we were pretty calm about the situation. Added to this the lioness was extremely relaxed and obviously used to cars so for the moment Chris, myself and the lioness were all just enjoying a good lion sighting. At this stage Chris decided not to make a noise, and thus possibly changing the atmosphere, by closing the windows (both the front and the back were open at this stage).
A short while later the two month old cub arrived to lie with Mom and as with most young felines he was very curious in this big white oblong thing that was sticking out the window. Chris lens had now become a focus of attention and the cubs little head would go up and down as he surveyed this strange looking object.
The lioness now also became aware of the lens and shortly after the cub drifted off she stood up. All this took place in just a few moments and my comfort level went from ok to “what the hell” as I saw a very big lioness looking directly into our open window!
I actually couldn’t look because I couldn’t bring myself to look into the eyes of a lioness and admit the reality of the situation!
Although Chris was very calm I could feel him thinking “ok….what now!”
The lioness was now curiously peering inside the hood of lens and we think she was catching her reflection in the glass as she kept drawing her head backwards and forwards as she peered in.
At some point we realised she would probably grab the camera and Chris had to do something about the situation. He couldn’t tap the side of the car as he would literally be touching her so the only reasonable choice was to gently push her backwards with the camera set up. At the same time he needed to swing the ignition (without starting the engine) so that we could get the windows up.
I was completely useless at this point and still couldn’t look, I had my face buried in my hands!
As Chris gently pushed the lioness with the lens she took a step backwards and then in a seamless movement he swung the key and got the windows up….phew…I could breathe again!
The lioness was still unperturbed and immediately came back towards the car. Finding the lens and the object of her curiosity now gone she proceeded to very gently get hold of our door handle and begin to nibble.
This was too much for us now and Chris started the car. With the noise of the engine she now casually moved away.
My goodness…this all only lasted a few minutes but it felt like forever. Both of us had our adrenalin racing and the sweat pouring down. It was a complete understatement to say it was an intense experience…it was an off the scale encounter and I certainly will never forget the feeling of being so close to a completely wild lioness.”
Our trip then took us into Zimbabwe and our first stop was Hwange National Park. Elephants were top of our wish list in Hwange so below I am sharing a special night experience.
Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, How Many Elephants Do You Think There Are?
“During the Hwange 2016 Game Count 700 to 800 elephants were counted at Musuma Dam over a 24 hour period. This is a phenomenal amount of elephants and makes Masuma Dam very special indeed.
From about 5pm every afternoon the elephants would begin to arrive in numbers for their evening drink. The interesting thing here was the solar pump would work during the day and because it was such a well-used waterhole the pump would be switched over the diesel so that it could operate at night too. Usually between 4 and 5pm the solar pump would stop pumping but the moment the diesel pump started with its tell-tale tuk-tuk-tuk the elephants would start arriving on mass, obviously recognising and linking the sound of the pump with a fresh water supply.
On our first night we began putting up our tent late when out of nowhere the wind began to blow. The dust was flying everywhere and the hair on my arms was standing up as I would brush against the tent. The atmosphere was charged as a thunderstorm began to roll in.
Even with the noise from the storm we could hear the elephant sounds emanating from the waterhole.
We got the tent up as quick as we could and made our way to the hide. It was new moon and cloudy so visibility was virtually nil. Although we could barely see the elephants the noise was incredible and we could feel the tension in the air.
Elephants were trumpeting, head shaking and ear flapping. Low, deep rumbles synonymous to elephant conversation were rumbling all around us, the atmosphere was electric with lighting crashing and the wind howling!
I’m actually quite happy we couldn’t see well because the experience of using just our sense of sound to experience this huge gathering of elephants was incredibly unique and I have to say more exciting than sight!
The little bit of sight we did get was each time the lightning struck the entire dam would be lit up and we would be given an eerie moment to witness hundreds of grey shapes spread around the waterhole as they drank their full.
Eventually we went to bed but throughout the night and right up to 04.30am we could hear the noise of the elephants. They just kept coming and coming but by 06:00 there wasn’t an elephant in sight and it was as if magically nothing had ever been there. The drama of the night was now just a distant memory.
The following night we were well and truly ready for the next show! Chris had had good success trying to photograph the elephants in the lightning storm and now that we had a clear sky and no moon the stars were about to put on a spectacular show. We just needed the elephants…
We were not to be disappointed. We estimated about 200 elephants drinking over a three hour period and being under a new moon the stars appeared as if they were hanging lanterns. It was a spellbinding sight. There was also not a breath of wind and the night was air was completely still.
