Things You Didn’t Know About South Africa

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Here are a couple of things that you most likely don’t know about the country of South Africa. I know these things were all new for me when I learned them.

  1. South Africa was the first country to make it completely illegal to fish/kill any great white shark.
  2. There is actually not enough electricity to power the entire country of South Africa, so there are times where certain places have no power for a couple hours, called load shedding, so that the power can be diverted to other regions in the country.
  3. They drive on the left side of the road.
  4. Their light switches look like this. (So that you can know sooner than I did, if you see the line, the lights are on in most cases.)IMAG0417
  5. They seem to not have real orange juice like Americans know it. Most of their juices are a mixture of multiple juices such as apple, pear, grape, pawpaw,and grapefruit. I did find that their McDonald’s had orange juice that tasted like 100% orange juice. (Whether or not it actually was, I’m not entirely sure.)IMAG0416 IMAG0602
  6. Johannesburg, South Africa is the crime capital of the planet.
  7. A lot of vehicles in South Africa are manual rather than automatic.
  8. They have random traffic stops where they will sit along the side of the road and randomly pick cars to pull over. They check that they are licensed and registered because there is a decent number of people who drive without the proper training and licenses, which is one of the leading causes of accidents in South Africa.
  9. They have 11 official languages including English, Afrikaan, Zulu, Xhosa, etc. A majority of the languages are native languages from certain regions.
  10. There are a lot of hitchhikers along the road holding out money in order to persuade people to give them a ride, but I have yet to see anyone stop.
  11. They have a good bit of poisonous spiders and snakes. Luckily I was there in their winter when the snakes are less common, but we were warned that if some of the workers started to run while in the yard, there was probably a snake and that we should run too. (I checked this website before I left for the trip http://goafrica.about.com/od/africanwildlife/tp/Africas-Scariest-Spiders.htm)

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    This is what they called a rain spider. It’s not poisonous and supposedly cannot bite straight down, but instead lifts itself to bite vertically. We weren’t sure if we trusted this information, but I’d rather not get close enough to find out.

  12. The Big 5 includes the African elephant, black rhino, cape buffalo, African lion, and African leopard.
  13. Each animal in the Big 5 is featured on the South African Rand bills.

  14. The Small 5 is less known than the Big 5, but includes the elephant shrew, red-billed buffalo weaver, ant lion, leopard tortoise, and the rhino beetle.
  15. On our way to Cape Town, we passed baboons sitting along the highways, and there were many warning signs about them being dangerous when we visited Cape Point. I, not being a huge fan of primates already, was not comforted by seeing all these signs and seeing the baboons just sitting so close to the road. On our way into Cape Point, we passed some baboons in the road and made sure all of our windows were rolled up as was suggested by the signs. After we passed the baboons, we passed a couple bicyclists on their way out (needing to pass the baboons). I’m still curious as to how they handled the situation. IMAG0431
  16. South Africa has the tallest bungy bridge in the world, Bloukrans Bridge, which measures 216 meters (709 ft) tall. They have a 100% success rate and have even had a 96 year old man jump. I jumped as well! (More on this experience in a later blog post.)IMAG0804

I hope that all of this information was helpful for anyone that wants to visit or is just curious about South Africa.

Horseback Safari

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My horse, Stein

My horse, Stein

A couple weeks ago, I went on a two hour horseback safari at the Botlierskop Private Game Reserve. It honestly made me realize how long it’s been since I rode. We got to ride through the reserve, and get close to the animals we saw. Unfortunately,we did not see very many animals because of the trails we needed to take the horses on, but the animals that we did see (like waterbuck and lots of birds), we were able to get so close to. I had been a little curious as to if we would be able to see lions on the horseback safari because… well… horses and lions don’t seem like a good combo. Luckily, but unfortunately, the lions are in a separate enclosure, so we were not able to see them. This weekend I am going to try and go on a game drive at the same reserve, so I should be able to see a lot more animals.

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Gorgeous view

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Such a beautiful ride.

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Getting pretty close to the wildlife

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It was a gorgeous reserve.

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Towing

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Seal Island

Most anyone who has seen Shark Week has most likely seen towing. Towing is where a seal decoy is dragged behind the boat in an attempt to study how sharks attack their prey. At Oceans Campus, most of the time we are unable to photograph anything while we are towing because we are researching something for an outside source; however, on this occasion, we were using our regular control decoys because a photographer from National Geographic was with us. He wanted to get pictures of a white shark breach (when they propel themselves out of the water).

