Thursday, July 27, 2006

Surfers are on shark alert!

The slightly nervous trio who joined pilot Dave Austin on Monday included Protus, a tour operator in training, Martin Delport, a local hotel owner and myself. Protus was a first-time flyer, but he put on a brave face. As we took off over Stanford, I saw him gripping the seatbelt tightly, but he soon relaxed in Dave's capable hands as we headed towards the bay.

The count began at Gansbaai harbour. We spotted eight whales between Gansbaai and De Kelders, as well as a large pod of dolphins frolicking close to shore.

Everybody shouted out the number of whales that could be seen from the air, and keeping score became a bit of a challenge. Luckily, Dave seems to be used to over-excited, slightly unruly passengers and kept a level head, banking the aircraft to make sure we were correct on every tally.

The number of whales spotted along Die Plaat skyrocketed to a whopping 32, mostly occurring in pairs or small pods of up to four adults. No newborns could be seen this week, but this might be because the water was a bit murky after the rains, and the pods close to shore were stirring up the silt with all their antics. Another five whales, mostly solitary males, were noticed between the lagoon mouth and Hermanus Old Harbour.

This brings the total this week to a new season high of 45 whales. The surprise of the day, however, was a huge shark lying like a German U-boat just offshore between the Mossel River mouth and Voëlklip beach. Martin spotted the 3 m giant and at first thought it to be another whale.
Dave shouted, “It's a Great White”, and everybody turned in horror to watch three surfers catching a wave not far from the shark. Dave immediately phoned his brother Evan to put the word out to the authorities, so that the unsuspecting surfers could be warned of the danger. According to Dave, this is the first time that he has seen a shark so close to a beach.

All too soon we were heading back to the airstrip, and as we touched down for a perfect landing, I was still in awe of the spectacle of migrating marine mammals. This experience left me with a realisation of how fortunate we are to have all this right on our doorstep.

· Last year's weekly whale watch (WWW) peaked at a whopping 140 whales spotted in one count. The Hermanus Times weekly aerial count is courtesy of African Wings and any member of the public who counts more than 150 whales for the WWW will receive that flight for free. Otherwise, a discounted rate of R300 per person is available to anyone who wishes to fly with the Hermanus Times. For more information on the WWW or about other trips offered by African Wings, phone Evan on 082 555 7605.


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