Prince Albert

Prince Albert. A beautiful quaint town approximately 5 hours from Cape Town near Oudshoorn in the Karoo. Every sunset is a new one and no two sunsets are really alike. The beautiful colours reflecting onto the mountains look like an oil painting and photographs certainly don’t do them any justice! 

The main street has great shops and delicious local restaurants all of which I have sampled and can highly recommend. 

A place not to be missed is the local dairy. You are able to stock up your fresh full cream milk supply as well as purchase delicious cheeses. Upon visiting the dairy these beautiful animals below were waiting to get their fringes and bottoms sheared and neatened up. In 6 months time their wool will be sheared and taken to Port Elizabeth to get treated and sold.

I don’t want to flood my blog with places of interest as I feel it is a place you need to go and explore for yourself. I hope to return there in the near future and have already spotted a half marathon that takes place through the beautiful pass of Meiringspoort.

Fiona 

Sundays Are Fun Days

Photos: (Top Left) Sunrise from Ou Kaapse Weg en route to Hout Bay. (Top Right) Hout Bay beach prior to my race starting. (Bottom) Flying our kite in Simonstown.

This past Sunday it really dawned on me yet again, that I live in such an amazing part of the world. It was a beautiful morning with a slight breeze in the air. I woke up at 05h00 and drove through to Hout Bay to take part in the Chappies Challenge 2017 half marathon. It was a fantastic run with great scenery and wildlife included! While runnin I managed to spot a Southern Right Whale off Noordhoek Beach. It was my highest elevation climb of 747m and I finished the race with a good time of 2 hours 13 minutes before the heat of the day settled in.

The wind was howling when I got back to Simonstown which made any outdoor activity reasonably unbearable. Until Dan said he had fixed a little kite which he managed to pick up for a few Rand at a garage sale. I had never flown a kite and so was curious to see how it was going to handle the gale force winds. I drove down to the green common to see Dan  successfully flying it. It looked beautiful against the blue sky, as it’s an unusual siting, to see someone flying a kite these days. 

I had never had the opportunity of flying a one & Dan showed me a few tips & tricks of the trade. As I burst out with great laughter, I managed to dive bomb it to the ground leaving the kite with additional tatters and threads! Yet it managed to fly and what great fun we had! 2 hours later I realised Dan & I had such great fun in flying it & it was something so unusual to do. We had so many laughs while trying to keep this little toy flying, eventually calling it a day when it looked more like a torn and shredded plastic bag on a barbwire fence than anything fit for purpose.

Absolute bliss and what a great day I had especially when people were complaining about the wind. Best thing is I hardly noticed the wind & loved every minute.

Whilst we were goofing around Dan said that he felt a bit bad that he did not join and or support me on my run, As I had noticed a few significant others joining in had and I mentioned  it in passing.

With this in mind,

So this is actually directed at Dan and I am sure he will laugh when he reads this.

DAN !!!

I have entered you into three races coming up over the next month or so. A night trail run, not to long (we can camp the night before) … just to warm you up for the IMPI challenege which is an obstacle race. This of course will all be in preparation for a little triathlon. Not all out road races but a nice compromise, something I am sure you will enjoy. I will give you all the details once you have read this….So your in… GREAT.

Exciting times lay ahead.

Fiona

What makes you get up everyday!

It seems like such a simple question and yet it could be one of the most important.

To start off let’s have a look at the image below.

caveman3

Lets call this impressive chap Fred.

Fred has a really simple and yet successful life. What makes Fred get up everyday? Simply his pre programmed desire to survive and propagate. Things are very clear to him and have been since childhood. Hunt for food, make a cozy weatherproof shelter, find a woman and make babies. After that, ensure that his kids grow strong and finally return to the earth a wise old man with a swollen tummy and a full heart.

It really is the simplest way of life one can get with ample time to share stories of bravery around fires, take in the sights and sound the wide open world has to offer. Some would argue adamantly that this was the golden age of man, where we experienced hardships yet mental and emotional bliss.

That being said, let’s fast-forward to present day.

When you wake up in the morning do you wake up with an alarm? Are you excited for the day ahead or are you just going through the motions?

I assume like most people you have to go to work. Why do we work?  Silly question. We work to make money. What do we do with this token of our labours? Very basically we use that to pay for food and a place to rest our head at night. Everything else we purchase should really be just to facilitate comfort and ease in achieving this goal. If we achieve this by all intent and purposes we are in fact successful.

This is where it gets interesting. Lets for a moment say we won the lotto, or whilst walking in the woods stumbled onto a pile of gold bullion. This would buy you, your wife and your kids a place to live and food till a ripe old age. Would you be successful ? Why would you then get up every day? Would you jump out of bed with a smile, ready for the next day of relaxation? Would you be HAPPY? Lets hold that thought for a moment.

I read a story of a normal working class family, that won a few million dollars in a State Lotto. You would think that they would have their life all sorted. What did they do? They bought flash cars, paid of their home loan, then sold the house and purchased a huge house with more rooms than needed.

They then spent all the remaining money on a start-up restaurant. They all work in this restaurant 7 days a week, dawn to dusk to make ends meet.  At the time I read the story, the restaurant was not really working out well and they had sunk every last cent they had to make it work. In fact they were running into quite a lot of debt. They were having their meals at their place of business to cut costs. The entire family was getting up begrudgingly, climbing into fancy cars to go to a place they hate, to serve tables.

What was it that drove them back into working to achieve the very thing they  let slip through their fingers. Is it the social programming, consumerism or the fear of success that drove them back into this hole? Why would you have all your financial concerns met and then put yourself in a position that you need to serve people food to make money to buy the very thing you had before you started.

Many successful business men and woman have written books with insights into what makes a person happy as well as successful.  One statement always seems to crop up in many forms but basically says the following, you must do what makes you happy and you will become successful. I am a big fan of sleeping. I sincerely doubt that it will make me successful or buy me the house I need. However I can understand the premise.

We all need money to purchase the things we need. If you enjoy the chosen occupation then you will be much more engaged , thus you should be more successful at that job. Successful in terms of you will enjoy getting up for work as you enjoy the activity. The money will be a secondary issue of importance. If you enjoy making money, you will then wake up happy to dig pig swill if the hourly rate is good. Its my opinion. You either work to live… or live to work.

caveman 7

This possibly explains why some men suddenly wake up one day with a mid-life crisis. Am I a success? Have I wasted the best years of my life chasing a dream that I pushed away every chance I got?  The important thing is to remember that once you have a roof over your head and a full tummy. Think very clearly… What makes me happy? What makes me jump out of bed like a kid on Christmas morning!