White sharks’ main source of food this time of year is seals because the seal pups are about a year old and venturing out from the island more. There is actually a “nursery” of sorts at Seal Island where the seal pups play in the water, but are protected from open water by rocks. The decoy is a thick piece of foam cut in the outline of an average size seal. When we tow, we let out the decoy so that it is about 15 meters behind the boat. Then we drive slowly back and forth in front of seal island. Each pass to the other side and back counts as a single pass.

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Seal Decoys

Unfortunately, on this particular time, we did not see any breaches, but we did have a shark go for the decoy almost immediately after we placed it in the water. We had not even gotten it very far from the boat yet. The attempt was a little half-hearted by the shark, but it was still amazing to see.

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The decoy trailing behind the boat.

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Beginning to reel the decoy back in at the end of the day.

Bait Roping

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This week I was psyched to be able to finally man the bait rope on a chumming trip. The bait roper mans the bait rope so that the sharks come close enough to the boat for the photographer and go pro operator to get the footage they need, while still keeping the sharks from eating the bait or being harmed. Although the bait does occasionally get taken, we try our hardest to keep it from happening. Unfortunately, my reflexes were not fast enough for when a 4.5 meter white shark rushed the bait from the deep in an ambush attack. He ended up biting clean through the rope as opposed to just ripping the bait off like in most unfortunate cases when the shark gets the better of us. The shark was so amazing and majestic that I honestly was just standing awestruck as it stole my tuna head from me.

Below are some pictures taken while I was bait roping. I was pretty proud at the fact that I could get the sharks to come close enough for the photos and that I could get them to come up and bring their dorsal fins out of the water. This is important for the photographer because they need photos of the fin above water because the details can be distorted underwater.

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One of the sharks coming for the bait right before I pull it out of the way.

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The shark trying to sneak in under the glare so that I don’t see it coming for the bait.

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Turning away after I pulled the bait from him.

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Turning quickly after missing the bait.

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Such a gorgeous animal.

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Perfect dorsal fin shot.

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Starting to dive back down after attempting to take the tuna head.

 The things that we look for in order to identify the sharks is black pigment, which looks like black freckles, on their dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fins, white pigment, which are more specifically placed and sometimes called “rosies”, and deformities on the fins, such as with Nubs, who has lost most of his dorsal fin. We also look at their length and if they have any type of tags.

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Nubs, who has lost a majority of his dorsal fin. He’s one of my favorite sharks because he is so curious. He routinely ignores the bait to instead explore other things such as shark cages.

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A “rosie” of white pigment on the dorsal fin. This particular shark is nicknamed Rosie at Oceans Campus and Sweetheart at White Shark Africa. The rosie on her dorsal looks like a heart.

In addition to the above information, we also record the number of baits consumed (with which shark and time, if possible), and how many boat contacts there are. A boat contact is when the shark bumps into a part of the boat due to us. This would not include if a shark just came up out of no where, with no bait in the water, and ran into the side of the boat. We recognize that accidents happen, and that our research occasionally will end up with a shark bumping the boat. That is why we do not hide how many boat contacts we have or when they happen. We record the time of contact, what shark, where on the shark’s body it contacted the boat, and where on the boat. I would like to reiterate that boat contacts are not a common occurrence and that the sharks are not at all harmed by them.

Overall, bait roping is truly a skill that is important to the sharks’ and researchers’ safety. Bait roping should not be taken lightly as a responsibility; however, it is one of the most surreal and awesome feelings in the world. To have a 4.5 meter white shark propel itself toward you and your bait, knowing that you need to keep the shark and the crew safe, is one of the most amazing feelings ever.

I Love the Smell of Chum in the Morning…

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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

https://imgoingtoneedabiggerboat.wordpress.com/2015/06/03/chumming-101/

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The chum being thrown over the water with the ladle.

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The chum.

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.

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Justin, our skipper, doing an awesome job bait roping.

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One of the larger sharks gliding by my side of the boat.

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Another graceful shark swimming by.

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And another. They tend to circle the boat, going between the chum side and the bait side.

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The shark showing off its dorsal fin perfectly for the photographer.

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Nubs, one of my favorite sharks, getting a little close while I was scooping seawater for the chum.

