Close Encounters of the Marine Animal Kind

Steve pic

Steve Honeysett

A question I am often asked is: Have I ever seen a shark in the ocean.

My answer is simply YES – if you partake in any activity in the ocean you will at some time encounter a shark or some kind of marine animal.

Sitting on my surfboard on Sunday morning surrounded by a pod of 30 Bottle Nose Dolphins, I thought to wright this article about my encounters over my 32 years of having worked and lived up on this part of the KZN coast.

I cannot document every encounter as there have been hundreds, but where on this big planet do you get to interact with more marine animals than in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean?

In the sub – tropics that we live in, there are many sea animals both large and small roaming around our coastline and I consider myself lucky to have experienced many of these creatures close up in their own environment.

Whales, Sharks, Rays, Turtles, Dolphins, Shoaling Fish and sea creatures from the deep have swum along our shores, and I have had the opportunity to be within touching distance of many of them.

The most feared are the shark species which movies have demonised to the point where we hope that we never come across them in the ocean.

I have had sharks swim up to me, swim past and charge me down in different places, but each instance has left me feeling humbled and awestruck – they are magnificent creatures.

A whale has lifted me out of the water while I was in a boat and I have often assisted the Sharks Board staff to disentangle whales caught in the shark nets over my 32 years as a lifeguard and manager of the beaches.

And, of course, the satisfaction of saving a marine animal is amazing – there can be no closer contact.

The ocean is its home not ours, so whenever I enter the sea and encounter an animal, I give it space and never approach it. I let it come to me if it wants to.

Conservationists will condemn any attempt to get up close to any marine animal whether by boat or by swimming. It caused them stress, so show respect and observe them from a reasonable distance.

There are seasons for certain animals, like the whale migrations from August through to November. The Sardine shoaling season starts around June / July and many other smaller unnoticed arrivals like the Blue Bottle and Jellyfish unless they happen to sting you.

If you come across any of these animals while surfing, swimming or fishing, the best action is not to panic but to slowly retreat to a safer distance just like you would when you encounter a land animal.

Most of our beaches have shark net protection so, be aware of that, and do not push the animal closer to the nets which will raise the risk of entrapment and possible death for the animal.

Switch off your boat motors until the creature has swum past.

Do not try and ride on the back of a whale or whale shark – they are extremely powerful creatures and can give you a heavy blow with their tails or heads.

I once had an encounter when I was out on the lifeguard inflatable boat and we came across what we thought was a young juvenile whale shark. Excitedly and without confirming its true identity, we jumped in and swam up to it only to discover it was not a whale shark at all – it was a tiger shark!

We broke records to get back on the boat that day and, fortunate for us, despite the fact that tiger sharks are inquisitive by nature, it obviously didn’t find us very interesting.

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