When it was finally my first day of chumming, I couldn’t be more excited. We headed out in the morning and headed to Seal Island, where there are sure to be sharks since it was all of our first time chumming. Oceans Campus goes on chumming trips in order to record the shark population in Mossel Bay.
There are many jobs associated with chumming, including the chummer, the bait line handler, go pro operator, photographer, spotter, and data recorder. I was the chummer for my first trips, which entails mixing and spreading the chum for the entire time we are there. If you’re unsure about what exactly chumming is, or would like more details about it, feel free to read my blog post: Chumming 101
The bait rope handler maneuvers the rope with the bait (usually a tuna head), and keeps the sharks from eating the bait while still getting it close enough to collect the data needed. The go pro operator videos the sharks by placing a go pro attached to a pole over the side of the boat when a shark is within range. The photographer stands right beside the bait rope and takes pictures of the dorsal fins above the water for later identification. The spotter stays in the crow’s nest and keeps the crew (especially the bait rope) aware of where the sharks are and which sharks are which. The data recorder records all the data such as the number of sharks, environmentals (water visibility, water/air temperature, swell height, etc.), any deformities on any of the fins, the size of the shark, gender, presence/absence of pigments, etc.
We were chumming at Mossel Bay’s Seal Island, where we were able to see 14 different white sharks over the span of around 2 hours. It was by far, one of the coolest experiences of my life. To see those majestic animals gliding effortless through the water, it made me wonder how anyone could ever not see their beauty.
However, on a separate chum trip in a different location, but still in Mossel Bay, we chummed for over 2 hours and did not see a single white shark. This proves that people who claim that white sharks seek out boats to attack people or that they will track down a single drop of blood for miles are wrong. We were avidly trying to attract sharks and could not.
Just a fun side note: chum and bait obviously do not smell the best, so we had “chum pants” since we were wiping our chummy hands on our pants repeatedly. We plan to just throw away the pants at the end of the internship. Also, since the smell gets so set in on your clothes and hands, I found that toothpaste, peeling an orange, and multiple washes almost completely get rid of the smell (and I mean doing everything listed, not just one or the other).