We will not be able to add new posts to the blog over the next few weeks while the team is out on the research expedition to Djibouti, but we will update you as soon as we are able!
In the mean time have a great New Year!
The 2009 internship programme will last for 10 weeks from 24th August to 31st October. The first week will be an orientation and training week, week two will hopefully be getting some practice whale shark trips and helping the pilots set up the micro-light aircraft, and as of week three (Sept 7th) the monitoring activities proper will be implemented.
The six interns will work as two teams, one for each monitoring boat, and each team will be supervised by a team leader who in turn will work under the project leader. The two team leaders have worked with the MCSS programme for two years and both have considerable monitoring and volunteer organisational experience. The interns will be accommodated at the MCSS premises on the coast at Glacis, NW Mahe on a self-catering basis. The property has two bedrooms set out dormitory-style for a maximum of four persons each and each bedroom has an en-suite bathroom facility enabling male - female separation. There is a large living-room and kitchen for communal use with washing machine and all usual amenities. There is also a large veranda connecting the living accommodation to the MCSS office. Wireless internet service is available throughout the premises.
The interns’ training and duties will cover the full range of activities associated with the MCSS whale shark monitoring programme including:- The Seychelles whale shark programme:- findings, achievements, why it exists
The costs of the internship programme, inclusive of shared accommodation and training is Euro 2350 per person for the ten weeks. These costs do include utilities (power and water) but exclude food costs, private local travel and international travel to and from
This episode documents the work of Dr. Mark Meekan in trying to unravel the mysteries of the whale shark and includes several sequences filmed here in
The episode was made by the Big Wave production company and includes much underwater footage captured in
The episode certainly ranks as one of the most important pieces to raise public awareness about whale sharks for many years and will doubtless be syndicated onto the various TV channels in due course. For those of you who didn’t see it the episode is to be repeated on Sunday 23rd at and is also available for download through the BBC Natural World iPlayer (only available in the
While it is always nice to receive photos of whale sharks from visitors, the fact that they were taken off Astove island some 800 miles south of Mahe makes them all the more interesting. Also, the outer islands of
Frank Steinberg's photos of the whale shark swimming over the edge of the Astove wall with two large mottled remoras clinging to its back
Frank’s shark was around 4-5 metres in length with a bite out of the trailing edge of the left pectoral fin. It was accompanied by two very large remoras that were firmly fixed to its back… like the sighting of the shark these were unusual as they were the large mottled brown Remora remora species rather than the slender striped Echeneis naucrates which are the common remoras found on whale sharks around Mahe.
Frank was also able to get underneath the shark as it swam along the top of the famous Astove wall and got a few shots from below which confirm that the shark was a female, also unusual as most sharks found around Mahe are males (see the side bar for this seasons statistics).
The photo series yielded both left and right identity shots which Katie Brooks eagerly fingerprinted through the I3S photo ID programme and then ran against the Mahe whale shark database…. and it’s another new shark! We are now waiting for the arrival of Simon Pierce’s database from
We wonder if there are going to be any further end of season surprises?
Well although the monitoring season has finished the local population of whale sharks don’t seem to have heard the story and there are definitely still a few hanging around to the delight of visiting divers.
One such lucky group were the divers from Dive-Crew, a
And on the 12th of November during a dive on Grouper Point with Dive
After a somewhat belated presentation on the MCSS whale shark programme by Dr. David, Steve was happy to pass on the images for identification. Katie Brooks was more than eager to run them through the I3S system, partly to escape from double checking data from this season, but also to see if this was a known shark or a new one…. And to everyone’s surprise it turned out to be a new shark and became the 38th new shark identified in 2008.
The key identification area that confirms this as a new shark sey.2008.038 !
And so although the season is formally over there are still a few sharks around to distract the team members from the end of season ‘housekeeping’ chores!
Jean-Michel was visiting
In the morning things looked hopeful as the one and only whale shark found on the aerial survey was in the North-West sector; however, by the afternoon the shark had disappeared. This didn’t deter Jean-Michel from paying the team a visit in the Conception Channel, after his dive on Shark Bank, and pilot Johan did a low-level ‘fly-by’ to welcome him.
