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  • John J King II

False Bay: A Lesson in Natural History

Have been back barely a few days from South Africa and still reeling from the energy and excitement of the time in the Western Cape observing and photographing earth's most amazing predator - the White Sharks of Seal Island in False Bay. Those of you who are "Shark Week" fans are no strangers to the home of "Air Jaws", as famous in most households around the world as Keiko the orca of "Free Willy" fame. "Air Jaws" is a handle for the white sharks that in the southern ocean winter months return to the seal rookery on Seal Island to prey on 1 to 2 year old Cape fur seals in unique and spectacular fashion.

Chris and Monique Fallows of Apex Shark Expeditions have been observing and recording white shark behavior since the mid 1990s when Chris and fellow naturalist Rob Lawrence validated a South African legend which held that massive sharks actually flew through the air in False Bay. This has led to a wonderful but sometimes misunderstood global fascination with the Great White Shark especially those from False Bay. This was my fourth trip to False Bay in the past five years. All previous trips had been in the South African spring or autumn months when the activity is observable but not as intense.

My expectations were high to see and hopefully record what for most photographers is a "holy grail" event to capture. Natural predation between white sharks and their seal prey. These events are spontaneous and since white sharks hunt most often using stealth and surprise to their advantage it is also almost impossible to predict where and when such an event will happen. And events last often less than a second but rarely more than 20 or 30 seconds. They usually occur at the faintest of dawn's early light and about hour or so after sunrise the action is generally over for the day. Sound tough? It is and the weather at this time of year (dead of winter) can be chilly , wet and miserable. I was joined by some of the best of the best wildlife photographers in the world. Several of them have tracked False Bay white sharks at this time of year for the past 5 - 7 years. I was humbled by their work and their experience not to mention being with the white shark zen master himself, Chris Fallows who was expedition leader. Upon arrival we were set to spend 9 days, weather permitting, on the water in search of nature's greatest wildlife show on earth. But nothing could have prepared me for the mayhem and majesty we were to witness during our expedition..nothing. Absolutely "jaw dropping" spectacular predation events...sometimes four or five at a time which pitted shark against seal as they have no doubt struggled for eons and eons in the same way.

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