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Discovery Air Jaws Sharks of South Africa

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For the seals, there is no escape.
A Great White shark is stalking them, and she is very hungry.
Unnoticed, she pursues like a shadow hidden by the depths,
constantly eyeing the surface, singling out her target.
She's a missile armed with teeth, ready to fire.
And by the time she is detected, it will be far too late.
Few events in nature are as impressive as a Great White shark
exploding from the water to devour its prey.
And few events are as rare.
Great White sharks are not known for their aerial acrobatics.
Learning more about why these sharks jump will not be easy.
But a team of researchers is ready to risk life and limb,
traveling to the only place in the world where these animals
repeatedly leap from the water.
What they find is a Great White hunting ground like no other,
and a shark with more speed and more agility than ever thought possible,
a shark they call Air Jaws.
Winter comes swiftly to the southernmost tip of Africa.
It is a time of change
when bitter winds mark the return of a renowned predator
to its favorite hunting grounds.
Here in the center of False Bay,
Seal Island is a winter haven to perhaps the densest population
of Great White sharks
and cape fur seals on earth.
A place where a seal population that can top 60,000
is under constant siege from a dozen or so Great Whites
that patrol these waters.
It is a perilous journey for the seals that must leave the island
and run a gauntlet merely to feed,
never quite knowing where or when the next shark will strike.
Amazingly, these attacks take place within a few miles
of metropolitan Cape Town,
yet to humans, they remain virtually unknown.
But now a team of shark experts hope to be the first to discover
what makes these Great Whites breach from the water
to attack their prey,
and why these attacks occur so dramatically at Seal Island.
Using an array of cameras, they will try to capture
white shark behavior never before seen.
South African naturalist, Chris Fallows and Rob Lawrence,
were the first to observe and attempt to study these aerial predations.
Their work takes them into this hunting ground daily during winter,
where they witness hundreds of attacks sometimes more than a dozen
in a single day.
Over the last four and a half years at Seal Island
I've seen at least 300 successful predations and slightly
less unsuccessful ones.
As areas go in the world,
Seal Island is definitely the spot for natural encounters
between seals and white sharks.
And this must surely rank as the ultimate spot to see predator,
prey interactions.
They are joined by American shark expert, Dr. Rocky Strong,
who will lead the first ever in depth study of Great Whites
in these waters.
Strong has mapped the ring of death surrounding the island,
an area beginning a few yards from shore and extending outward
roughly 400 yards.
As they head off shore,
the seals must traverse this imaginary ring under constant threat.
Each attack, as witnessed by the team, is plotted on a map of the island
and surrounding sea, clearly illustrating the ring of death.
Strong is convinced the sharks prefer to hunt in this ring,
where the chances of encountering seals are high as they come and go
from the island.
When the sharks are really hunting, and when they really have an edge
on the seals is when they're swimming deeper looking up.
And then they launch a very secretive attack on that prey,
and it just comes out of nowhere,
and it's either sudden death or a very near miss.
Sudden death is exactly that.
It's a very hard hit,
brutal to watch, and usually a lot of splashing,
sometimes even a fountain of blood.
For this seal, death comes more slowly.
Shark has numbed it from the pain of a brutal hit,
and mercifully the shark will soon return to claim its prize.
The more prolonged event happens when that first attack is a miss,
when either the shark doesn't have a good beat on the target,
and they do apparently just plain miss sometimes,
or the seal sees it coming, which probably happens more often,
and the seal just steps out of the way at the very last instant.
If they survive the initial strike,
and they're either blown out the water or bitten in a way
that they're not disabled,
the success rate definitely goes up,
and the longer that the chase goes on, the more the encounter swings
in the favor of the seal.
Oftentimes, we see three of four minutes of prolonged
intense predatory activity on the part of the shark,
and the seal doing everything it can to keep from becoming lunch.
Jumping through the air
doing back flips, summersaults, landing at the shark's tail,
just incredible acrobatics to avoid being at the business end of this shark
The shark on the other hand turning and flipping head over tail
to try to get the seal.
We've seen the seals literally come out of the water
sideways and backwards.
Do triple gainers, just unbelievable stuff.
Holy moly!
Go little guy, come on!
It's gut wrenching to watch
because as objective, as I try to remain it's impossible
not to root for those little seals.
You're just out there cheering for them.
