Great White Sharks and Five Species of Albatross

It's not their fault they don't have feathers! Doesn't make them any less interesting. And just like the birds, it's good to know what species are about locally at any given time.

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Rod Hobson
Posts: 509
Joined: Thu Jan 19, 2006 8:03 am

Great White Sharks and Five Species of Albatross

Post by Rod Hobson » Sun Oct 03, 2010 11:01 am

Folks,

I have recently achieved one of those milestones that we all set ourselves as keen natural historians; an Holy Grail as my herpetological buddy Steve Wilson puts it. From the 14th -17th September I spent an unforgettable couple of days looking at Great White Sharks off the North Neptune Islands in South Australia. I was one of eight patrons on the "Princess 11" operated out of Port Lincoln by Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions. The eight of us were a mixed bag with the majority being purely divers. Only a visiting German diver Marcel Steinmeier, and I were true-blue animal freaks; but a merry company nevertheless especially as the Coopers flowed!

On our first morning outbound, the "Princess 11" was accompanied by large numbers of Great-winged Petrels with an occasional Yellow-nosed Albatross putting in an appearance. There might well have been other seabirds in the mix but we were buffeting a heavy sea and sharks were the objective; no time to dally over seabirds. I felt like an heretic, as I contented myself with the petrels and a vanguard of Common Dolpins (Delphinus delphis) on our bow.

On reaching the islands we moored in their lee in shelterd waters. These islands are home to large colonies of Australian Sea Lions (Neophoca cinerea). These are what attracts Great White Sharks to these waters. Within an half hour of anchoring the crew had lured in our first Great White using tuna offal suspended under a float. What a creature, and a moment that I'll never forget. Awesome is a much abused word these days and I cringe when I hear it used so offhandedly but in some cases it's an entirely appropriate adjective. Carcharodon carcharias is awesome. A remarkable animal, and this a moment that I'll never forget.

Over the next two days we were to get great views of up to seven individual Great White Sharks including two large females over 4.5 metres in length. They are magnificent beasts especially when seen underwater and within a metre of your face mask. Fortunately there is a well constructed and strong 'shark cage' between you and the shark. I had two dives of 90 and 60 minutes each.

Beside the sharks large schools of Sea Sweep (Scorpis aequipinnis), Blue Warehou (Seriolella brama) and Southern Yellow-tailed Scad (Trachurus novaezelandiae) were ever present around the cages taking advantage of a free feed on the chum and offal used to attract the Great Whites to the boat. Aside to the sharks two other sightings are particularly imprinted in my mind. The first was of a large Yellow-tailed Kingfish (Seriola lalandi) that put in a regular appearance around the cage and defied all efforts of our deckie to land it for the table. The second was of a Striped Marlin (Makaira audax) that zipped past the cage when I was on my first dive. This last was a very good record of a species that rarely visits these cold latitudes. It was great to see these mighty fishes in their own element.

On our second day out the boat was visited by three species of Diomedea (please note that I'm being conservative with my albatross taxonomy). As I loitered on the upper deck clutching a comforting Coopers greenie I had great views of Yellow-nosed, Shy and Black-browed Albatross around the boat attracted to the chumming for the sharks. Crested Terns, Pacific Gulls and Silver Gulls were a constant throughout our stay at the islands.

Prior to heaving anchor on our last day all the remaining offal and chum was abandoned overboard, which attracted sharks, as well some more great seabirds. This included a new species for my Aussie list viz. Royal Albatross although I had seen this bird outside of Australian waters; in the Drake Passage on my way to the Antarctic in December 1987. A young pair of these birds set up station on the water behind our boat for a while totally disregarding the sharks whirling below. This same time a lone Cape Petrel also appeared and a single Northern Giant Petrel joined the albatrosses on the water. Just when I thought that it couldn't get any better a Sooty Albatross circled the boat twice before departing to who knows where? And all the time Australasian Gannets plunged around the boat; bit-players in this fantastic marine theatre.

And then we went home.

This is an unashamed plug for Rodney Fox Shark Expeditions. Their bread and butter is showing people one of the world's greatest predators in its natural environment. And they know how to do it. The atmosphere on board is casual, the crew all very friendly and skilled and the food is exceptional, especially the fresh fish straight from ocean to plate in a couple of hours. And the beer is cold. What else do you need? Welcome aboard.

Species List for Trip:

Mammals:

Australian Sea Lion
Common Dolphin

Birds (and this wasn't a birding trip):

White-bellied Sea-Eagle
Silver Gull
Crested Tern
Pied Cormorant
Pacific Gull
Yellow-nosed Albatross
Great-winged Petrel
Welcome Swallow
Australasian Gannet
Australian Raven
Little Pied Cormorant
Shy Albatross
Black-browed Albatross
Northern Giant Petrel
Cape Petrel
Royal Albatross
Sooty Albatross

Fish:

Great White Shark
Southern Eagle Ray (Myliobatis australis)
Smooth Stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata)
Striped Marlin
Yellow-tailed Kingfish
Blue Warehou (a trevalla)
Sea Sweep
Southern Yellow-tailed Scad


Regards,
Rod Hobson

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