Weather conditions were good this month, with the occasional cloudy and rainy day but the rest of the month had sunny, warm days with a slight chill in the air in the evenings. Sea conditions were mostly good with a handful of days where big swell was brought on by cold fronts travelling up the coastline from the Cape. The water temperature was mostly around 23° Celsius with a few days where it dropped to 22°. Visibility was an average of 14-16 metres throughout most of the month.
June is traditionally the beginning of whale season, although we did see the first humpback whales as early as March this year! We generally see the humpback whales heading northwards from June through to about August; then we have a cross-over period where we see whales heading northwards as well as those that are already starting the journey southwards back to the Antarctic. By the end of October and into early November we see the last of the whales heading home. These whales live in the Antarctic, but as winter approaches the sea freezes over and this signals the move to warmer waters. The adults mate and the females give birth in the warmer waters. Their migration is timed so that when they return the ice has melted and they have a rich supply of krill to feast on.
For a couple of days, the only divers in camp were Christophe and Renier. Being keen divers, they went out nearly every day, even though the sea conditions were not the best due to the swell. Their effort was richly rewarded and they had the most amazing sightings. Visibility at Elusive was not great but they saw so much: Paperfish, honeycomb eels, devil firefish, the resident school of bluebanded snappers, dory snappers and slinger were all huddled together forming an impressive cloud of fish, and then they had the great privilege of seeing ten bottlenose dolphins swim right past them. They swam so close to the divers, they could almost have touched them. Wow, what a sight! As if that wasn’t enough, they got to snorkel with a manta ray on the way back from their dive. Another of their dives was with Clive at Aerial and what a magical dive it was. They saw not one but two pairs of harlequin shrimps and a tiny pineapplefish! They also saw a grey reef shark and then they watched a big 10-12 kg sea pike (also known as a pick-handle barracuda) down on the reef in a gully being cleaned.
We have noticed an interesting phenomenon on the reefs here. When we first explored these reefs 15 years ago, we did not note any significant number of slinger (Chrysoblephus puniceus) during our dives. Then, seven years later, during March 2007, we had unusually rough seas caused by bad weather coupled with the highest equinox spring tide in 18 years. Due to this extremely unusual weather, we could not launch the boat for about a week because the swells were so big. During this time, Mandla found about 30 slinger washed up along the beach. As soon as the sea calmed down, we were out there diving again and were pleasantly surprised to see big numbers of slinger at Pineapple Reef and some at Elusive. We did not see any on the other reefs though. As the years have passed we have seen the slinger filter down to the other reefs and now often see them at Gogo’s, Yellowfin Drop, Coral Alley, Coachman’s Ledge and Brewer’s Garden.
Although the swells we experienced this month were nothing close to the unusual conditions we experienced then, we have noticed a sudden increase in the numbers of slinger on the reefs. There are hundreds of them at Pineapple, Gogo’s, Elusive and Yellowfin. These fish are endemic to South Africa but they are heavily overfished in the KwaZulu-Natal area and so we are very pleased that they are protected up here at Rocktail and we get to enjoy seeing them in big numbers.
Travelling to Yellowfin Drop, the Torr and Davies families were treated to bottlenose dolphin sightings. We came across three different pods of bottlenose dolphins in one trip and we were able to snorkel with all three, each of these groups of dolphins being extremely playful and inquisitive. We also saw humpback dolphins playing in the surf, a really special sighting as these dolphins are endangered. Humpback dolphins are usually quite shy and found in small groups of about three to five animals, whereas the bottlenose dolphins are often found in bigger groups.
Gogo’s produced some lovely sightings this month, such as a razor wrasse on the sand, a pair of yellow paperfish, (one was an adult and it had a tiny baby next to it), two whitetip reef sharks which just swam around us for a bit, not in a rush, before swimming away into the distance, as well as a blacktip reef shark and a few grey reef sharks. During one particular dive at Gogo’s we saw four different green turtles.
There have been quite a lot of turtle sightings at various reefs this month. There is a resident female green turtle which lives at Elusive and has been there for years. This turtle is very relaxed and hardly even takes notice of divers. She just carries on munching away on seaweed as everyone hovers around watching her. Catherine was fascinated and could have spent her entire dive just watching this turtle. Darryl decided that it’s high time we give this turtle a name – Meg – after his favourite actress, Meg Ryan.
We have also had lots of sightings of nudibranchs this month, especially the ‘gas flame’ variety. We tend to notice a lot of these nudibranchs in winter and hardly any in summer; during a dive at Pineapple Reef we must have seen about 30 of them.
Ocean Experience trips were great this month with lots of bottlenose dolphin sightings and some wonderful snorkelling. One lucky group even got the chance to watch a tiger shark swimming near Island Rock.
Clive was down south on the Wild Coast this month, taking guests out to sea on the annual Sardine Run. He reported having amazing sightings of humpback whales, so we are excited as they are certainly on their way up towards us. We are all looking forward to enjoying many more sightings of these huge whales in our area in the months to come.
Congratulations go to the following divers:
For completing their Discover Scuba Diving Experiences
Winston Bailey and Ned Bailey
For completing their Discover Scuba Pool Session
Jonathan Evans - For completing his Open Water Course
Yours in diving,
Darryl, Clive, Michelle, Samantha, Mandla and Sipho
The Rocktail Dive Team