Man, that is one lucky little seal.
The seal's agility is well known,
but what Strong and his team discover,
is the Great White shark is remarkably maneuverable
for its tremendous size.
I think it's safe to say that the activity we're witnessing
at Seal Island is the last big nail in the coffin of the idea
that white sharks are slow, cumbersome animals.
Without question, this is the most remarkable place I've ever seen,
in terms of the frequency and ferocity of attacks.
Nothing else in the world compares to it.
The chess match between the seal and shark often ends in stalemate.
This wounded pup has temporarily eluded his attacker,
but now it's the shark's move.
Still 100 yards from shore, the panicked pup is making
a desperate attempt to reach the island,
but is too exhausted from its ordeal.
The team has been following the action from nearby,
but they are reluctant to interfere and help the frightened seal.
Its frantic behavior indicates that at least one shark is still nearby,
and in desperation, the seal uses the boat to avoid being eaten.
We've had them use the boat as some form of protection
and cover a few times.
It obviously offers a defensive structure to the back of the seal,
and he can watch out of the front and know that his back
is covered by the boat.
Fallows cannot allow the chase to continue.
The shark could easily smash into and sink the boat.
And leaving the seal to flounder would mean certain death
for this wounded but brave creature.
Just pull the box right over!
Go to the island, just go the island, quickly!
Instead, Fallows will give the seal a fighting chance for survival,
and return it to the safety of the shallows
and easy reach of the island.
To see a little seal being hit three times
by three different white sharks is really exciting,
and it really gets your heart going,
but it's also really sad if that little guy gets caught.
The seal's wounds are serious, but its thick layer of blubber
has shielded its vital organs.
The sharks that pursued it in the ring of death,
seldom venture into the white water immediately next to shore.
Here, the seals are safe.
I wasn't worried about myself, I was more worried
about the seal getting away,
and then because I pulled him out the water,
the shark might have picked him up more easily.
So, I wasn't really worried about being bitten by the seal,
but more that the seal might get taken out by the shark
if he breaks my, my grasp on him.
Like many of its kind on the island, the seal is an attack survivor,
ultimately made wiser by its shark encounter,
an encounter that will make it an even more elusive target
when it returns to the ring of death.
Now anchored off Seal Island, the team prepares to meet
some very hungry Great Whites.
There, there!
These are the world's most dangerous sharks,
hyped up hunters who come to these waters with a single purpose,
to kill and feed.
This is a shark seen many times before,
a 14-foot male, that's consistently first in line
when the bait hits the water.
To help identify individuals,
Fallows prepares a color-coded ID tag for insertion
into the animal's tough skin.
A long pole is used to affix the tag near the shark's dorsal fin.
The color coded tags we use are for easy sighting.
Each tag has got its own little color-coded piece,
so when the shark swims past the boat we can go,
okay there goes Long Red or Blue White Blue,
whatever the case may be,
and it's a really identifiable feature when the shark swims past the boat.
Why we tag them? It's to learn where they move to,
how much they grow, what sexual interaction is,
are they moving in the same groups?
What sort of sex ratios are you seeing?
Are you getting the same sexes swimming together?
There are a variety of different things you can learn
from tagging these animals.
Got him!
And also most importantly, you can get some sort of idea
what the population size is,
and therefore whether the animal actually needs to be protected,
which I certainly believe it does.
Several sharks have arrived at the stern
of the small research vessel.
Well, we certainly have a lot of them here today.
For the team,
it is a rare opportunity to witness the social behavior of animals
once thought to be mindless cannibals.
We've had at least a dozen sharks today,
and what is amazing is the way the sharks interact socially.
There's a carousel here.
When one is swimming in rotation around the boat,
the other one will fall in line and follow it,
and you get three or four sharks swimming in one direction,
and then another big guy comes in the wrong direction,
and messes it all up.
Second shark! Whoa!
That was a little guy.
He was coming just down the starboard side of the boat,
and the other shark caught him just right off the flank,
and he just sped away.
One after another, the sharks continue an orderly assault of the baits.
14 footers give way to 15 footers,
who in turn yield to the occasional, massive,16 footer.
For Strong, it is time to don the dry suit. It's about time.
And brave the chilly, 55 degree water.
Strong has spent years studying white sharks in Australia,
but this will be his first trip into the cage
to witness South African white sharks interacting socially.