If it’s the thrill of making sales, then sell dodgy second-hand cell phones on street corners. If you like fixing stuff or have a bit of a DIY thing,  maybe fix and/or modify  cars. You will love the challenge.

caveman4

Just don’t fool yourself into thinking you doing it to make money. You will be miserable. Chances are you will not succeed or be successful not to mention be bored to death. The only person you will fool is yourself !

Our time on this rock is very short. The time that we have to actively do the things that make us happy is even less. Be very honest with yourself and strive for those moments.

Ascertain, Engage and Achieve.

Well that’s just my humble opinion anyway.

Thank you for reading.

Dan

The science of natural things

Foot 1

What do you see…. A simple boot print?  I see a story!

Since I was a kid I have been interested in tracking. Animal tracking can be fun, however my guilty pleasure has always been a bit more sinister. As I write this I can almost see Fiona’s eyes rolling, but maybe there is someone else who finds this interesting. So why not.

Looking back, this interest was probably sparked by programs like the Lone Ranger not to mention those terrible jungle war movies that I was drawn to as I kid. What ever the reason was, it stuck. I am not the best tracker in the world nor would I ever claim to be anything other than interested. Do I make mistakes you may ask?   Yes I do. But I always learn from them and try hone my interest.

Tracking for me is not some “Rambo” like ambition. It is something that I do whilst out and about. It’s second nature to me now. I have used aspects of it my whole life and to be honest it has never been anything but positive. To me its a great way to learn more about your environment and your surroundings as well as there being new things to learn and experiment with. A few very basic examples are as follows; How long does a print last in the soil and in what type of soil? How much pressure does it take to break what type of branch? Do they break like in the movies or do they just bend?How long does it take a certain spider to spin a new web, when do certain spiders spin webs? Bird language, animal behavior and the list goes on and on. There are so many variables to take into account I cant possibly mention them all. For me tracking is really the study of natural things and people. That being said, I will continue with this story.

We have been having issues with poaching of all types for years, this is nothing new. However I was really horrified to see how bad it has become in my area. It seems that rising unemployment and an overloaded legal system has thrown down the red carpet for certain people.

In my youth, poaching seemed a little more candid. Some guy going around taking a few things he should not. Not really a big deal. He would get a warning, maybe a fine and that would be that. Now it seems to be a fully fledged way of life for some. A very  profitable way to make money. A new world market with US dollar prices. These people have no intention of doing anything else.  They have been giving our Rangers the run around for some time.

Now when faced with a problem like this I try to put myself in their shoes. See their problems and how would they solve them. In doing so I can see the flaws, patterns and weak links in the chain. The same as tracking any animal.

One thing I do know that humans don’t do anything without motivation. Not even something as simple as going to the loo. We don’t move a muscle without a reason. It turns out that a group is actually  taken the initiative. They are actively watching the patrolling Rangers and moving according to their schedule. But that could be their weakness. I will explain.

I started to explore the place were the animals have been repeatedly harvested and worked my way back. Literally in a way that I would not be seen. It was not possible. So they must be doing this in the dark….A vehicle driving in the dark would be noticed…They must be dropped off in the day and walk in at night. I looked at all the places I would hide that would meet the following criteria: Must be a easy drop off point, must be able to walk with a heavy carry load, good cell phone reception, good overview of any roads and Rangers, must be able to hide from Thermal and IR detection and bingo.  I found their route, their staging area and collection point. This area has been used repeatedly by multiple people for some time. The poachers were definitely watching the Rangers and acting accordingly. The signs range from a month or more rightq up to 24hours old. The way these individuals were operating was cunning as well as incredibly interesting .

 

Bag 2

Belly bag used for harvesting

Bags 4

Bags used to transport the animals

Condoms used to make cell phones waterproof

I am not an expert as I mentioned however the signs indicated a minimum of 3 guys excluding the driver. From what I could see they were athletic, aware and motivated. Not forgetting at least one of them has a drug problem. This could mean he could be unpredictable, aggressive or sloppy. However to be honest I was hoping for the latter. As it turns out that night they employed quite an innovative tactic. Multiple people hit a few different areas. This area had a total of 7 operators but this particular spot was the overview point. Three were detained but one of the Rangers had to break off the car chase for the remaining offenders. A second vehicle appeared and tried to force him off the road whilst in pursuit of the first.  Things elevated quickly. It is becoming very clear that the steaks are high and people are willing to risk it all in the pursuit of quick cash.

 

Tracking or situational awareness is beneficial to just about everyone now days, no matter if its for hiking pleasure, a better understanding of our natural world, driving home from work or even being aware with regards to your local neighbourhood watch.

If you find this type of story interesting or you would like to know more about tracking and or situational awareness , please indicate so by commenting or leaving a like. I am happy to share the things I have learnt or noticed with people who are interested.

Thank You

Dan

On Any Normal Day……

I was on my way to pick up my dad from work today when I was treated to a very odd sight. A long string of cars making its way slowly towards me in the opposite lane.

This in itself was not unusual but what was odd was the reason for the traffic. A newish model car moving at snails pace. Hmmm probably a tourist taking in the sights. As I got closer I noticed that this car had a few items omitted from the body work. Some of the first things I noticed, No drivers door, No windscreen or side windows, Number plate not even a rear window. Not to mention that the drivers side wheel looked like it was just about to drop off. It was slowly wobbling along, in a mesmerizing  rhythmic fashion. The whole car act looked like it was a bit bent. It was like a wet exhausted dog with its tongue hanging out, limping home after a over enthusiastic day at the beach. I did not want to be late so I gave this wreck a lot of room and proceeded with my travels.

When I was returning home with my dad I noticed that this rolling wreck had not moved very far, in fact the engine had now also seemed to have given up the ghost and the passengers had abandoned ship to start pushing. Further up the road whilst I was saying goodbye to my dad I found myself strumming the steering wheel. Oh alright then. I cant actually leave this, its just begging for further investigation.