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).

White Shark Cage Diving

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A White Shark showing off for the cameras

A White Shark showing off for the cameras

Sunday morning I was psyched to go white shark cage diving with White Shark Africa. I especially was happy to be going with WSA because they truly care about the animals and want to raise awareness for their beauty and majesty instead of people being afraid of them.

 Unfortunately, the visibility was not very good, so while in the cage, you could only see about 1.5 meters in front of the cage. I was in the second group of divers in the cage, so during the first round, I got to see the sharks from the boat deck. Because of the visibility, the view from the deck was actually better than that in the cage sometimes.

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A white shark going after the bait in front of the cage.

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DCIM100GOPROG1050558.From in the cage, I was able to see the gracefulness of the sharks gliding by. The cage was designed with two sets of bars, as our guide described: one for the sharks and one for the divers. The inside bars were for the divers to hold onto without having their hands and/or feet exposed to the outside.

One of the common misconceptions, especially if you look at cage diving videos online, is that anytime a sharks runs into or mouths the bars of the cage, they are trying to eat the divers inside. This is very false. Especially in low visibility, the sharks may misjudge the distance to the cage or be focused on the bait rather than where the cage is. This could result in the sharks bumping into the cage, but that does not mean they are after those inside. Also, when sharks put their jaws on the bars, most people panic and picture scenes from Jaws; however, when a shark does that, they are not trying to get inside the cage, they are simply investigating the cage to see what it is and what it is made of. They don’t have hands like us to feel things, so they have to use their mouths, which is commonly called mouthing.While chumming, sharks will do the same with other items in the water such as the engines. If you just tap the top of the engine, they let go easily. Sharks are incredibly curious creatures.

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A white shark swimming effortlessly in front of the cage.

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The shark got pretty close, but was too fast for my GoPro.

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Gorgeous white shark smiling for the camera.

There is also a pecking order with sharks when there is food where they allow the largest sharks to feed first, rather than having a feeding frenzy. It was amazing to watch two sharks go for the same bait and seeing the smaller of the two sharks dive down to allow the larger to eat first. Our guide explained to us that the smaller sharks usually see the cage as a larger shark. They do not look at the cage and see individual people in a cage, they see a single creature in the water that could be larger than they are. Because of this, the smaller sharks would sometimes come up to the bait and cage and hold off on pursuing the bait because they think that the cage has the right to the bait first. It was amazing to see and realize how complex and polite these animals are.

 This was definitely a wonderful experience, and I am so ecstatic that I was able to cage dive with these amazing animals. I am actually hoping to do another cage dive later in the month, if there is better visibility. Fingers crossed!

Celebrate World Oceans Day!

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Mossel Bay, South Africa

Mossel Bay, South Africa

Tomorrow, June 8th is World Oceans Day (officially recognized by the United Nations), where people are encouraged to celebrate and take action to protect the oceans. Many people organize events or just spread the word further.

World Oceans Day is every June 8th, but the theme this year is “Healthy Oceans, Healthy Planet” with a special emphasis on reducing plastic pollution in our oceans. Here’s the official website for it where you can find ways to help the ocean and see what others are doing to help too! Some aquariums even have discounts or special opportunities, so check it out!

http://www.worldoceansday.org/

They also list different ways that you can put together last minute events to help make a positive difference on World Oceans Day. It isn’t too late! My favorite is the “Wear Blue, Tell Two” idea. They encourage you to wear a blue shirt or something else oceans related and ask people if they know why you’re wearing it. This gives you the opportunity to tell them about World Oceans Day, tell them two facts about the ocean, two ways they can help save the ocean, and then ask them to spread the word. Here is the link to the last-minute event ideas.

http://www.worldoceansday.org/its-not-too-late-easy-last-minute-celebration-ideas/

Help to save the oceans by doing whatever you can. A single person can make a huge difference, if they try. Do small things like tell your friends, spread the word, use a reusable bag, or even post your favorite picture of the ocean on social media and explain World Oceans Day. If you’re being more ambitious, you can plan an event like a clean-up or environmental film screening.

Mossel Bay, South Africa

Mossel Bay, South Africa

I hope that you can help to spread the word and make a difference. Feel free to share this, if you would like.

Happy World Oceans Day, everyone!

Mossel Bay, South Africa

Mossel Bay, South Africa