What better a time to start writing than when huddled inside with gale force winds raging outdoors, extinguishing any hopes of getting in the water over the next few days. This is the nature of the beast in South Africa at this time of year, but I did have good motives for planning my trip now. When most divers talk of schooling hammerhead sharks, they automatically think of the Galapagos islands, Cocos islands, or maybe the southern Red Sea. South Africa does not usually spring to mind, but it certainly should do! From September to January (hence the timing of my current trip), huge schools of Scalloped Hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) congregate 7km offshore at a dive site known as Protea Banks. This was something I had to see!
This is an advanced dive as the reef sits around 30-35m and is subject to strong currents and low visibility, but you soon get used to the diving conditions and become enchanted by the huge array of life on the reef. Have a look at the photo below and tell me how many different species you can spot, you'll have to look closely to find the better camouflaged ones!
Drifting over the reef, it is hard to tear your eyes away from the stunning colours of the corals and their inhabitants, but in order to spot the elusive hammerheads you really have to look out into the mid-water. Fifteen minutes into our first dive, we glimpsed a streak of sliver in the distance and immediately started swimming as fast as we could towards it, imagining what the mirky water hid beyond. Moving closer I became surrounded by a huge school of bigeye kingfish (an impressive sight on their own), but through the shoal I glimpsed the unmistakable outline of a hammer shaped nose! Overwhelmed by the sight, I completely forgot to take any photos at first, so I only managed to quickly snap the photo below. This is exactly how I remember it, peering in-between the fishes as they swam past, trying to distinguish the large apex predator cruising behind.
As you can see, this individual was on his own, which is the typical behaviour of another species: the Great Hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran). I've always wanted to encounter one of these also, so I was exceedingly chuffed for it to happen so early on in the trip! Hammerheads are exceedingly shy creatures and have very acute senses packed into their peculiar shaped heads, making them extremely difficult to approach and take photos of. My goal over the next few weeks is to do just that though!
The rest of the dives have been even more action packed, but I'll save some stories for the next few posts!
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