Upon finding the “wet dog” had only moved a few feet, I slowed, stopped and asked what the issue was (silly question). In hindsight I should have asked where the rest of the car was!  Apparently the alternator belt had broken! Like that was the big issue at the moment.  No really!!!! Was that the issue… everything else was apparently ok.

Now I am the first one to criticize people who moan but will not step in, so I was left with no real choice but to help…   ” Do you need a tow”…. My thinking was to at least clear the road. It was starting to get a bit dark and it would only be a matter of time before some Friday night speedster made two cars into one, using the rear end method.

I was then asked , could I please tow them home as it was not far… Great…. Like a moth to the flame…. Sure. I said, but please can the passenger ride with me as you cant tow a vehicle with two people in it.

Whilst I was dragging floppy to its home a police car drove past. Here we go I was thinking. Get your wallet out, this is going to cost me.  Nothing.  Not even a second glance! Again two min later a second police car drove past…. No ways my luck would last this long. I normally get pulled over on my bike at the drop of a hat. There was no way I am going to get away with this. I am towing a car with no lights, no doors, nothing. At this moment I leaned over to the passenger. The conversation went something like this.

Me: Whew that was close. Two cop cars, I cant believe we have not been pulled over.

Passenger: Don’t worry about it,  its ok.

Me: Why you say that! On any normal day I would be on the side of the road begging for forgiveness.

Passenger: Don’t worry about it, I am a COP…..We are the POLICE…..

Me: Your kidding.

They Were Not Kidding… They were police. They had picked up their half finished repair job from a panel shop. Apparently they were not happy with the job so they decided to take it home as is. This particular panel shop was at least 20km away.

Wonders never cease, I see new and wonderful things everyday. I was left dumbstruck and speechless. Wonderful.

Dan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How free are YOU?

What is freedom ?  A Simple question or is it.

We are all familiar with the term incarceration. You commit a crime, you are tried in a court and if found guilty you get sent to jail. Solitary confinement and jail time are the worst form of punishment that man has dreamt up without infringing on human rights. Traditionally you are assigned a certain amount of time (depending of the severity of your crime) , to a small cell where you sleep, a mess hall where you eat and a yard, where if you lucky you can get a few hours of sunshine a week. If you are well behaved you can get assigned a little job punching number-plates for a few dollars a week (room and board are included).

The-prisoner-worries-about-the-next-confrontation-with-the-guards[1]

My understanding is that the hardest part of doing time is not so much “doing the time” but the routine. Nothing changes, it is exactly the same routine every single day. The relentless repetition and routine grinds down on even the hardest criminals. How do you know your in jail? The security and barb wire fencing and your loss of freedom. Your punishment is the constant reminder that you don’t have any choice in your day-to-day activities, every decision is made on your behalf and your just a zombie doing your time. I think we can all agree that we all would rather avoid any time in the clink if at all possible.

This is what is interesting to me. If we look at our lives in modernity we can all say we have given up certain aspects of our freedom. The question is really how much have you given up or lost unintentionally. I was having a quick think about the various lifestyles we choose to see if I could draw any parallels.

On the extreme end of the scale let’s look at city living. We constantly cram ourselves into tiny rooms in grey multi-story building blocks, with various security measures including 24 hour surveillance , buzzers , intercoms, key card access, endless rules and the list goes on.

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Our routine is to wake up, make a quick breakfast if we have time, rush of to some bus or underground train, clock into some very important irrelevant job that involves flying a desk. We then rush off as the clock strikes the hour back to your block to catch a take away “sad meal” on your way to check in for a shower and sleep time. Five or six times a week we do this,all in the hope of our one or two days off (invariably to buy food in preparation for the following week). We eat sleep and repeat the cycle, watching a clock, day in and day out till we either get a better job with a bigger cell ( Apartment) or we burn out. The only distraction is the chance of surrounding ourselves with more expensive and trendy trappings to numb the pain and the eventual demises of our dull existence.

There are many parallels between that type of life and incarceration. However people who live in the suburbs are better off in certain aspects no doubt, however they to have the same fundamental underlying issues.

Lets for a moment look at hard core drug addicts. The supposed scum of the earth. Have you ever for a moment thought of what’s its like to be in their shoes.

Prisoners if I have ever seen one. Never see one far from home for long or have any real freedom of choice as they are under a clock. No fences or high walls keeping them locked down. Just the threat of time. Time till the next fix is like a gun to their heads, always cocked and ready to fire. The ever present need to reset a clock that never stops ticking.

Have you ever dreamed of sailing away off into the distance?

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In reality it can be wet and cold, your all alone in desert of unmanageable expanse, monotonous dehydrated food and bad conditions with the ever present threat of loosing your life in a freak storm.

heavy weather sailing

What could possibly be inviting about something like that? Well maybe, The freedom of choice. The freedom to go anywhere at any time and the unknown over the horizon. Freedom to explore. The choice to set your sails to far away lands and adventures.

The facts are , no one can exist in this world for any amount of time without money.

You cant be happy without a certain amount of it, its our life blood.Anyone who tells you different is either clueless or wealthy, in my experience its the latter.

We all have to sacrifice certain freedoms in life and make compromise’s to get by. I have made way to many to mention. We all need to find a way to live our lives in a full and satisfying way.  I have found that we don’t need to be walled in to be prisoners in modern society, in-fact its really easy. As humans we adapt really well. It has helped us thrive but it can just as easily turn against us. One day its unthinkable, the next its a option and then finally, its expected. The trick is that we must not forget what we are working towards and whats really important in the long run.

Of all the worldly possessions we could possibly get our hands on, the most valuable commodity we  have and the only commodity that increases with each second that rolls buy is, time. The real question is…..

What are you going to do with yours. 

Thank you for reading. Anyway it was just a thought I had the other day, lets not forget its only my humble opinion.  Please feel free to share any comments or thoughts you may have.

Dan

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Beauty comes in many forms. For some it’s in the obvious sense, for othersit can be special moments that are cherished and make us feel alive. Remind us of who we are and what we have become. Some people are open to appreciating beauty each and every day wherever they are, some people are not so fortunate in having the ability of realising what beauty lies within their surrounding. 

With all that is going on around us whether it be political, environmental or personal there is beauty all around us. We just not always able to see the beauty for what it is. 

Be grateful and cherish each and every moment,you never know when it may be your last…

Fiona 

Unexpected Surprises

(This will be of special interest to anyone who has taken a picture, or anyone who is interested in the mechanics of photography.)

