False Bay – Kruger Park of the ocean

2013-07-19 13:25

Man rides whale shark

2013-06-26 08:10

A man is seen jumping onto the back of a whale shark he spotted in the middle of ocean. He can be heard describing the moment as an "once in a lifetime experience". Would you take this kind of risk while on a boat trip? WATCH

World-renowned, Great White Shark expert Chris Fallows has an undeniable passion for marine wildlife – and after attending his latest talk one thing is clear – the oceanic reserve just off our False Bay coastline is able to rival the experiences of Kruger, Serengeti or any other remarkable terrestrial environment.

While Seal Island has become world famous for its breaching Great White Sharks, sadly the global numbers now stand at 3 500, Fallows outlined the arrival of another Apex predator and how it has come to grace our waters on a regular basis in a recent talk at One&Only Cape Town.

Orca, King of the Sea

As an Ocean wildlife expert, Fallows takes regular expeditions across the world. 

After facilitating cage dives, photographic safaris or boat-based sightings of sharks, whales, seals and birdlife for more than 16 years in False Bay, he certainly knows it like the back of his hand – a rather steady hand that has captured remarkable imagery of great white sharks in particular.


“Seal Island is famous, especially from a natural history point of view and for experiencing natural predation unlike anywhere else in the world. The only other place second to it would be the Farallon islands off San Francisco.”

But it is only when Fallows states the numbers that you realise just what a special marine spectacle exists a few of kilometres away from the bustle of central Cape Town.

“At Farallon Island you can spot about 40 predatory events in the course of a year. At Seal Island you can see as many as 47 in a day.”

Fallows and his team have sighted about 120 in the last week alone.

When an Orca comes to dinner

It was during a cage dive expedition back in 2009 that he and his team noticed the rather unlikely visitor.

He describes the landmark day saying, “We had a guest in the cage when we saw a dorsal fin unlike any we had ever seen in the bay. We realised it was an Orca.

“At this point we told our guest in no uncertain terms that he could either stay in the cage and we would anchor him off, or  he could quickly get into the boat.  He obviously decided to go with us over being set adrift in a cage surrounded by Great Whites.”

So just how did the mighty Orca become a regular visitor to our waters you might be wondering?

Echo location, highly developed social skills and hunting techniques

It seems effective trawling regulation has finally started to have positive spin-offs.

The growing size of the bait balls, made up mostly of sardine and anchovy and equalling those experienced in the Sardine Run, has been attributed as the main draw card. With the increased number of fish, it instantly begins to attract more predators to the area.

According to Fallows, Gannets arriving from Lamberts Bay activate the echo-location chain reaction.

Spectacularly adapted to hitting the water at 120kms an hour - from pockets of air in its wings to guard against breaking on impact, to flaps that cover its nostrils to stop water from rushing to the brain – the repetitive claps eventually trigger the dolphins to the area.

At first it was a trickle. But sightings soon went from 10 to 15 dolphins in the bay at a time to a couple of thousand.

A super-pod of dolphins seen off the Cape Coastline.

But it is only when you are on a dive that you get a first-hand appreciation of the chaos beneath the surface.

“You would think Gannets swoop down and catch their prey on an initial strike. But if they miss they actually chase after it. When you’re diving around a bait ball it is actually quite incredible as they hit the water. You then have this quizzical face peering at you to see if you’re smuggling fish, before it swims off ascending to the surface like an angle,” says Fallows.

Enter Manamarak, Shy Guy, Shaka and Cleopatra

Over the last five years as many as five pods have been identified on a regular basis, with Fallows and his team naming each whale for their own records. 

"Orca all look different to each other, with different-shaped eye and saddle patches. The first time we encountered one who had a very large hump, probably a deformity from birth, she came right up to the boat and swam alongside use on her back to watch us watching her.  We named her Manamarak after a likeable cartoon alien, not the most powerful name but still fitting. Then there is Cleopatra, who is an incredible huntress. There is also a young female known as Bonny and of course her counterpart Clyde.

"The largest male seen in another pod made up of twelve we named Shaka but there is also Dingaan who is going to become an incredible hunter one day."

During his talk Fallows outlined various areas he and his team have visited. Listening to the anecdotes, it is clear they are truly remarkable creatures. From its undeniable resilience, as he illustrated by the Orca in Alaska – home to the biggest orca’s genetically who feed on the salmon in the area. These pods were devastated by the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and are only just recovering.

Fallows also shared the tenacity and skill the species displays along the Argentinian coast of Punta Norte. While working with an Orca Research non-profit he was able to capture how it uses the unique pebbles found there to beach itself in order to hunt seals.

All the way to the Antarctica where this apex hunter displays formidable social techniques, with a slight sadistic side to its nature in what is known as "wave wash". Watch the video below.

Fallows explains, “Seeing natural predation is the pinnacle of most wildlife watchers wish lists and during the season from April to September this is a daily opportunity with multiple predatory hunts possible in a single morning’s expedition.”

“Our focus is an all-round nature experience to try and show our guests as much different wildlife as possible – we really try to educate more than just offer an adrenalin thrill”.

"The False Bay Orca have found a place in our heart and if there is one thing they've shown us, it is that if we treat them with respect, give them their space, don't encroach while they're hunting, they'll allow you into their world for as much as two hours. It's an incredible privilege. They've now chosen False Bay as part of their world and as South Africans we can be really proud."

Now who wouldn't want the memory of a 6-meter, 1900-kilogram prehistoric fish breaching while in pursuit of a Cape Fur Seal?

Catch Chris’s next talk on Great White Sharks at the One&Only on Tuesday 23 July, where Chris will showcase the story behind and evidence of close to 1 900 documented Great White predatory breaching events at False Bay’s Seal Island and the story of these amazing creatures, the personalities amongst them and just what makes this population of Great Whites so special.

Also, in honour of International Shark Week in August 2013, One&Only Cape has launched a 4-night Close Encounter Experiences’. It includes:

A one day ocean-based cage shark diving experience, hosted by shark diving experts APEX Predators
A dinner for two at Reuben’s including a wine tasting with One&Only Cape Town sommelier Luvo Ntezo
A one day shark diving experience at the Two Oceans Aquarium with ragged tooth sharks
Surfing lessons at Muizenberg Beach
Cape Point Nature Reserve visiting Boulder’s Beach Penguin Colony
Sidecar adventure around the Cape Peninsula

"With numerous celebrities (among them Brad Pitt and Leonardo di Caprio) joining the movement to help protect Great White Sharks and foster understanding of these incredible creatures, so the world’s eyes are turning to Cape waters and its natural inhabitants. One&Only Cape Town wholeheartedly endorses APEX Predators and salutes the work Chris Fallows is doing in this arena – his passion for fostering understanding is infectious and there is no doubt that this experience will yield new understanding and discoveries for One&Only Cape Town guests -  fostering memories to last a lifetime."

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