After the boat ride back to the dive centre Jean-Michel was introduced to the Dr. David and to team leaders Katie Brooks and Luke Riley, where he was interested to learn about the programme and the broad reach of both intern participation and the work we do. There is another
So slack in fact, the pilot Johan decided to stop-off at one of Seychelles under-visited beaches on the way back from an afternoon encounter support patrol… justifying the break as due reward for a very taxing afternoon with no sharks until the very last 15 minutes of the patrol… time for a quick spot of scenic photography!
And so it was that the COP visited Grande Anse, Mahe, for an hour or so and hardly a soul came to see what the strange apparition was that had landed on their beach…. In fact apart from the hoof prints of horses from the local stables, COP’s tyre tracks were the most notable sign of activity on the beach!
Johan soon dispensed with the flight-suit for a few scenic photos!
Johan managed to convince two young girls that he and Katie weren’t from outer space and so they returned to collecting ‘tec-tec’ clams (a local delicacy) from the shallows while Johan and Katie took a few photos of COP in the stunning scenery.
And then it was time to take COP back home, landing on the big concrete beach the is Seychelles International airport, where COP is hangered… so much for idyllic beaches!
The expedition will be based aboard the beautiful DELI, a two-masted live-aboard dhow of 26m. In the first week 1st to 8th January 2009 there are 4 places available; while in the second week 8th to 15th January there are 5 places available.
Costs per person are €900 for a single week or €1600 for the both weeks excluding air-fares; costs include airport to vessel transfers as well as a visit to Lake Assal, the lowest lake on the planet. For further information concerning this exceptional experience please contact us at email@example.com .
Many of the intern team had already arranged to stay on for a week or two and the low numbers of sharks over the season has made them keen to carry on for as long as possible. Our micro-light pilot Johan has also agreed to extend his visit by a week and so the programme will continue at least until November 7th.
Unfortunately, two of the team had tickets which couldn’t be changed with Tomo Moritomo and James Tutty leaving on the 2nd of November and so it seemed appropriate that the end of season BBQ should be held on the 31st October….. which was also Halloween!
We had never held a Halloween party and were not sure how the interns would react but they were enthusiastic to say the least!
The complete 2008 whale shark monitoring team, although you would hardly recognise them!
Before things really went to the ghouls and vampires Dr. David thanked all of the team for their hard work during the season and presented them with a certificate and an in-water photograph of them during the season designed by Katie Brooks (one of the team leaders). Katie also catalogued the team’s achievements:
139 in-water encounters with 64 individual whale sharks
28 sharks identified from previous seasons
36 new sharks identified this season
60 sharks sexed (46 male and 14 female)
15 tissue sample biopsies taken
88 microlight flights completed
Over 8000 km flown in 175 hours and 33 minutes
50 boat trips operated with 451 guests
44 hours and 38 mins spent swimming with whale sharks
Luke Riley, the other team leader, showed a short DVD that he had compiled for all the interns which captured their activities and achievements over the previous 10 weeks which will also serve as a memento of their visit to
So with just a week left to go to the final wrap up for 2008, the remaining interns hope that Johan can find a whole bunch of sharks for them to round off the season in style, while Dr. David, Katie and Luke lay plans for 2009!