 Sometimes a random string of events, that are perfectly timed, can lead to something totally unexpected. Fiona & I were lucky enough to slip away for the weekend up the West coast. I  could not help putting up a post about this little moment that had us both bewildered. So simple in its form and yet so enchanting.

We had been driving around for some time in a remote area on our coastline, When the inevitable happened. Fiona needed to use a bathroom! So did I, but I was not going to admit to it at that stage.  We drove for approximately 27km to an old VOC Farm House. ( It used to supply salted fish to the Dutch East India Company Ships passing Cape Town). This farm house was built in approximately 1744, so its safe to say that it is quite old. It has not changed much in its design but now has a small eatery with bathroom. Just what we needed. Fiona was first in the door with me following in hot pursuit. I was stumped, pipped to the post because of  an old swollen, wormhole riddled door that does not really close properly. Out of respect for the door, I was not going to force it but politely held it while Fiona did the necessary (To the victor go the spoils). 

It was at this moment, just pushing the door gently enough to get it to latch that I noticed it.

Everything was just right for a very brief moment. Amongst the myriad of tiny worm holes there was just one that was all the way through the frame, at just the correct angle. Along with the perfect time of day and the ideal amount of sun. This created the perfect focal length for what was going to be the subject of our discussion for the next few hours. 

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A perfect image of the farm house projected on the door frame wall. Fiona did not know what I was going on about at first, but we both landed up staring at the image in disbelief.

No one was going to believe us on this one. It was changing fast but Fiona quickly said we should grab the camera to try take a picture. With childlike excitement I went back to the car, got the camera and tried to re create the chain of events that created the image. In this short time the sun had moved and the quality had been lost. So I went outside to see if I could get into the frame of view. The above picture is what Fiona managed to get. Mere moments had past. The farmhouse picture was blurred and stretched but we had this picture to remember the moment.

I have seen the theory of pin hole cameras before and I understand the principle, but I have never actually seen it like this. Totally natural in its origin with a celestial shutter. We both debated the randomness of the events as well as the perfect timing to witness it.

Road trips and exploring can be fascinating and exhilarating if you take the time to notice it, or in this case race to the nearest 18th century farmhouse toilet complete with worm hole projector door fame.

Great Picture Fiona. Well done I think its the best one you have taken of me to date.

Dan

 

Life after Ashes 

Recently Cape Town has been ravaged by mountain fires that have ripped through just about every bush and tree possible. Many houses have been lost and while I feel for these people, it saddens me to think of all the animals that have lost their lives and not been able to escape the fast moving flames. Numbers are unimaginable 

The fire swept past about 1km behind my house. Despite not seeing visible animals in distress there clearly are some animals who survived the fires yet are struggling to find food resources. 

We have had a bird feeder out with some sugar water for about a year and while we have had a few visitors it’s been nothing as crazy as what it is now after the fires. 

Since the fire we have had on average about 10 Orange Breasted Sunbird’s all chirping and queuing for a taste of some sweet goodness.  It’s been great to observe then and clearly they are hungry as they are really enjoying our sugar water finishing a 1.5L bottle every day. They clearly are struggling out in their natural environmental.  

The above image shows the amazing colouration of their coats. I was able to take these photographs on my cellphone without having to use my zoom!!! 

It’s amazing how with destruction comes beauty. I certainly have realised it this year with the fire season. 

Fiona

Critical Analysis relating to article titled: Cost/benefit analysis of group and solitary resting in the cowtail stingray, (Pastinachus sephen).

Description, Habitat & Distribution

Cowtail stingrays (Pastinachus sephen) are widely distributed throughout the globe’s oceans. They are native to many countries such as Australia, Indonesia, Japan, Mozambique and South Africa (Union, Nature, and Resources, 2000). Cowtail stingrays are uniformly grey to brown in colour, medium sized, with their underside belly region being predominantly white. The tail area tends to be darker in colour.

Cowtail stingrays have a particularly thickened pectoral fin, resulting in straightened anterior margins with round apices. They have broad snouts which are blunt at the end in comparison to most other stingrays. Their small eyes are situated on top which are quite widely spaced apart. Their tail is very distinct in shape and appearance. It is long, extending into a leaf shape structure at the end of the tail. An upper fold on the tail is absent which is different when you observe the tail of a short-tail stingray or smooth stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata). A single venomous spine is present, it is situated well behind the pelvic fins (Branch, Griffiths, and Branch, 2010). Overall the cowtail stingrays body tends to be wider than it is long.

Adults have denticles, in essence they are tooth like serrations or placoid scales on the surface of the disk which begin at the snout region continuing through to the tail. The denticles are excluded from margins of the disk plate.

Cowtail stingrays prefer to remain in shallow waters. As a result they are commonly found in intertidal lagoon areas, shallow reef systems (Michael,1993), sandy ecosystems and in certain environments river inlets (Compagno et al.1989).

Biology & Ecology

Cowtail stingrays mainly feed on bony fish species, various crustaceans and worms.

They are predominately solitary. Grouping is facultative, meaning the cowtail stingrays are able to group together as they feel, and when the benefits of grouping outweigh the benefits of remaining a solitary resting ray (Semeniuk, 2004).

Rays have shown a tendency  to group together when environmental conditions are not in their favour. Generally only grouping together when resting. Resting occurs on sandy shallow ocean beds or hideaway spots where they are less prone to be found by passing predators

Cowtail stingrays have been seen resting with other ray species, such as the Whipray. This may be an indication of trying to gain better predator detection mechanisms that the cowtail stingray may not posses (Semeniuk, 2004).

While studying this scientific paper, I found it pertinent to include some of my personal findings regarding the local Short Tail stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata) population along the South Peninsula coastline upon which I live on, and compare it to the rays which are mentioned in the scientific paper.

Resting period of Cowtail Stingrays

The priority with any animal in the wild when resting, is to try and minimise the risk of being found by predators. Cowtail stingrays are most vulnerable to many shark species, particularly those of the Sphyrnidae and Carcharhinidae family (Hammerhead and Requiem sharks) as well as Bottlenose Dolphins belonging to the Delphinidae family. In order to achieve many of these, risk management strategies are put in place (Semeniuk, 2004) to avoid being caught out by their predators.

