As we boarded Cheetah, we immediately fell into our “pre-chumming” routine. After two months together at Oceans-Research in Mossel Bay, we had become a close-knit group and by now had become very efficient at all of our boat duties. For most of us, it was our last day in Mossel Bay which also meant it was sadly our last “chum” trip. We all hoped that our last “chum” trip would be epic and all signs were looking good as the weather that day was fantastic—a light breeze from the South, partly cloud but still warm. However, we knew not to expect too much as it had been slow the past few days and even on the morning “chum” trip earlier that day. After two months at Oceans-Research in Mossel Bay, we had learned that sharks are both predictable and unpredictable.
Upon reaching Seal Island, we swiftly anchored in sector two, the area around the island most prone to predations and breaches. Then we began to “chum”—spoon after spoon of sardine oil and fish product went overboard but after an hour, “no sharks”. Someone then mentioned that it was highly unlikely that we would see sharks that day and that the sharks had probably moved across the bay towards Grootbrak. As if the sharks had heard us, they began to attack our bait rope with reckless abandon. Another case of “Murphy’s Law”—which states that when something is least likely to happen, that when is surely happens.
For the rest of the “chum trip” sharks breached, half-breached and ambushed our bait rope. In two months, none of us had seen such a display and the sharks seem more aggressive than normal. It was a great last day.
Too make things even better, on the return to port we saw not one but two natural predations. We had just pulled up the anchor and begun to head home for the last time when we saw intense splashing ten meters away. Almost simultaneously in the background, we saw another seal porpoise out of the water with fear in its eyes. Within a few minutes the action had subsided but our hearts were still racing and everyone had smiles on their faces.
It was a day that began with little promise but huge expectation and the sharks didn’t let us down. It was a day that surely everyone on board will remember for a long time to come. The double natural predation was something that most of us will probably never see again. As the sun slowly set behind us, we listened to the words “port control, port control, this is Cheetah, Cheetah, Cheetah, requesting permission to enter port” for the last time. Our day had ended but our adventure and memories will stay with us forever.
Robert Conrad – Mossel Bay Oceans Research intern