私が心奪われたのは、そんなジンベイザメの小ささよりも、むしろ限りなく広がる大洋だった。豊富な栄養分を含んでいることを想像させるようなたっぷりとあ ふれんばかりの水をたたえた大洋。そう、ジンベイザメはその中で生きているんだ。当たり前のことかもしれないが、その光景は、ジンベイザメと彼らを取り巻 く環境の関わり、本質的なつながりを強く意識させるものだった。
今 年は、ジンベイザメがなかなか姿を現さない。セーシェル周辺にはもういないのか、それとも私たちの目の届かない深場に隠れているのか。彼らを取り巻く環境 に何が起こっているのか、正直私にはわからない。しかし、環境を観察することは、そのなぜに答えるアイデア（ヒント）を示してくれる。
午 後のフライトでは、ボートのために、ジンベイザメを探すことに専念。目をこらして探すも、なかなか見つからず、さらに雨も降ってきた。気分も下がり始める 頃、雨雲と雨雲の雲の切れ間から突然、虹の輪が現れた。それは、美事な円を描き、輝くほど鮮やかな七色。息を呑むほど本当に美しい光景だった。
こ れまで同じ状況下で数え切れないほどその美しい姿は上空に現れていたのだろう。しかし、それが誰かに見られることはきわめて稀なことだ。その瞬間に居合わ せた偶然がたまらなくうれしかった。予期せぬ自然の偶然の出来事に触れることは、体中にじわじわと染み渡るような暖かい喜びだ。
ジ ンベイザメと出会うということもまた、同じだ。たとえホットスポットがあろうと、私たちが水中でその姿に出会うということは、ジンベイザメが水面に姿を現 し、パイロットがあるいは船がその姿を確認できる場所にいる、そして私たちがそんな瞬間に居合わせる偶然の出来事なんだろう。
My body went straight up into the sky like a flash, as if pulled up by a magnet. I was on the micro-light. To be honest, I don’t like any aircrafts but the view stretching out below me was so beautiful and exciting that it made my stress melt instantly.
On the morning survey, the pilot logs environmental data and the locations of not only whale sharks but also other interesting creatures in a particular area.
We found a whale shark as soon as we took off. The sight from the sky fixed my attention, there was such a contrast between the size of the shark and the ocean surrounding it. The whale shark was tiny like a drop of ink dripped into the vast ocean, so small it was barely recognisable.
I was so impressed by the ocean spreading out without limit rather than the tiny size of the whale shark, it is no wonder that the sharks live in it. It was this sight that has made me acutely aware of the relationship between the whale sharks and their surrounding environment and that they are essentially linked.
The data from environmental monitoring on the boat, such as CTD profiles, plankton tows and the Secchi disk had peaked my interest into the correlation between whale sharks (or their distribution) and the environment. However it was still just data to me, but the sight from the sky has put it all into perspective on a global scale.
Whale sharks haven’t appeared easily this year. Have they not been here or are they just hiding in deep water? To be honest I have no idea, but by monitoring the environment it allows my imagination to find possible reasons why.
( it shows me some hints / idea to find possible reason why.)
During the afternoon flight, we concentrate on finding whale sharks for our boat. The pilot and I had made every effort to find whale sharks but we couldn’t. To make matters worse, it had started to rain. Just as I was beginning to feel down, a rainbow ring suddenly appeared through a break in the rain clouds. It was a perfectly circular, vivid and brightly iridescent. It was an absolutely beautiful scene.
Undoubtedly these beautiful rainbows appear all the time in the right conditions but are rarely witnessed, being there at just the right moment made me so happy. It was so unexpected that I could feel the joy spreading gradually through my body.
To me encountering whale sharks in the water is the same as this. Even though we know where to concentrate our search, to actually get to swim with the sharks requires so many things to be just right, the pilot and boat has to be in exactly the right place at the right time so each encounter is still down to chance.
Even though I have a lot of experience swimming with whale sharks, I have never become tired of it and still I enjoy it. Not only because of their immense beauty, but also that I am part of one of nature’s chance encounters.
It is a great experience for me to be engaged in environmental monitoring and aerial survey through this programme. It has showed me the interest of keeping the environment and marine creatures in perspective.
Local chartering of either fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters, even with their generous offers of discounted rates, was simply unaffordable, but our pilot for the first part of the season, David Daniel, knew of a microlight available in
After just two days David had the replacement aircraft dismantled, boxed-up and had driven it overnight to Jo’burg airport for air-freight to
The new aircraft is released to customs and the 'lads' take it to the hanger...
Customs at Seychelles airport were very accommodating and early on Thursday morning the new aircraft was being unpacked and re-assembled at the hanger of the Islands Development Company who graciously allow us to use their facility.
By late afternoon the work was finished and the COP had arrived! Resplendent with a yellow and blue wing the aircraft was ready to take to the air the following morning and hopefully find sharks for the team and our visiting groups, who had been waiting patiently since Sunday for some positive news!