When cowtail stingrays rest, they do not take part in any other activity such as mating or feeding. Observation has seen them just in a resting phase. They tend to rest for a minimum of four hours per day (Semeniuk, 2004).

Irrespective of what animal I looked at, the choice in which the animal chooses to rest needs to be as safe as possible, and out of eye sight from passing predators. Secondly, animals may develop defence mechanisms or tactics to decrease their probability of being preyed on. Many rays have developed cryptic methods of hiding away from the predator, as such the cowtail stingray which is able bury itself underneath the sand thus reducing their chances of being noticed. Another technique is the stingrays electro receptor senses (ampullae of Lorenzini) facing towards any gap from which a predator may attack from. If the ampullae of Lorenzini are facing towards the direction at which an approaching predator may appear (Schmidt-Nielsen, 1997), the stingray will have a greater ability in detecting the approaching predator. Lastly, grouping as seen within the cowtail stingray population may also play a role in creating a “safe place” to rest (Semeniuk, 2004).

Grouping within the cowtail stingray population is not a necessity. However, they may prefer to group if they are experiencing a limitation with regard to detecting a nearby predator (Semeniuk, 2004). The detection abilities of a cowtail stingray will vary as it is related to many oceanic factors  such as visibility, incoming sunlight, tide state and condition. All of these factors are constantly changing on a regular and basis. Cowtail stingrays have only been observed in small group numbers ranging between 2-4 rays per group, of course bigger groups can occur.

Benefits of Grouping

The greatest and most obvious benefits of grouping whilst resting include the following: it creates bodily protection while resting, it increases an early warning system and create predator confusion, ideally reducing the potential of being consumed (Semeniuk, 2004).

It is advantageous for the cowtail stingray to congregate in a small group of minimal numbers to rest when water visibility conditions are low/poor. The lowered water quality can be caused by churned up sediment, low light levels, strong ground swell/ current and other variables. Grouping tended to take place during diminished water visibility when the rays senses of detecting a predator would be reduced. By grouping together, the cowtail stingrays are hoping to increase their detection skills, thereby having an early detection in place which would aid in their survival and possibly reduce the probability of being spotted.

Cowtail stingrays have created an advantageous spatial arrangement for protection against any threat. Most commonly the stingrays arrange themselves in a rosette formation when resting in a group. Rosette being with their heads facing inward of the group and their tails displayed outwards (Semeniuk,2004).Rosette design acts as a self defence mechanism against predators. It also enables the stingrays to have majority of their body protected, should they be attacked. Their tail acts as a sacrificial item versus putting their entire body at risk. As mentioned, their tails contain mechanoreceptors which contribute to an early warning system. With each stingray in the group possessing this feature, it is a combined benefit that would not necessarily been available if the cowtail stingray was resting on its own.  (Semeniuk,2004).

Spatial awareness within the article (Semeniuk,2004) is seen as being equally important with regard to approaching larger rays when settling to rest in a group.

In my experience, along the coastline in Simonstown, I  have found that its best done when the short tail stingray has had a clear and intended path of escape. In many situations I have encountered the possibility of getting very close to the stingray, and have even interacted with an individual without it fleeing. This is achieved because they are able to see a clear path of ‘flight’ should it be needed. Closing off this path in anyway may lead to panic and fleeing.

Grouped cowtail stingrays were measured as having a greater response distance when being encountered by a predator. This measurement was comparatively done with solitary cowtail stingrays in the same water conditions. The scientists used an analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) with a particular group size as the covariate. Perhaps, the greater response distance in grouped rays was due to resting in the rosette pattern, allowing their early warning system to react much quicker from all different angles compared to a solitary stingray which is just relying on itself to detect a predator from any direction. When cowtail stingrays group together there are two effects that can be observed within the group itself. Namely, the Trafalgar Effect and the Dilution Effect (Semeniuk, 2004).

Trafalgar Effect typically occurs when the stingrays group together with their pectoral fins overlapping another ray’s fins. When a predator approaches them, their communication will take place through touch (overlapping pectoral fins) which will get transmitted from one ray to another in the group. Once one cowtail stingray has been alerted to a possible threat there will be a “wave of alarm” which will travel among the group. This Trafalgar Effect can travel through individuals who are not even aware of the potential danger that may be approaching them, thus acting as an early warning system (Krause, 1993). It would therefore be beneficial to a stingray to rest in a group if they are continuously vigilant, or always being aware of their surroundings all the time.

I have noticed a constant analogy with the  short tail stingrays. When stingrays are resting in a group of two or more individuals, there are distinct levels of threat awareness. When I found  short tail stingrays resting in sandy open areas they portrayed a manner that was more relaxed despite the group not always resting in the typical ‘”rosette” pattern. More often they were grouped together in irregular patterns with their pectoral wings overlapping with one another. This observation along with Krause,1993 and Semeniuk, 2004 confirms the notion of cowtail stingrays communication of their surroundings can be carried out if they are in contact with one another.

When any threat is perceived (ahead of the animal/front on) while resting, a small wave-like pulse is flashed through the pectoral fins surface, thus alerting the neighbouring stingrays whose wings overlap, to make them aware of the predator. Should the threat remain within close and potential dangerous proximity, a further more vigorous pulse is sent through the whole wing’s surface. This “unglues” the ray from the sea bed, (at this stage I have actually seen sand particles being flushed through the gill plates), showing the intense inhalation and exhalation in preparation for fleeing the scene in order to escape the predator. If the threat is still present and the ray is determined to stand its ground and resist fleeing, then the tail sting will be raised and lowered in a threat display in an attempt to ward off the predator. If all else fails, with a burst the stingray will retreat and continue fleeing in order to escape to safety.

Grouped cowtail stingrays were observed to have escaped roughly 50m further away when compared to cowtail stingrays that were resting in solitude (Semeniuk,2004). I believe the reason for early escapement would be the combined effects of all the above mentioned factors enabling the stingrays to detect an approaching predator much quicker, unlike a solitary animal trying to guard all fronts in order to avoid being seen by a predator.

