Nearshore diving, Simonstown, South Africa

For my final post on my March 2015 South Africa “Sharkaholic” trip, I’ll try to let the photos do the talking. From my [unbiased] perspective, I saved the best for last. After all, the water is green!

We did three days in the nearshore environment close to Simonstown. Each of these days began with one dive at the edge of the kelp forest with seven-gill sharks (cowsharks) and other smaller shark species. Then our second dive on these days was at a Cape fur seal colony nearby – no, not the nursery!

Apparently there are few places in the world where you can drop in the water and reliably dive with seven-gill sharks. But we were at the one place, and they were very reliable. The seven-gills hung around the edge of the kelp forest – ranging between a little bit beyond it and a little bit inside. When we were there, viz was not too great. I can only imagine being there on a sunny day with great viz, the sun beams shining through the kelp, the beautiful green water brightly lit, and seven-gills weaving in and out of the vertical ropes of algae.

I’m glad we did three dives in the nearshore, and I’d have been thrilled to do many more. It took me three dives just to begin to get a handle on photographing the seven-gills. Three dives? Yeah, I’m a little slow, because the fact is these prehistoric fish were the pictures of predictability. They moved slowly and swam in a straight line, like a freight train in no hurry. So by the time I figured this out, on the third day, the moment I caught a glimpse of one through the semi-murky water, I swam like hell in the direction that would intersect the shark’s trajectory, and I’d be ready with my camera as it passed. What I noticed, once I had a better idea of what I was actually doing, is that their tail fins seemed to be perpetually away from the camera.

There are other small shark species that live in the kelp. Again, I’d love to spend much more time in the kelp seeking out the little guys. One was called a pajama shark because its stripes look like pajamas (and “prison-attire sharks” doesn’t have the same ring to it).

Pajama shark.

Pajama shark.

Another of the small species living in the kelp is called the shy catshark. Why is it shy? Well, it is small, so I imagine it’s shy for the same reason a lot of small animals are. But it gets its name because when it is threatened, it curls into a ball and covers its eyes with its tail. Is that one of the cutest things a fish could ever do? Ridiculous.

Shy catshark, being shy. Photo by Britta Siegers.

Shy catshark, being shy. Photo by Britta Siegers.

Sweet little shy catshark -- not being shy.

Sweet little shy catshark — not being shy.

(By the way, the shark in the photo below with me was “shown” to me – I’m a firm believer in don’t-touch-the-animals policies, above and below the surface.)

Author with shy catshark. Photo by Britta Siegers.

Author with shy catshark. Photo by Britta Siegers.

Our first day of this inshore itinerary was a special day for me – the second dive, with the Cape fur seals, was my dive #800. We had a small celebration on the skiff afterwards, and I got a t-shirt!

After Jen's dive #800! Photo by Gerald Novak.

After Jen’s dive #800! Photo by Gerald Novak.

The Cape fur seals are referred to by the Shark Explorers staff as the “clowns of the sea.” And boy were they ever! They were the most tenaciously curious animals I have ever encountered. But, like me, they got bored easily. (Did I say that out loud?) Uhem. Anyway, if you weren’t interesting, they’d leave. So best to try to keep them entertained (I never did master that, seeing as how I tend to stay pretty still).

In their spirit of playfulness, I’d often see them sparing with each other. If I did, I’d move towards them in the hopes that one of the bitey seals would come check me out. That’s how I got the photos of them looking so very ferocious.

Some stats in case you’re curious:

  • Water temps. ranged between 54 and 61 degrees F. Big range, but you get the idea: better to be in a drysuit!
  • Depths: 40 ft. ave. Ranged 34 to 52 ft.
  • Viz (which I rate as the ability to see how many fingers my buddy is holding up): 8 ft. for two of the dives, and 20 beautiful feet for our final day in this environment. If you’re a local Seattle, diver, you know 20 feet is awesome (especially when 20 ft. by my standards usually means 40 ft. by the standards of everyone else).

If you made it this far, and if you are a diver, I’m hoping to return to South Africa in 2017. Let me know if you’re interested.


About Jen Vanderhoof

I'm Jen Vanderhoof. I’m an ecologist with a wildlife background, and I spend a lot of time outdoors near water looking for signs of beavers and, when I'm lucky, photographing beavers. I am also a birder, scuba diver, and accordingly bird, nature, and underwater photographer. I write and draw, and I also enjoy carving beaver-chewed wood. I hope to spread the understanding, acceptance, and love of the most incredible animal species I know, the beaver.
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3 Responses to Nearshore diving, Simonstown, South Africa

  1. Don Winslow says:

    Great photos Jen

  2. Al says:

    Thanks for sharing, great adventure & awesome photos.

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