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Thu, 29 January 2009

Cape Town: In a bizarre twist, the day before a lifeguard lost his life to a Zambezi shark on the Wild Coast, the world's largest was caught 5.5 kms up a river in the Western Cape, reports Wavescape


Yes, the Western Cape! International and local records tumbled as a team of shark conservationists hooked the largest Zambezi shark known to science - a massive pregnant female four metres in length and weighing almost half a ton. But wait for it. This awesome creature was found 5.5 kms up the Breede River, a large river that comes out near the southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas. It is the furthest south a bull shark has been found in Africa.

Members of the Wavescape forum, and no doubt more than a few visitors, holidaymakers and home owners who have frolicked in the river over the years, expressed stunned surprise at the news.

But for conservationist Meaghen McCord, managing director of the SA Shark Conservancy, this is a ground-breaking realisation of carefully planned scientific research. For a while now, fishermen have spoken about huge Zambezi sharks interfering with their lines in the river. More than a few have laughed at this claim. Well, the second expedition by McCord and her team has proved it to be true.

Joining them were representatives from Marine and Coastal Management, officers from the Lower Breede River Conservancy, a marine biologist from Marine Dynamics, and professional anglers from Big Fish Safari, said McCord. Running from 19 to 25 January, the first three days of their reserach yielded nothing, despite a gruelling regimen fishing with live bait for 16 hours a day.

However, on the fourth day, Friday January 23, a female they affectionately named Nyami Nyami after the Zambezi river God, was hooked by professional angler Hennie Papenfuss. According to McCord, "Hennie gently handled the shark, letting her tow him a further 2.5km (say what? - ed), tiring her out before we brought her close to shore and landed her on a mud bank".

"One can only imagine how excited we were to finally see such a magnificent animal in the river, but our excitement did not prevent us from gathering all the necessary scientific data and attaching two acoustic tags to track her movements during the following days."

Over the next few days, the team discovered three amazing facts:

1 Nyami Nyami is the largest Zambezi shark known to science (four metres long and weighing between 400 and 500 kilos). The previous known maximum length is about 3.5m

2
The furthest south Zambezis have been found is Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape. Nyami Nyami is the only animal ever observed in the Western Cape, and she is the biggest ever!

3
Nyami Nyami looked heavily pregnant, suggesting the Breede River could be an important nursery

Nyami Nyami was subsequently tracked for 43 consecutive hours. "As far as we know, this is the longest time this species has been tracked. She moved up and down the estuary, following fishing boats and looking for an easy source of food, swimming as far as 15km upriver," McCord said.

Bru, put that in your pipe and smoke it. How weird is that? I mean, this is a river that flows through the Cape winelands, passing Tulbagh and Swellendam on its way to the waters east of Cape Agulhas. Classic!


 

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