With the end of 2015 in sight, we thought we’d take the time to reflect on what has been a truly spectacular year here at Aliwal Shoal Scuba. We’ve made new friends, and reconnected with old ones. We’ve been fortunate enough to spend every day with the Shoal’s resident marine life; and been blessed with sightings of some unexpected visitors. We’ve had the privilege of introducing countless students to the wonderful world of diving, and learned a few new things ourselves along the way. It’s been a rollercoaster ride of hectically busy long weekends, Sardine Run expeditions and 30th-anniversary celebrations – and that’s all before this year’s festive season kicks off in earnest!

The holidays are upon us and the next few weeks are guaranteed to be some of the busiest, and best of the year. The tiger sharks are back, the conditions are spectacular, and that beautiful South Coast weather is acting as a siren call for visitors from all over the country. Before we get too busy, though, we want to take a quick look back at our highlights for the year – and to thank our clients and friends for making this year one of our best yet. We hope you have a fantastic Christmas and New Year, filled with plenty of opportunities for getting underwater. We’ll be back with our regular blog updates at the beginning of 2016 – but for now, here are our stand-out moments of 2015.

Visiting Great White

Earlier this year, several of us were fortunate enough to tick off a major entry on our collective bucket list, i.e. encountering a great white in the wild without the constraint of a cage. Great whites are infrequent visitors to the Shoal, and certainly not a species we expect to see during our dives. However, on one lucky day in February, we were joined by one of these magnificent sharks on one of our baited dives, giving us the opportunity to witness this spectacular apex predator in its natural environment. The shark spent a few minutes with us, before disappearing back into the clear blue from which it came. It was a magical moment, and one that will stay with us long after this year is over.

great white shark visits at Aliwal Shoal

Paddle Out For Sharks

In June, we took part in the fourth annual Paddle Out For Sharks, a peaceful protest designed to show support of shark conservation efforts all over the world. Although Paddle Out demonstrations now take place throughout South Africa and as far afield as Australia, this event is particularly meaningful for the dive operators of Umkomaas and Scottburgh. After all, it was here that the protest started. In 2012, 13 tiger sharks were caught in the KZN shark nets over the space of two days, a tragedy that inspired the divers and conservationists of the South Coast to hold a memorial Paddle Out as a mark of our shared disgust. Four years on, the event has grown exponentially – proof of the community’s support for our famous sharks.

Sardine Run

In July, we found ourselves consumed by Sardine Run fever. We moved our centre of operations from Umkomaas to Port St Johns, and spent the best part of two weeks travelling up and down the Wild Coast in search of the Run’s famous sardine bait-balls. We spent long hours at sea, and in that time we were fortunate enough to see super-pods of common dolphin, and great flocks of gannets dropping from the sky like feathered bullets. We saw humpback whales breaching just a few hundred feet from the boat, and were even able to catch a few glimpses of the whales from the water. Our entire Sardine Run was a 2015 highlight, but if we had to pick one moment in particular, it would be following a bait-ball for 10 kilometres alongside gannets, dolphins and sharks.

black tip swims with red eye aliwal shoal

Amanzimtoti Scouts

Teaching others to dive is undoubtedly one of the greatest perks of our job. Seeing the wonder on a student’s face as they breathe underwater for the first time; or listening to their excitement after their first open water dive is an incredible feeling. This year, we helped students from all over the world to discover their passion for scuba – but one of our favourite experiences was teaching a group of boys and girls from the Amanzimtoti Scout group. Aged between 15 and 17, they completed their PADI Open Water over the course of seven days at the end of November, and being part of their learning experience was one of our most rewarding experiences of 2015. Their youthful enthusiasm was inspiring, and we hope that diving will remain a big part of their lives for years to come.

Whale carcass

Of course, the list of our 2015 highlights just wouldn’t be complete without what was undoubtedly the best moment of many of our diving careers. In August, the discovery of a dead humpback whale floating near the Shoal sparked an incredible two day-long encounter in which we got to dive amongst a veritable melee of sharks. The species vying for a free meal at the decomposing carcass included our resident oceanic blacktips, as well as several dusky sharks, a handful of bull and tiger sharks, and three large great whites. Full to bursting and intent on making the most of the sudden food bounty whilst it lasted, the sharks paid us no attention – allowing us to spend hours in the water with some of the world’s most feared shark species.

So, with that, we finish our blog for 2015. We can’t wait for the next few weeks of festive diving, and hope to see some of you along the way. For those that we don’t get to wish in person – Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!!

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