A happy, if somewhat grubby and tired team pose proudly around the completed plane.
And so Friday morning dawned and the COP was definitely on the block when pilot Johan managed to get the team onto an absolutely perfect shark (which had been recorded in 2007) that stayed with them for over two hours!
The first whale shark apprehended by COP, a repeat visitor from 2007
In the afternoon Johan again showed that the COP had the pace to get the job done and delivered six encounters with four different sharks. And an interesting bunch they proved to be, thanks to the I3S programme and the diligence of the intern team! One had been tagged in 2005 and then photographed without its tag in 2006 and 2007; another was a 2008 shark, first seen on October 6th (in fact this was the shark from which Katie had collected the copepods) and had been seen many times since; while the other two had been recorded in both 2005 and 2007….
So it was back to business for the team, thanks to the hard work and determination of a lot of people! A warm welcome to the COP!!
Meanwhile, storm clouds seem to be gathering over
The shark was named Sammy and local newspaper the Gulf News has described a ‘tsunami of support’ to have it released with a ‘Free Sammy’ campaign running on its on-line edition (click the image left). You can even download a ‘Free Sammy’ badge from the site.
Whale sharks in captivity cause very mixed reactions; on the one hand having these sharks in tanks does allow many more people to see them and thus serves a function in raising awareness. The very young whale sharks reared in Japanese aquaria have also provided some of the only evidence about neonatal whale shark growth rates. However, on the other hand these are free ranging wild animals that eat plankton and they tend not to fare well being kept in aquaria conditions. Of concern are the recent deaths of two of the captive whale sharks in the Georgia aquarium in the USA; such deaths do little to raise public awareness and only serve to increase pressure to allow these sharks to go back to the open ocean.
If you want to learn more there is also a face-book site for supporters of Sammy at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=93869105312&ref=mf
Copepods are small crustaceans and the ones found on whale sharks look a bit like miniature horseshoe crabs. They are not parasites as such but can be considered more as commensals because they feed on algae and bacteria that grow on the whale shark's skin. The ones found on whale sharks (Pandarus rhincodonicus) are apparently only found on whale sharks and they aren’t able to move very far themselves and so get carried from place to place by their host shark.
Because whale sharks breed slowly, probably taking some 20 years to reach maturity, their genetic differentiation can be masked by the fact that sharks from different areas can move very large distances during their lives. By comparison, their hitch-hiking copepods breed rapidly and as they only occur on whale sharks their DNA can be used as a biological marker tag to differentiate between populations of whale sharks that visit different areas….. If copepods here in Seychelles have the same DNA markers as those from East Africa then it would indicate that the Seychelles sharks also visit East Africa, or vice versa…
So much for the science-speak…. What about these copepods on
More extraction power was needed and so on the next trip a pair of surgical forceps were secured ready for use, but as you probably imagined, the sharks on this trip were copepod free! Finally we found a young male shark with both a slightly curled left pectoral fin (photo right), as well as a nice collection of copepods on its top lip.
So Katie went into action again, this time successfully collecting three with the aid of the forceps!
Our first collection of whale shark copepods (Pandarus rhincodonicus); photo and copepods Katie Brooks
So, that’s the first of what we hope will be several copepod collections… We just need to find a bunch more sharks now so Katie can prove she is Queen of the Copepods, or is that shrimps to you and me?
After a formal presentation from David on Saturday evening the group was left with no doubts as to the fickle nature of wild animals in general and whale sharks in particular… Sunday morning dawned with light winds and a few scattered showers which gave micro-light pilot little to worry about apart from finding some sharks for Charlotte and her group! Stacey, one of the group members, was to be the observer for the morning with Johan and so the hopes of both the group and all of the intern team were on her shoulders!
Luckily Charlotte or someone in her group has the ‘whale-shark-mojo’ as Johan and Stacey found not one but two sharks within accessible range and so the group eagerly rushed off for an early lunch and to kit-up for the afternoon.