In conjunction with the Trafalgar Effect,  the Dilution Effect take places when there is a great number of individuals resting together. The greater the number in a group will therefore reduce the probability of a particular individual being predated on, due to their being a “choice” of prey (Krause, 2002). As a result, a stingray resting in a group could potentially get away with not being preyed upon if the dilution effect is great enough (Annenberg Foundation 2016).  Another benefit from grouping and dispersing upon the predator’s approach is that if the group disperses yet remains within good proximity to each other which could increase the confusion in selecting a target prey item for the predator, and as such may even result in the predator losing focus, spending too much energy on the prey without success and moving on without having preyed upon any cowtail stingray at all. Resting in a group brings down the success rate of successfully consuming prey, as capture is more difficult. This would stand the cowtail stingray population in good stead, rather than resting alone where the risks would be higher in defending oneself.

Over and above deciding to rest in a group, each individual stingray in the group needs to constantly be vigilant, use cooperative defence strategies in order to increase its probability of not being eaten. The resting group needs to remain and function as a cohesive whole, otherwise there will be a decline in the benefits of resting in a group.

Costs of Grouping

An obvious cost of grouping would be the increase in the group’s visibility to predators when resting. Due to their size, they would be able to be easily identified as opposed to resting individually and burying themselves beneath the sand (Semeniuk, 2004). Being caught off guard to any predator or threat would not be in favour to the cowtail stingray. The main objective of resting would be to know that you, as an individual, are as safe as possible, and that the resting individual is able to save a bit of energy while resting and not have to spend energy being on guard the whole time looking out for predators.

While the stingrays may remain well hidden in poor visibility conditions when solitary or grouped, this is would decrease when visibility improved. If a predator’s own visibility is not good, then grouped rays would possibly get away with grouping even in good water conditions. However, stingrays are not able to judge the visibility of a predator’s eyesight beforehand.

Secondly, the grouping may lead to an increase in competition with resources which could let to increased levels of aggression as a result of the competition, especially if the resources are particularly limited. This may prove detrimental to those stingrays that are unable to cope with resting in a group, with increased levels of stress, or if there is some sort of hierarchy that is present within the group of resting stingrays that prevent certain individuals to rest with others in the group, due to this competition or stress levels present.

Resting with other rays may increase the prospect of contracting diseases or parasites that could be passed onto one another. Whereas, if a cowtail stingray was resting on its own, it would reduce the possibility of contracting illnesses or disease. Illness or disease would be disadvantageous to a stingray that could reduce its population in generations to come.

There may also be an increased interference with commencing the initial flight within the group. However, there could possibly be a decrease in overall escape speed (Semeniuk, 2004).  Despite these actions, probably aiding in confusing the predator, it could also hinder a stingray’s escape efforts by being in a group as each stingray would be hampered by fellow resting cowtail stingrays all being contained in close proximity. As a result, it seems it would be better to be solitary when resting. This could increase the probability of a stingray being caught no matter how effective the Dilution Effect of the group is. Fleeing in a group is difficult when overlapping discs of rays occur when resting. When escape is needed to take place rapidly, it is decreased due to the fact that the cowtail stingrays congregating too close together. In some cases cowtail stingrays may struggle in escaping, and eventually falling prey to the predator (Semeniuk, 2004) due to being in a group which is too crowded or too close in proximity to one another. Switching is an action that has been observed with cowtail stingrays in groups (Semeniuk, 2004). It involves changing the escape trajectory in order to avoid a collision with another ray. This behaviour is commonly witnessed during the study. When switching takes place, it means the stingray has to decrease the distance between itself and oncoming predator, and in doing so, the initial escape speed is reduced becoming disadvantageous to the cowtail stingray involved.

Grouped rays displayed a slower speed than a solitary resting ray (Semeniuk, 2004). This illustrates that when in a group, one cannot simply leave when a predator approaches, as the group displayed a planned and concurrent escape with all members of the group. Signalling and communication takes place causing stingrays to disperse at the same time or as close to the same rate. The churning of sand when dispersing contributes to an individual having a slower dispersal speed which makes it harder for rays to actually disperse away from the predator. Instead, due to the lack of visibility many end up dispersing towards the predator. Even though a group may have a slower response speed, it does not change significantly with a group containing more cowtail stingrays. As these factors were present whether the group contained two cowtail stingrays or more individuals, they still form a group. Concluding that response speed would be slower when there is a group of 3 cowtail stingrays or more, nine or more rays were rarely seen. Grouping appears to be costly. In my view, if it wasn’t costly then surely there would be greater numbers of grouping cowtail stingrays? If group numbers were to rise to greater numbers, it would mean, that by the time the predator was in close range to the group (whilst all the cowtail stingrays were dispersing) it could be quite plausible that the predator would be extremely close to the last member of the group before it was able to flee itself (Lima,1994), resulting in a possible capture.

Being a member of a group means that in certain situations your escape trajectory route may get blocked or taken by another cowtail stingray in its own escape. Hence, the stingray would have to divert and change its escape direction, hampering, and slowing down, its own escape. In addition to escaping a particular pathway, one or more stingrays may follow the same route. The outcome is a crossing over pattern which also slows down and hinders the intended escape route for any stingray in the group. Worst case scenario is it could result in a collision between two stingrays, this would be detrimental to any stingray whilst trying to escape their predator.

Benefits of being Solitary

Cowtail stingrays who choose to rest on their own have shown to have a quicker response/escape time when fleeing away from an approaching predator. Proving advantageous as it reduces their chance of becoming the prey. It is possibly due to the lateral line that runs the length of the body which enables them to detect any water movements which potentially could have been caused by nearby predators (Marushka & Tricas,1998).

Some stingrays may continue to rest in solitary if the cost of resting in a group, in conjunction with any additional factors, is too high. As yet, there is no link with determining whether grouping is more beneficial in comparison to remaining a solitary animal.

Cowtail stingrays have a heightened lateral placement of their eyes, allowing them to have a greater field of vision (Bodznick,1990). This facilitates the rays when resting in solitary to continue to be on the lookout for predator from an array of angles. This continuously allows the stingray to have an escape route mapped out should a predator arrive.

It seems as though there were a few variables that influenced whether the cowtail stingray would remain solitary or would conform to resting in a group. Confirming that if the benefits outweighed the costs of grouping then it would do so. Incident light level and cloud cover were two major contributing factors in determining in which way a cowtail stingray would conform to resting.

The FID (Flight Initiation Distance) was dramatically affected relative to the visibility condition (Semeniuk, 2004). There was a definite correlation between FID and water visibility.  The FID was considerably greater when there were increased light levels. All indicating that the condition of the water and surrounding environmental factors play a crucial role in the escape of cowtail stingrays, and whether they can successfully avoid being hunted by their predator.

