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April 17, 2013

Sharks in Cape Town: get up close and personal

Photo courtesy of Steve Benjamin/Animal Ocean

It was an honour to be invited by the Two Oceans Aquarium to document the release of two ragged-tooth sharks back into the wild on 11 April 2013.

The process had started a few days earlier when the Aquarium team had to move Kay, a 207kg female raggie, out of her exhibit and up to the roof of the Aquarium so that the vet could fit her with an internal acoustic tag. As Kay makes her journey along the coast, and north towards the warmer waters of the Benguela current, the signal from her tag will be picked up by a series of listening stations. Scientists can then use this information to better understand the migratory patterns of ragged-tooth sharks, and assist in the conservation efforts of these majestic creatures.

As you can see in the video, Kay wasn't too keen on leaving the Aquarium! She seemed uneasy at the blue 'cone' that is used to safely hoist the shark out of the exhibit and into a transportation tank. Once the team switched over to the transparent cone, they were able to move her up to a holding tank on the roof of the Aquarium, where she was anesthetised by the vet, and tagged.

Watch the three-minute video clip below to see what it takes to move a shark from an aquarium and into the ocean – it's certainly easier said than done!

On the day of her release, Kay was joined by another young male raggie, who had come down from the Pretoria Zoo. The two were carefully placed on the back of a large truck and taken to Gordon's Bay harbour.

They were then lowered, one after the other, into the boat, Aquarium 1, for their respective trips out to sea. With the smaller male safely released first, it was Kay's turn – and seeing a huge shark being carried through the air by a crane was an unusual sight, for sure! But once safely in the boat, the Aquarium team headed two nautical miles out to sea, said their goodbyes, and lowered her into the cool waters of False Bay. Having been lightly sedated for some of the journey, it took Kay a few seconds to find her fins, but very soon she swam off to explore her new home – the open ocean.

Bon Voyage! Kay takes one last look at her two-legged companions of the last four years before heading off into the deep blue. Photo courtesy Steve Benjamin/Animal Ocean

It was a beautiful moment, and an amazing event to have witnessed.

The Two Oceans Aquarium is one of the only facilities in the world that can and does regularly release sharks back into the wild. They collect the animals for their exhibits themselves, and see these sharks as ambassadors for their species – helping us to learn more about them, and hopefully getting the public interested in marine conservation.

Kay had been at the Aquarium for four years. She was well fed and looked after, and is now a viable mating partner. Previous shark releases have shown that these raggies adapt back to life in the wild perfectly. As one of the most misunderstood and maligned animals, the work that the Two Oceans Aquarium is doing is invaluable to shark conservation efforts in South Africa. Long may their fin-tastic work continue!

Get up close with a shark

The Two Oceans Aquarium offers diving in its I&J Predator Exhibit (with ragged-tooth sharks), as well as in the Ocean Basket Kelp Forest Exhibit

Alternatively, if you feel like braving the open seas, and seeing some other sharks up close (like the great white shark), there are a number of shark cage diving operators nearby. Check out Apex Predators, and read our fascinating interview with founder Chris Fallows on Facing Cape Town's great whites.

Dyer Island CruisesGreat White Shark Tours cc and the White Shark Diving Co operate from Kleinbaai, near Hermanus, while White Shark Africa offers shark dives and viewing in Mossel Bay. All of these operators are have marine conservation in mind, and are invested in allowing visitors to experience these majestic creatures in a way that does not threaten their existence.

The best season for seeing sharks starts now, so contact us to book a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

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