As the monitoring boat got into the area David saw a tail fin disappearing and a local taxi-boat confirmed that there had been a whale shark swimming around for a few minutes… Johan was overhead in the micro-light quickly but the shark had disappeared. After waiting for about 10 minutes David decided to run the first plankton tow and just as Luke lowered the net in to start the radio crackled into life with Johan barking directions for a shark! Although the boat rushed at full speed to the area the shark had again disappeared and so the waiting game started again… after a 10 minute hiatus David again called for the plankton tows to start and again as Luke got on the swim platform with the net, Johan called in another shark… a long way away!
The boat rushed to the location to find a small whale shark swimming leisurely on the surface and the first half of the group got into the water with the shark; after about three minutes Luke halted the first group and the shark was hand-balled to the second group…. and then after a similar period the first group were dropped back in and the shark hand-balled back to them until it dived away into deeper water.
The young shark that welcomed the AquaFirma group seemed quite comfortable with the company! Photos Luke Riley
First shark! At least they had all seen one! The plankton net was made ready once again but didn’t even get onto the platform before Johan called in another shark, a long way off back where the first one had been seen… This time it played ball and group two got in with this new shark while group one geared up to hand-ball it, but Johan had other ideas with another, bigger, shark surfacing some 200 metres away. It was rude to ignore it and so Tomoko took group one in with the larger shark and the two groups slowly started to head towards each other as the two sharks swam on a near collision course.
As the afternoon progressed we managed to get into the water with three different sharks and the pilot had sighted another two probably different individuals making this the most productive day of the season so far. And yes we did eventually get the environmental monitoring and plankton tows done…after almost everyone was too exhausted to swim with the sharks anymore!
The key to the MCSS programme has always been public participation and while the interns have a number of tasks that they have to accomplish, both in terms of monitoring the sharks and encounters and doing the environmental studies, they also have to involve the public in these activities as much as possible.
Happily, the interns are a very social bunch and are more than happy to involve our guests in all of the activities. Sarah’s diligence in spraying down the plankton off the net into the ‘bucket’ (photo above left) soon captivated youngsters Amy and Harry although who was to blame for the spraying of half of the boats occupants was somewhat of a mystery!
Amy, Sarah and Harry disputing who was the sprayer responsible for soaking half the crew!
Tomoko, our intern from Japan, has become very adept at the environmental monitoring and has no problem with running the CTD casts to 40 metres or more (photo right), however we don’t seem to get many guests volunteering for this aspect!. During the last week of September, our first specialist group of guests arrived with photographer Tony Baskyfield from the
For the next three days the water was crystal clear (measured at over 20 metres with the Secchi disk), Tony and his group had some great dives with Dive
Team leader Katie checks out the newest arrival to the Seychelles whale shark aggregation, photo Tony Baskyfield
David and the interns heaved a collective sigh of relief and hoped that this would be the start of a return of sharks into the area… the next few days will tell!
I must admit, when I set off traveling a year and a half ago, the idea of heading to the Seychelles by myself seemed somewhat ridiculous. Not only did I expect it to be a bit of a honeymooner’s hot spot, I didn’t think I would be able to suffice on my backpacker’s budget. But here I am, getting involved in the Seychellois way of life and even more so the MCSS internship.
It has to be said, Beau Vallon, where the volunteer’s house is located on Mahe, has proven itself to be quite the hub of action. Not only does it have the famous Bizarre Bazaar on Wednesday nights, which gives us our weekly Creole fix, it also has some of the best snorkeling around, not that I’m bragging, but this is found directly in front of the volunteer’s house! And if that’s not enough to write home about, Beau Vallon is also home to the wild Tequila Boom, where you can unleash your dance moves every Thursday, Friday, Saturday night, not that I know this off the top of my head…
Alex (right) showing that there's more too life as an intern than the local night life!
The Seychelles have really exceeded my expectations, not for a minute have I felt out of place. I’ve been sticking to my budget by shopping at the local markets and buying the local beer (Sey Brew) from the dairy. I also have noticed a lot of other solo backpackers around town, which is refreshing to see; I believe this is because of another volunteer program on Mahe with Global Vision International (GVI).