The atmosphere was tranquil and serene and in stark contrast to the night before, the elephants were calm and almost silent. The dominant sounds now were of the water being slurped and drank, and then thrown being thrown over their backs to cool down.
When I was growing up my Mom taught me to count a second using the word elephant. So, saying the words “one elephant” was equal to one second. Instinctively I always count using this method and it is accurate by the way!
When Chris was trying to photograph the elephants under the night sky I was tasked with counting the number of seconds for the exposure. As I was counting I became aware of the irony of the situation as I was using my elephant counting trick. It was a lovely way to be thinking of my Mom at such a special sighting. “
Our second to last stop was Gonarezhou National Park. The true beauty of this place lies is being able to have a true In The Wild experience and Gonarezhou left a huge impression on us.
Please read the full blog here and hear more about our elephant and wild dog encounters!
“Gonarezhou has had a very difficult past fraught with poaching and political interference. If it hadn’t have been for a number of very dedicated and passionate people whose strong leadership and dedication kept the Park going over the past few decades, Gonarezhou’s current existence is sure to have been in jeopardy.
In more recent years The Save Valley Conservancy & Melilangwe Trust have proclaimed wildlife areas buffering Gonarezhou but more importantly both entities are diligently and successfully dealing with the poaching problems. Added to this Gonarezhou has also in the last few years received significant outside funding and through great leadership the Park is going from strength to strength protecting its wildlife and making significant upgrades to all aspects of the Park.
Chris & I were very excited to be spending a week here but of course I didn’t know what to expect so went with no preconceived ideas and no expectations.
My first comment about Gonarezhou is that without needing to add any superlatives, it is just simply beautiful.
The habitat is hugely diverse ranging from rocky, boulder strewn areas, mopane & acacia woodland, huge open pans, flood plains and to top it off the most spectacular red cliffs. The famous Chilojo Cliffs overlooks the Runde riverbed and each day many elephants complete the scene as they come for their daily drink.”
Next month I will share the final part of our trip, 2 weeks in Mana Pools National Park.
But before I sign off we have opened up an invitation to be part of a very special, once in a lifetime wildlife experience to South Georgia.
NOT TO BE MISSED !!!
South Georgia, photographic, and wildlife specialty expedition October 2017.
Many of you would have heard us passionately describe our time on and around the Southern Ocean island of South Georgia (SG).
Lots of you have subsequently asked that should we ever hear of a great trip down there or be putting a trip together we should let you know. Well…. we are putting a very special trip together , on an amazing boat limited to 12 guests, to all the best locations and at a cost price. Why, because we want to go back so badly.
Over the years Apex has been lucky enough to work with many of the world’s leading natural history film crews and camera operators. Ever curious, I always asked what their favourite wildlife location was. Almost without fail, those that had ventured to SG said that this location topped everything.
The smaller boat and limited number of guests really allow us so much more time ashore, in often remote locations and most importantly the skipper of the boat is one of the most experienced Southern Ocean captains, often making some very tricky landings easy. We aim to visit sites off the regular route and have a huge degree of flexibility as we were not following a stringent time schedule.
So what makes SG so special, let me put a few numbers out there for you.
SG is roughly 135km long and varies between 1 and 35km wide.
It is home to the following estimated populations;
4 000 000 + Antarctic fur seals
300 000 Southern Elephant seals,
7 000 000 penguins of 4 species ( several colonies of over 200 000 pairs!!)
Wandering, light mantled sooty, grey headed & black browed albatross breeding colonies.
And estimated, depending on whom you talk to, 40-70 MILLION seabirds who live on the island and surrounding islands.
All this wildlife occurs in spectacular settings with hanging glaciers, huge jagged mountains and boulder strewn bays adding to our palette of possible photographic back rounds. It is also an island steeped in history, from Shackleton to Larson and the age of whaling.
En route to and from SG to the Falklands, wandering, grey headed, light mantled sooty and black browed albatross soar next to the boat.
Various cetacean species are also seen en route , including Commersons , Peales, Orca and possible hour glass dolphins. Humpback, Sperm , Fin, Minke and possible Blue whale sightings.
This is not a Chris & Monique Fallows trip, nor is it an Apex Shark Expeditions trip, it is a trip for only 12 people to share an incredible adventure and amazing wildlife location together.
The dates for the expedition are September 23 to October 21 to coincide with peak elephant seal breeding as well as leopard seal predation.
This is strictly first pay first serve, if you are interested email us and we will send full details and costs. 6 Places left!
Until next month!
Best wishes, Monique