During the afternoon of Monday the 8th of September 2003, while Michael Scholl spent the day in Cape Town having different meetings, he received a phone call from Jenna Cains (Dyer Island Cruises) that a dead Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeanglia) had been spotted drifting in the bay between Kleinbaai and Sandy Point (Pearly Beach). Bad luck? Definitely! For five years, Michael had been waiting for this opportunity to observe Great White Sharks feeding on a whale carcass... and one of the rare days, he is stuck in meetings in Cape Town, it actually happens... The drive back was a speedy one, but the sun was unfortunately already setting by the time Michael made it back to Gansbaai.

Just over two weeks ago, Tom Peschak allerted Michael about a stranded Sperm Whale near Hermanus. The present whale was actually drifting exactly where we usually conduct our field work during this time of the year. This could have been a real bonus, as White Sharks absolutely favor this type of scavenging meal.

Tom Peschak was fortunate enough to be present on the scene that same afternoon and observe a couple of White Sharks feeding on the drifting Humpback Whale carcass. Below are two photographs taken by Tom that afternoon...

At 2200 (10 p.m.) that same evening, Michael Scholl, Tom Peschak and the four Field Research Assistants (Rhiannon Collingborn, Alan Duncan, Chris Milnes and TJ Baranek) went out to sea to try to find the drifting Humpback Whale, as they were afraid that it would beach before the end of the night.

The sea conditions were rough and the wind was chilly and strong... a storm was approaching... Fortunately, the moon helped with the search as we were approaching full moon. In less than a hour, the team managed to locate the whale carcass with the help of the many sea birds in the close vicinity of the whale... close to shore... very close to shore... it was drifting towards the shore fast with the help of the strong onshore wind. At the first approach, we attempted to secure a line around the tail of the whale to prevent the whale from drifting on the rocky shore and beach. Unsuccessful, we returned and changed strategy, but the whale had drifted in too shallow water already and the reefs were on both sides of the boat. The team decided to return to the safety of deeper waters.

The following photograph taken by Alan Duncan that night clearly shows three deep indents in the side of the Humpback Whale where White Sharks had the pleasure to feed (in the photographs above).

The following morning, on Tuesday the 9th of September 2003, Michael, Alan and Chris went to look for the Humpback Whale along the shores with the White Shark Trust 4x4 with the permission of the Overstrand Nature Conservation head, Craig Spencer. After a relatively long drive, we managed to locate the carcass. This allowed for the first close-up look at the whale.
The head of the whale was the only incomplete body part of the whale carcass with the lower jaw bone lying bare. This whale may have died of desease or old age, but maybe this whale had been attacked by Killer Whales (Orcinus orca).
The Humpack Whale was lying on its back very bloated, its belly apparent. Large bite marks from White Sharks were apparent on the tail region and just behind both flippers. The three large bite marks observed the previous night when the carcass was still drifting, could not be observed on the whale that morning.
Smaller shark bite marks were also observed all over the body of the Humpback Whale. These smaller bite marks could be for example from Bronze Whaler Sharks (Carcharhinus brachyurus), Spotted Sevengill Cowsharks (Notorynchus cepedianus) and / or Blue Sharks (Prionace glauca) further offshore.
In the photographs below, you can see the largest visible trunk bite marks from Great White Sharks, behind each of the flippers on either side.
Upon our arrival at around 10 on the morning of the 9th of September 2003, we immediately observed that somebody had been around the Humpack Whale carcass before us. Three square shaped indentations on the left flank of the carcass (see below) attracted our attention... Without a doubt (unless scientists now really require huge samples for DNA studies), a commercial White Shark cage diving operator came early that morning to withdraw some of the whale blubber to chum for White Sharks at a later stage. Besides being highly illegal, this will lay a serious demise in our ability to compete in attracting White Sharks whenever, this operator decides to use this very strong shark attractant.
Wednesday the 10th of September, Michael returned to the site with Rhiannon, Alan, Chris and TJ on this much nicer day. Surprisingly, the whale had washed up further during the spring high tide last night. We could now observe the other side (right) of the whale with the very obvious large flipper, as well as the upper jaw which was not as apparent yesterday.
The upper jaw presented some large White Shark bite marks...
And again (but not surprisingly), we observed the very obvious square shaped cuts on the whale carcass, but this time on the other side... proof that another commercial cage diving company (or probably several) is stocking up on whale blubber... the purpose of which has been explained above.
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