All in all, I’m having an absolute blast in the Seychelles and would recommend it to anyone and everyone. All I can say now is, fingers crossed for a fruitful Whale Shark season ahead!!
I have to admit even though I had signed up for a Whale shark project, I was still unconvinced that I was actually going to see one, let alone swim within metres of one. I think most people who have a passion for marine biology will agree with me when I say ‘that we all share a similar aspiration and that has to be to swim with the world’s biggest fish’!!
Following a period of time learning all the invaluable office based work, it was time to don our mask, snorkel and fins and find ourselves a whale shark. We set off from Anse La Mouche and began our journey to the south of the island. The pilot was airborne, carrying out an extensive search over the nearby shores with the ultimate aim of successfully spotting a whale shark for us.
An hour seemed to quickly pass by and still no luck! The anticipation, adrenaline and excitement was beginning to subside, although I still remained optimistic that today was the day we would have an encounter with one of these bad boys!!
It seemed appropriate by this stage to assist our MSc student, Anna with her plankton tows (Carl with plankton sample at left!). Immediately after the final sample had been collected we had a sighting. With accurate directions from the pilot we made our way to
I attempted to swim incredibly fast towards the spotter, possibly displaying signs of selfishness as I was desperate to get a look at this awesome fish and refused to let anybody get in my way. I was metres away from the spotter but more importantly I was 5 metres above my first whale shark.
Carl's first shark, a young male on his second visit to Seychelles, just like Carl!
It was a truly awesome yet surreal moment. I tried to retain valuable information with regards to the number of Remora’s, Pilot Fish, scarring etc, but to be honest this was the one time I was going to enjoy my swim alongside this amazing creature. What was minutes in the water seemed like hours, and I embraced every second of it.
I can honestly say that my first encounter with a whale shark was WICKED!
Telephone company and internet service provider Cable & Wireless (Atlas)
In 2003, we at MCSS established an office with full-time staff and developed our web site, www.mcss.sc which was one of the first of the .sc
Due to the success of our on-going long-term monitoring programmes, we now support up to eight volunteers or research students at any one time, providing them with direct access and field training experience. Ever since our inception MCSS has advocated the use of cutting edge technology to provide conservation benefits. In our whale shark monitoring programme we have deployed 20 satellite tags onto whale sharks that relay information to us via the internet and with four more tags to be deployed later this season increased internet access was needed!
A whale shark tagged with a satellite tag by MCSS
With this reliance on the internet for access to our data, as well as reference sources and links back to the various Universities our students come from, we were constrained by the dial-up access. Fortunately Cable & Wireless / Atlas
X-Net ADSL is now up and running and is already making life significantly easier for both staff and volunteers alike, although the local internet cafes will probably miss the regular visits of the volunteers to check their e-mails!
A big thank you to Cable & Wireless / Atlas
UT06-088 has been seen every year since 2005, and so is a regular to whatever version of Dino's bar & grill Seychelles has to offer! Photo Katie Brooks
Thanks to the wonders of I3S (or IRIS to us old-timers), this spot-matching computer programme that has revolutionised whale shark identification has helped us and our team of whale shark monitoring interns to be far more productive in assessing the sharks seen around Seychelles. Pretty much every shark we get in the water with has its photo taken and within 24 hours the interns have its I3S identity produced for comparison to every other shark we have photographed here in
So far this year we have had a total of 16 sharks re-sighted from previous years and by September 22nd of 14 sharks identified, 7 had been photographed in previous years. As most of our sharks are young juvenile males “The Boys Are Back In Town” seems even more apt, although they don’t hang out at Dino’s bar and grill, unless Dino serves plankton by the bucket load!
Of these seven resightings, one shark had previously been seen in 2005, 2006 and 2007; four sharks had been seen in both 2006 and 2007; one in 2005 and 2006, and the last shark had been previously identified in 2003…..
Was this 'the broad who slapped Johhny's face' ? S302 is one of our few females, first seen in 2003 and resighted this September; photo Richard Berry
So it seems that although the season is being somewhat slow compared to previous years, we are getting a lot of site-faithful sharks coming back… lets hope we can find a few compliant ones for Chris and Dan and keep them away from Dino’s!