When I have been swimming along the coastline, I have witnessed Short Tail stingrays to be solitary while resting when the visibility is in excess of 8 metres.  Whereas, when the sand is churned up due to boat activity or weather conditions, I have noticed that the stingrays will congregate together in small groups of 2 -3 stingrays. It is interesting to note that despite them being different species, and situated in different parts of the world, they are perhaps seemingly using the similar predator detection methods as the cowtail stingrays in Australia. Whether this is in fact the case, further investigation would be required to fully determine whether this is the reason.

Costs of being Solitary

Semeniuk, 2004, found that the actual escape distance was considerably shorter when a cowtail stingray was resting in poor conditions on its own as opposed to resting on its own in good conditions.

While studying the cowtail stingrays there were noticeable delays in the response of a solitary cowtail stingray when a predator came close in conjunction with water conditions being reduced. Consequently it would be beneficial to group in poor condition in order to improve response times (Semeniuk, 2004) with the other detecting mechanisms that are in place. With these mechanisms in place it would create a concerted and coordinated escape which could be initiated sooner than if a cowtail stingray were on its own, despite being well camouflaged and hidden while resting alone.

Comparing Anti Predator Benefits of Mixed Species Groups of Cowtail Stingray and Whiprays at Rest

In addition to what has been observed with resting cowtail stingrays, another scientific study has been done looking at whether grouping of mixed species are beneficial rather than remaining in a single species group or solitary

(Semeniuk & Dill, 2006). It seems that the cowtail stingray enjoys grouping with the Reticulate Whipray (Himantura uarnak)( Semeniuk & Dill, 2006).

Cowtail stingrays preferred to group with heterospecifics, particularly Whiprays.  Cowtail stingrays have been seen settling next to them rather than passing by, and settling elsewhere or with other cowtail stingrays in the vicinity. This indicating that Whiprays seemed a preferred choice (Semeniuk & Dill, 2006) when deciding where to rest, the opposite effect when it was of their own species (Semeniuk, 2004).

Cowtail stingrays seemingly formed greater numbered heterospecific groups than when they remained in a monospecific group which generally were composed of smaller numbers. This is an incredible phenomenon given the lower density of Whipray population in the region.

Whiprays responded much quicker relative to cowtail stingrays when a predator, mocked by an approaching boat to a group of resting rays. Whiprays frequently were the first to respond when a predator approached the resting group. Therefore, it appears to be beneficial for the cowtail stingrays to stick with the Whiprays when resting in a group, as the Whiprays would receive an early warning due to them using secondary detector mechanisms situated in the length of their tail (Semeniuk & Dill, 2006). As a result, the cowtail settles preferably alongside a whipray when wanting to rest, assuming the whipray has a greater surrounding awareness of when a predator is near.  The relationship between the two species of stingrays must be a mutual and symbiotic one to allow this type of behaviour to take place. The tail of a Whipray is negatively allometric meaning that it is disproportionate in growth size to the ray as the ray changes in size. Semeniuk & Dill, 2006, suggests that perhaps as a young whipray, the tail plays a vital role being extremely long relatively to its size and decreasing in size as it grows. This ensures that it is successful in surviving the vulnerable early stages of life. An adult Whipray still has a longer tail compared to cowtail stingrays.

In the study there was a positive relationship between log10 tail length and log10 disc width for cowtail stingrays (r2 = 0.622, F1.28 = 78.99, p = 0.0001) (Semeniuk & Dill, 2006). In this particular relationship, the slope indicated a negative allometry. Yet the opposite gave close to identical results when the whole tail was visible. Relative to their disc width whiprays had longer tails when compared to cowtail stingrays, increasing the theory of being able to detect predators sooner than a cowtail stingray. Whiprays were able to respond first out of the two species when being interrogated by a predator, and detected a predator from a further distance than cowtail stingrays in a single specie group.

Heterospecific groups may form based on two primary reasons. Firstly, to try and reduce the predation of either species but resting in a group and reducing chance encounters (Waser, 1984). Another benefit for both species of ray when resting in a mixed specie group is there would be less resource competition between both species which would reduce the cost of resting in a group.

Grouping may not always be beneficial to both species resting within one group. The protector – species hypothesis states the being in a heterospecific group will provide benefits to at least one species that would not have been achievable if grouped solely with the same species (Pius & Leberg, 1998).

The cowtail stingray and whipray are quite closely related. For this reason it would make sense for them to group together. Both species of stingrays would intrinsically be in tune to one another’s responses to predators, and recognise each ones response to an approaching predator. Aiding in effective communication taking place despite them being different species.

It’s been studied that cowtail stingrays preferred to rest with whiprays compared to resting with fellow cowtail stingrays (Semeniuk & Dill, 2006). 18% of encountered cowtail stingrays were joined by passing cowtail stingrays as opposed to 62% of encountered whiprays. This study showed cowtail stingrays passing more fellow resting cowtail stingrays be it in groups or solitary. Settling more often with whiprays.

With everything mentioned above included, cowtail stingrays en masse settled with rays of similar or larger sizes than their own (Semeniuk & Dill, 2006) . One wonders if maybe size has any influence in deterring a predator as I have always seen similar sized stingrays grouping together.

Discussion

Against all benefits and costs, it is extremely interesting that grouping within the cowtail stingray population is facultative. This is an important feature as it means the stingrays continue to have a choice, but it is not necessary for survival. The observation of stingrays grouping together more frequently when the weather/water conditions were poor, contrary to when weather/water condition were good and in their favour, suggests they are continuously aware of their environment, and assessing their surrounding, using all mechanisms and techniques they posses to maximise their survival and ability to outwit and manoeuvre any predator.

Escape speeds of cowtail stingrays, both grouped and solitary, were measured by using a boat acting as a predator. The boat was considered to mimic that of an approaching predator (Semeniuk, 2004). With reference to the study using a boat to mock a predator, in my personal opinion, I found that the short tail stingray (Dasyatis brevicaudata)  displays various types of behaviour towards perceived threats i.e. predators in different localised areas.

