Monday, October 6, 2008

Charlotte’s back and so are the sharks??

This weekend saw the arrival of our largest specialist group of the season (photo left) with Charlotte Caffrey from AquaFirma UK…. While we had been able to get our previous specialist group onto two whale sharks for some long swims, conditions were still ‘too good’ for many sharks to be around…. Light winds, calm seas and 20 metre visibility meant no plankton and no whale sharks!

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!

No comments: