Student Spotlight: Real Life Shark Week!

Hi, I’m Kasey, proud Tenor Mama in Cal Band, shark enthusiast, and the luckiest girl in the world.

Studying abroad in South Africa was never really part of my college plan. After my first semester at Cal, and absolutely loving every minute of my time there (even the late nights of studying), I didn’t want to miss out on anything by going abroad. But, after a last-minute decision one night, I decided that I wanted to study at the University of Cape Town for spring semester 2017. And that would be one of the best decisions of my life.

Cape Town is one of the most exciting and colorful places in the entire world. In only a few short months here, I’ve managed to have a lifetime’s worth of experiences. I’ve travelled to the southern most point on the continent, Cape Agulhas, as well as the southwestern-most point, the famous Cape of Good Hope. I’ve had scary encounters with wild baboons on hiking trails, have gotten lost on Table Mountain (well, we thought it was Table Mountain), gone zip lining through Tsitsikamma National Park, and have danced my heart out at a backpacker’s lodge along the Garden Route. I went to Afrika Burn with my housemates, where trance music, dust storms, and the desert heat surrounded us for 3 days as we watched these incredible wooden structures being set on fire alongside 15,000 other sweaty people. I have also been volunteering at a local elementary school – where the Afrikaans-English barrier is super real, and have been learning parts of the Xhosa and Zulu culture through the dance class I’m enrolled in here. I’ve walked hand-in-trunk with elephants at an elephant sanctuary and visited Nelson Mandela’s prison cell on Robben Island. I am extremely fortunate to have these experiences, but one thing that made me happier during my time here more than anything else has been the week that I spent in Gansbaai – the Great White Shark Capital of the world.

For those who haven’t met me yet, I’m a little obsessed with sharks. I’m not exactly sure where the fascination came from, but they have always been captivating to learn about. I spent my “Spring Break” vacation here by traveling to Gansbaai and staying with White Shark Diving Company for the entire week. During this week I had the opportunity to go shore fishing a couple of times and caught my first shark ever, a beautiful 80 cm long Leopard Shy Shark. I learned how to properly hold the shark, measure it quickly, take a fin sample, and even how to tag them. I also had the chance to go on the shark diving boat a couple of times and see the famous Shark Alley between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock – a place I had only seen  from Great White Shark documentaries and that I finally had the chance to see for myself.

One of the highlights of the week was definitely being part of the necropsy of the largest Great White Shark dissection to ever happen in South Africa. We learned that this female had been attacked by two male transient orcas that only attacked her for her liver, which we learned because it had been missing from her body during the dissection. Over the next couple of days, there were more white sharks washing up onshore, all with similar injuries under their pectoral fins from the orcas. These orcas were, and still are, causing the white sharks to leave Gansbaai and the neighboring towns because of how severely they are threatened by these two brother orcas. This only demonstrates that sharks are not the man-eating beasts that most people think they are – they are scared of some things too!

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Before I leave Cape Town I plan on going back to Gansbaai and spending another few days with this team of amazing people and learning more about the white sharks here. If I had never chosen to come abroad, specifically Cape Town, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to get up close and personal with my favorite species on the planet. For me, studying abroad has not only been a chance to learn about another country and immerse myself in a brand new culture, but it has helped me meet people and to take the first steps necessary in beginning my career as a Marine Biologist. Nonetheless, I’m extremely excited to be returning to Cal in a few months for my final marching season with some of my favorite people in the world, and I can’t wait to bug them with all of my new shark knowledge.


Go Bears!

Kasey Mitchell, Tenor ‘14