I have observed that some small groups have evolved their behaviour similar to Pavlov’s Dog Theory (Classical Conditioning). Certain small groups of these rays have changed their resting times to correlate with an irregular human activity known as fishing. Commercial vessels are always under time constraints to obtain the best price at the market, so it’s not uncommon for the crew to clean a few fish while waiting to slip their boat. The waste is thrown over the side and eaten by the rays.  I have found that in these areas adults of both sexes will wait in deeper waters until the commercial fishing boats come into the slip way to retrieve their trailers to take the boats out the water, with the fish still on board the vessel, and as such, it’s an audible cue that draws them into shallower water, irrespective of  the time and/or tide state. This audible cue has become so acute that if a smaller leisure boat i.e. rubber duck comes to the slipway, no perceived reaction is noticed or made by the rays within the vicinity. However, should a heavier multi-engine commercial ski-boat arrive at the slip way, up to five rays will appear out of the depths to meet the vessels in the hopes of receiving fresh off cuts of fish / afval. I have tested this theory numerous times. We have surveyed the area prior to different vessels arrival, and have noticed a definite correlation between specific boats and ray activity. While in different areas we have noticed that rays are very shy whenever they are approached by incoming vessels.

I also noticed a distinct behaviour displayed when approaching resting short tail stingrays. I found that resting solitary animals will not react when swimming overhead even whilst resting in clear waters. The animal stays dormant, calm and still. Added to this particular resting behaviour, I likewise noted that a predator, in this case a human, must not approach the stingray from the rear as the animal almost certainly would flee in a burst. The best approach for majority of resting stingrays on the sea bed was slightly higher than the ray itself, and either  from just to the right, or left of centre, stopping for a few seconds, then closing the last little distance slowly. In doing this it is possible to make physical contact with the animal.

Approaching stingrays in this way, it is possible to get very close to observe, and leave without the animal being disturbed or fleeing the scene. Therefore, using a boat to represent a predator moving over the top of the stingray on the water’s surface to measure response flight time and distance in cowtail stingrays could result in very poor/inaccurate data results.

It is assumed that cowtail stingrays do not have excellent vision as they have been seen colliding with obstacles when experiencing poor visibility (Semeniuk, 2004). So it is a concern for them to always try and remain safe when visibility drops as their eyesight is compromised. On top of this they experience a decline in predator detection ability and an initial flight departure. This could explain the reason for optional grouping when poor conditions develop.

A stingray’s vision for predators will extend as far as its eye sight is able to go. So should a predator approach the stingray’s field of vision, it doesn’t immediately mean that the stingray will flee the area. The stingray will continuously evaluate the benefits of maintaining its ground relative to leaving. An animal will only leave when it is forced to do so, in order to avoid burning excess energy.  So, it will wait until the last minute when it is still able to escape successfully.

Conclusion

The fact that solitary cowtail stingrays are able to escape at much quicker speeds than those in groups indicates that despite being alone, it is easier to be solitary, if the stingray is needing to escape a predator nearby. A slower speed is a great cost to any stingray that is needing to escape rapidly if the predator were to be successful in its capture. Therefore, unless the conditions were not in favour to the cowtail stingray, it would continue to remain solitary where it is still able to escape at a distance that is safe enough to escape the predator, as having bursts of escaping energy available at all times costs energy.

When visibility is poor, it may prove beneficial for a stingray to group with fellow cowtail stingrays in order to create greater predator detection abilities through the many tails, eyes and electroreceptors that would collectively make up a group of resting cowtail stingrays. If a cowtail stingray chooses to remain single, then it may face the fact of not detecting the predator in sufficient time, therefore becoming prey.

The fastest escaping cowtail stingray within a group was not that much faster than a solitary resting stingray, suggesting that the amount of perceived risks a grouped stingray experienced, is relatively similar to that of a solitary stingray (Semeniuk, 2004). Each stingray is still able to act accordingly. However, not all stingrays will be able to escape as the fastest grouped stingray due to their being other variables that come with being in a group.

Cowtail stingrays may travel quite a distance before finding a safe resting spot regardless of the water conditions and visibility. It was noticed that stingrays even swam past fellow resting stingrays while in search of a resting spot. It would seem that despite the water conditions, travelling does not deter cowtail stingrays from finding the safest resting spot. Evidently stingrays were seen swimming past resting stingrays and still decided to rest on their own further away in a location where they felt safer. Demonstrating that travel is not seen as a risk to cowtail stingrays, when searching for the safest spot in which to rest (Semeniuk, 2004).

Overall a solitary cowtail stingray is just as successful on its own detecting predators, and being on guard and aware of its surrounds when the water conditions are good.  Therefore, it doesn’t warrant seeking a group to rest in as the benefits are reduced (Semeniuk, 2004). There has been no study in determining a predator’s success rate for capturing a prey in a group versus solitary resting stingray. Resting in a group may have severe consequences on the animal when water conditions are good. The opposite occurs when water visibility is bad and thus grouping becomes a preferred resting method of choice. Benefits must outweigh the costs of resting in a group, in order for species to continue the resting mechanism they currently take part in.

After studying this paper, it remains true for me to believe predator-species hypothesis remains constant when observing resting cowtail stingrays, whether it be in a monospecific or heterospecific group. Resting in a mixed species group means that the species who do not have a strong point for detecting predators can hitch onto the back of a species with greater sensory capabilities, taking advantage of their strengths. This, in the long run, could result in a potentially longer survival for the cowtail stingray.

Whiprays are quicker at recognising an oncoming predator relative to cowtail stingrays. Taking into account all the above, group numbers are still kept to a minimum. It may be advantageous to form bigger groups when grouping with whiprays, yet this has not been proven. Despite stingrays being in a bigger group which could be to the cowtail stingray’s detriment, given the various costs involved, it likewise could stand in good stead (Semeniuk & Dill, 2006). Social living or resting in this specific article comes with many benefits and costs (Alcock, 2009).

Predators, such as sharks, generally have quite good vision and detection senses themselves which, when all combined, aid to hunt down their prey. Thus it would be possible, regardless of group or solitary resting, to detect their prey, whether the prey are resting in low light or high light visibility conditions. The predator in question would use all its detection senses depending on weather conditions. Should water conditions be good, then it would allow the predator to easily indentify prey based on few mechanisms that it possesses. Sharks electro-receptor senses along its body have the ability to detect the bioelectric signals of any resting ray (Kajiura & Holland, 2002).

 

Thank you for reading my work. Fiona