If you imagine an animal that swims in relatively murky water
most of its life,
tends to concentrate around places of intense predatory activity
especially in an island like Seal Island,
and rush in on a kill at a moment's notice,
it has to be on its guard for larger, more dangerous animals of its own kind
In fact, that is the danger,
its own kind is basically all that it's of risk of.
They have worked out a system
to make it feasible to come in and compete reasonably
around a fresh kill.
If the larger animal's satiated, gets enough and goes,
then the next biggest guy comes in, shows his weight and superiority
to the smaller sharks, and they, they let him have it.
In this baited situation as well as in the ring of death,
where sharks hunts seals, competition excites the predators.
Murky water and close quarters fuel awesome displays of aggression.
These are complex animals.
One minute you see them going full board,
just wild in a natural attack,
and then you see them behaving socially,
and there's a real sense of order.
But when baited around a boat, we see some very strange behaviors.
One of these behaviors has only recently been discovered
in South Africa.
Bringing the shark in close,
Chris Fallows demonstrates that a hand applied to the animal's snout
will literally stop it cold.
It's quite amazing
the whole mouth just drops open and the shark seems to freeze.
Obviously blocked some sort of sensory organ on the shark
or maybe it's just stunned by having somebody push against it.
But it's, it's quite an amazing experience seeing the mouth
just drop wide open.
Chris has learned to handle the animals,
but cautions that this type of activity is extremely dangerous,
and should not as the saying goes, be tried at home.
It's actually easier to do with the big shark
because you've got more room for error
With a small guy you're obviously a lot closer to the teeth.
Strong believes that this behavior occurs when a white shark
is denied in feeding attempts at the surface,
perhaps because key senses have been short-circuited.
Once grabbed, the frustrated animal stalls out and opens wide.
Something like that, that's not a really a very good thing to try.
It's still spectacular seeing that mouth drop open like that.
Over a two-week period,
most of the sharks in the vicinity of Seal Island
have been tagged and catalogued,
including Blue White Blue, a 12-foot male
with a heavily scratched snout,
Red White Red, a 14-foot male,
and finally, the Bus, a 16-foot male, one of the biggest sharks
ever seen in these waters.
Now that they have become intimate with the players,
the team will venture back into their hunting ground
with a dangerous mission
to discover how, when, and why these giants take to the air.
From their homeport at picturesque Simons Town,
the crew departs pre-dawn,
knowing that the sharks begin hunting with the coming of the sun,
seeking out the seals that begin to leave the island in wave after wave
of small groups.
A seal shaped target made from carpet is prepped by researchers Rob Lawrence
and Alison Kock.
We're just strengthening it with cable ties
so that when the shark does hit it, it has a bit more strength.
When towed behind the boat, seal targets are attacked with
as much gusto as the real thing,
but ultimately spat out when the shark realizes it has been fooled.
Fallows first learned that white sharks breach from the water,
while watching a TV program.
We'd been watching a documentary in 1993,
where they had used a surfboard, and tied the surfboard along
and got a response to that.
And with that in mind, we came out here,
and those days used a pretty crude life jacket.
You can see it's still got the original puncture marks.
And on that first day, we got three breaches,
which obviously was quite significant that there were
a lot of white sharks in the area,
and they breached here more than, more so than anywhere else.
And over the years we've just refined out technique,
and now we get a, up to five or six breaches a day.
You guys ready back there? All set, Rob.
Here we go.
The target is deployed a mere 40 feet from the boat,
and will be towed at a speed of four knots
through the most attack prone area of the ring of death.
Geez, you see that shark? Unbelievable! Wow!
Seal Island may be the most dangerous place on earth
to go water skiing.
And even deploying targets here is not without risk.
The fact is a shark could breach, fly two meters into the air
and land right in the boat with us,
that would probably sink our boat
being that most sharks are the size of our boat out there,
and, and that would put us all in the water swimming
in what is probably the most dangerous place on earth
to go swimming.
That's violent.
Gee, I had such a fright when it came out
I missed the first two or three sequences of the shot.
For Chris Fallows,
a vital part of the research involves photographing the breaching sharks,
allowing the team to study and identify which animals
are attacking, and where.
Geez, you see that jump? It was unreal!
See all the whites on the underbelly? I hope I got it.
Because the shark's aerial maneuvers often last only one second,
the still frames can identify individuals and even the technique
used by sharks in their attacks.
Boy it's an incredibly exciting moment to see
a sometimes up to a one-ton animal launch itself right out of the water.
Usually what you see is either the shark blasting itself into the air
and a huge white flash from the underbelly,
or else you might just simply see a very big splash in the distance.
It varies from a completely vertical, tumbling, twisting turn in the air
to a slightly less pronounced 45-degree rush,
where the animal might twist on its side.
Both are very exciting and, and astounding
in the animal kingdom that such a large animal can actually
leap so far out the water.
By towing targets, the team has observed Great Whites
attacking from an impressive variety of angles.
Shallow attacks in which the sharks run parallel to their prey.
Mid water attacks with a steeper trajectory,
and a deeper point of origin.
And the amazing full vertical attacks that begin in deep water
and carry the shark high into the air.
But the key for the researchers is to
go sub surface with underwater cameras that will allow them
to get a more complete picture,
including the critical seconds that lead up to an attack.
At their base in Simon's Town,
the team has completed final testing on some innovative
new camera systems.
Here, Dr. Strong preps the seal cam, a seal shaped target equipped with
a belly mounted camera.
As it is towed behind the boat, the camera points down at an angle
and should reveal the shark as it makes its final approach.
It will provide a crucial glimpse of the shark's attack strategy
seconds before impact.
As you can see, the decoy looks just like a seal.
Its about the same size as the seals we have at the island,
but only weighs half as much,
and it's made of soft plastic materials so it can't hurt the shark,
the worst it can do is disappoint them.
The seal cam is intended to give us that last second point of view
that the seal might have if it looks down,
as the shark approaches at high speed.
A second underwater camera, the sea viewer, is also towed
behind the boat, 10 feet below the seal cam.
The sea viewer's job is to show a wider overall picture of the shark
as it swims along the bottom with its prey above.
The sea viewer is the most important of the cameras that we have.
The depth from which these sharks are launching their attacks
is without question, from a science point of view,
the most interesting thing
the sea viewer is gonna just show us.
We put a target there put the sea viewer down below it,
the animal comes in and launches its attack
at what should be attack depth.
Basically, what we're doing is trying to get
all the technology we can,
to put cameras in every place we can,
and record and describe a vertical predatory attack
by a white shark in it's completion.
First, the seal cam,
then the sea viewer
are launched in what should give Strong and his crew
their first undersea view of a white shark in the attack mode.
Because the camera may not survive the sudden impact,
it is connected to the boat with a cable to a video recorder.
By studying the tape,
Strong will also be able to estimate the speed needed for a white shark
to hurl itself from the water.
But, based on how high the animal comes out of the air
at its particular trajectory,
we can definitely estimate how fast it was going when it struck.
As the sea viewer passes through the island shallows,
it becomes irresistible to the curious young seals.
Then, once in deeper water, the sea viewer picks up
a more lethal subject.
Time and again, the shark glides in for a closer look
then veers away, displaying instinctive caution.
For science, it is one of the first glimpses of a white shark
free swimming in its natural environment.
Suddenly, a shark attacks, but aborts at the last second.
A second shark, and again it turns away.
With each pass, the predators grow bolder.
Oh man! God! Oh no!
Did you get that?
...just teeth!
A review of the breach from the top side camera,
reveals the shark was probably traveling nearly 20 miles per hour
when it struck the target, very fast for a fish.
The badly damaged seal cam has done its job.
And as an added bonus,
the shark has left behind a perfect imprint of its notorious jaws
The shark hit the camera with more force than just
about any other breach I've seen so far.
And, and really drove his teeth in.
This is, this is pretty unusual, he shook the thing in mid air,
and actually scratched the lens with his tooth when he was leaving.
Now, by piecing together the visual images,
scientists can use computer animation to recreate a vertical predatory attack
by a white shark.
A group of seals heads out to sea to feed,
followed from below by a Great White.
The clearer the water, the deeper the shark will swim
to camouflage itself, while eyeing its target above.
The side to side pumping motion of its tail is like that of a tuna.
The white shark is built for speed.
It is also warm-bodied,
a remarkable adaptation
that enables it to explode into action despite
its cold surroundings.
Then the shark attacks, an all out vertical rush to the surface.
They're cruising along, cocked and loaded,
and waiting forjust a few basic criterion to be met, and they fire.
And I think once that firing happens, few other questions get asked.
I really do believe, based on everything I've seen,
it's a shoot first and ask questions later scenario.
This shoot first, ask questions later strategy is not only lethal to seals,
but claims other unsuspecting victims as well,
like the African penguins that also dwell on Seal Island.
What's that under there?
Looks like some sort of animal.
Yeah, it's been hit by a shark, look at this.
Because the air breathing penguin spends much of its time at the surface
inside the ring of death,
it is often attacked, but for some reason, seldom consumed.
A lot of bitten penguins have historically wash up
on beaches around here, this particular species.
And apparently from the evidence available, the white sharks
apparently don't eat them.
The towing experiments have revealed much about
the white shark's hunting strategy,
and their ability to generate tremendous speed in a vertical attack.
But the questions remain,
why do the sharks attack so frequently and violently
at Seal Island,
and what is it about this place that prompts the sharks
to go airborne in search or prey?
The white sharks at Seal Island breach here like nowhere else
in the world, no question about it,
and yet, incredibly these animals swim right up the coast.
The same animals will be sighted with our tags on them,
and they don't breach.
So the question then becomes, what is it about this place,
not necessarily the animals, that's causing these sharks
to breach like they do.
Whales also live and sometimes die in the waters near Sea Island.
This 35-feet Brutus whale died mysteriously and washed ashore
on a public beach,
and unsure of what to do with the carcass,
the South African police have towed it to Seal Island.
It looks to be several days dead but it's washed up on the beach today.
The local authorities have towed it out here offshore, next to Seal Island
that was their chosen spot,
and of course, there are already 15 sharks or so in this vicinity,
and they're, they're just going crazy.
Shark after shark descends on the rotting flesh,
and the researchers cannot believe their luck.
They are now within arm's length of perhaps the most spectacular
feeding frenzy ever seen.
In these cold waters,
the warm-bodied white sharks seem to relish this ample supply
of calorie rich blubber to fuel their rapid metabolisms.
By comparison, the seals are mere hors d'oeuvres.
The whale is the main course in an all they can eat buffet.
That's a 15-foot shark,
and it's just removed 35, 40 pounds of whale flesh in one bite,
and maybe more.
Twenty-seven sharks answer the dinner bell within four hours
of the whale being relocated at Seal Island.
It's doubtful if anyone has ever seen this many white sharks
gathered together in one place.
For a diver, it is an extremely dangerous situation,
but an opportunity for discovery that will not soon come again.
It was an amazing scene
and I was shocked to see Great White sharks lining up
like little piglets suckling from their mother.
The sharks feed in a ravenous but orderly procession,
each one devouring hundreds of pounds of blubber and whale meat.
The carcass weighing roughly 12 tons is disappearing before the team's eyes
But after two hours underwater, Strong notices a change
in the shark's behavior as they seem to be getting full.
Stuffed to capacity, the predators have become seemingly intoxicated,
not just from the orgy of flesh, but perhaps also from the presence
of so many members of the opposite sex.
No one has witnessed the Great White mating,
but for the first time ever, Strong observes the telltale aspect
of a large sexually aroused male.
This event was a remarkable affirmation.
Many years ago, I theorized that
whale carcasses might be the centerpieces
for Great White shark orgies,
because as the belly fills up presumably,
hormonal changes cause a reduction in aggression.
In this case, there was a highly unusual amount of body contact
in a mixed sex group like this,
receptive females were probably even more receptive.
In their bizarre state, the sharks appear sluggish, even uncoordinated,
as they bang and bump into cage, boat, and each other.
As a female passes on the whale and moves by the cage,
closely followed by a dazed male,
Strong realizes that this may be the closest humans have ever come
to witnessing Great Whites mating.
By morning, the carcass is unrecognizable
and only a few sharks remain.
Wow! It's about 8:00 A.M. On the second morning.
As you can see, there's not much left of this whale.
The sharks have essentially stripped all of the blubber off of this thing,
and all that remains is the internal parts
in this sack of muscularly flesh, and it's disgusting out here.
But there are still a lot of sharks here,
and we're gonna see what we can do.
The scene and the smell is something the crew will never forget.
It's the worst thing I've ever smelled
For the shark scientist, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
He will cautiously board the floating whale carcass to get an up close view
of sharks feeding.
This is about the... it's about the dumbest thing I've ever done,
and anything for a good picture.
Watch out!
The nervous crew looks on, knowing the whale carcass
is slicker than it looks,
and Strong is only one slip away from going in the water.
The sharks grab and tear into the carcass
with their massive jaws,
shaking the floating remains so violently,
it nearly throws Strong into the water.
But the risks are worth the rewards.
No one has ever seen Great Whites scavenging from such close range
and live to document it.
With the sharks' appetites well satisfied,
a strange calm would descend on Seal Island in the coming days.
Sustained by tons of blubber, the sharks would disappear
and the predations on seals would suddenly come to a halt.
The absence of sharks will finally allow Strong and the team
to safely move their research underwater to the ocean floor.
But they must hurry, the sharks will return.
For Dr. Strong,
the questions about Seal Island cannot be fully answered
without exploring the island's bottom.
But for this dangerous task, he will need mobility and protection,
and this self-propelled anti-shark cage should provide him with both.
I would have to admit that I'm a little concerned
about the strength of the cage,
only because of the lack of control in this environment
and the voracity of the sharks.
If the cage was attacked, it is a lightweight cage
and a shark that wanted to get through it would get through it.
Most cages are bluff anyway, this one is definitely a bluff.
Basically, banking on what I know about sharks to hedge my bets,
assume that we're gonna be all right.
Many tests must be conducted before this submarine is ready
to face white sharks inside the ring of death.
Buoyancy, navigation and a plan for escape are rehearsed time and again
before a launch into what may be the most dangerous seas on earth.
If the cage does get wrecked or snagged, I expect to be
able to rescue myself, and that's critical here
because there is no leaving the cage.
If I get out of the cage, I'm pretty much a goner.
Finally, the cage is ready for its maiden voyage
inside the ring of death.
Strong hesitates.
A very large Great White has already arrived,
and is too close to allow the scientist to board his craft.
Sharks, in general, and white sharks in particular,
are actually pretty cautious around things they don't understand.
Things that are large and make a lot of noise will attract
the sharks to the submarine,
but once they get close, at close range it will begin to repel them.
In general, it's a dangerous place to be,
and I would have to admit that I haven't been as apprehensive
about getting in a cage with sharks ever in my life,
as I am about this one.
The mission of this sub and this research is critical.
It's the only way of going down there.
And there is no other place in the world,
you do not want to go diving unprotected than this place.
We need mobility and it required inventing
basically this special apparatus.
The goal for the scientist is to descend and survey
the bottom topography.
He hopes to discoverjust what features in the underwater landscape
contribute to the attacks on the surface.
I'm gonna have a video camera mounted up front,
and that'll permit me to record what the bottom topography looks like
and we know from depth soundings that it falls off quite quickly,
right at the edge of the ring of death
right at the place where the seals start to go into
their really defensive strategies.
Underwater, Strong has found the answers he was looking for.
Close to the island, the seals are protected
by a shallow turbulent area
the white sharks are reluctant to enter.
The ring of death is most evident where the bottom
drops off sharply into 50 feet of water.
The steep drop-off provides the shark plenty of room to build up speed
and launch vertical attacks,
another key to the riddle of why Great Whites breach so dramatically
at this island.
But the seals are well-adapted to survive here,
and have developed their own strategies
for crossing shark-filled waters.
Before venturing offshore to feed,
seals often gather at a reef
just south of the island, dubbed the launch pad.
Ironically, they often play in preparation for making
the perilous run through the ring of death.
Following the safety in numbers strategy,
they head out in groups, usually with eight to 12 members.
Inside the ring of death, they swim swiftly and near the bottom
only surfacing for air at the edge of the ring
where they immediately adopt a purposing strategy,
swimming tightly together and leaping from the water
in intervals that probably make hunting them more difficult.
After feeding offshore, seals return to the island
in even smaller groups.
As they re-enter the ring of death,
they often take a last conspicuous leap before plunging to the bottom.
Even most young seals quickly learn the bottom provides
cover from attack,
and only surface once they are safely near shore.
Older, wiser seals adhere devoutly to this strategy.
Seals that approach the island alone, recklessly swimming at the surface,
are almost asking to be attacked.
Whoa! Right there, right there!
Along the bottom there is grim evidence of a true seal graveyard.
While piloting the submarine, Strong collects dozens of seal bones.
Seal movements to and from the island are easily observed,
but tracking stealthy white sharks as they come and go
has proven a difficult challenge for science.
Chris and Rob are attempting to tag a shark right now
with one of these ultrasonic pingers,
just a little sonic device attached to one of our standard addressed tags,
a little barb that holds it under the skin.
Here he comes! Here he comes, bring him closer!
Got him!
The shark moves off, but the receiver is locked onto his signal.
Strong uses a directional hydrophone to listen for the shark,
and can hear the pinger from several hundred miles away.
He will point the boat in the direction of the shark.
Still a little off the starboard, Rob, he's circling around to the right.
Oh, that's 35 and 80...
And its course will be plotted using the Global Positioning Satellite System
For hours, the shark circles the island, never venturing
too far away from the ring of death.
Dawn into dusk, the track continues,
and the weary crew pursues until finally at sunset
the signal is lost.
Pingers allow us to follow the sharks for short periods, 24 hours or so,
but in order to really understand their long-term movements,
we needed more permanent listening posts.
These bottom monitors are our listening posts.
We placed three of these around the island,
and as the sharks come in to feed,
this little receiver will hear the shark's pinger,
identify it and tell which animal is coming and going,
and how long each one stays.
And the best thing is, for the very first time
these little bottom monitors are gonna allow us to record
when, where, and how long each individual Great White shark
that we've tagged comes in to feed on fur seals at Seal Island.
Day and night, the bottom monitors remain on the seal floor,
recording the coming and going of the 12 white sharks
now affixed with pingers.
Strong will again board the submarine to retrieve the monitors
and bring them topside, to then download their data
onto a seagoing computer.
Combined with daily readings of the water temperature and current,
as well as data from a weather station on the island,
Strong will now be able to truly understand when white sharks
are moving in on Seal Island,
and under what conditions they are most likely to attack.
In the weeks that follow, the three monitors positioned
around the island record the white sharks' presence
hundreds and even thousands of times.
It was very interesting to see the sharks' movements
mirror our observations about attacks
and how attacks are distributed.
The monitor on the southwest side of the island,
recorded three and a half times as much activity as either of the two.
It was clear that the sharks were patrolling the island.
They come and go out of range frequently,
and most interestingly at all hours, day and night,
and appear to show distinct tendencies to come or go away
depending on the weather,
which also gives the impression that they're coming
and leaving as a group.
Then, as winter turns to spring, the sharks abandon the island as a group
As the water begins to warm, the sharks undergo a dietary change,
moving close to shore to pursue large schools of fish,
a migration that takes them to popular surfing beaches
only three miles away from Seal Island.
Yet attacks on people here are extremely rare.
Chris Fallows is one of the few surfers who have intimate knowledge
of the white shark presence just offshore.
White sharks, in my opinion, have very little interest in humans.
I mean, we've seen up to 20 different white sharks
in a single day at Seal Island,
which is no more than five kilometers away from a popular surfing beach.
They are undoubtedly very close to shore here,
our tagging studies have proved that they're right in the surfs,
and they're right amongst the bathers.
They're just not interested in them.
Spurred on by the movie Jaws,
trophy hunting great white fishermen
combed the waters around Seal Island in the 1970s.
But even the heartiest fishermen, according to local shark historian,
Andries Kotze,
were afraid to venture inside the ring of death,
for fear of having their boat attacked
The shark that leapt aboard this small boat,
nearly crushing a fisherman,
had to be removed with a crane.
The great whites were called Jumping Jacks
for the reputation they had of jumping out of water.
And whenever a Great White was spotted
the warning signal went up when the boats were at "sea jumpy",
which means Jumpy, Jumping Jack,
and then the people would very quickly lift their anchors
and move off on account of the, the danger imposed.
Fisherman who told tales of flying sharks may not have been
believed by land lubbers.
It is both absurd and terrifying to think that a Great White
could jump from the water.
But here at this special island,
the predators that are often shy and reclusive elsewhere,
hunt and kill their prey with a savagery found no where else.
A powerful tail and warm muscles fuel the sharks' rapid takeoffs.
This, along with an abundance of prey, intense competition,
and the island's undersea topography,
is a recipe for lifting giant fish high into the air.
These are the sharks they call Air Jaws.
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