Sunday, November 30, 2008

2009 Seychelles Programme Internships

The Seychelles monitoring programme is recognised as one of the largest whale shark monitoring programmes in the world (see comments on BBC Natural World); the programme integrates eco-tourism with research activities and in so doing captures an enormous amount of data both about the sharks, their behaviour and the environmental characteristics of the habitat. In view of the large amount of data that is now being captured a structured approach is necessary with respect to volunteer participation. Also, as it is very time consuming to train new applicants part way through the season, the programme will be run with 6 internships being offered on a full-season basis.

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
- Study area orientation and geography
- Basic whale shark information and biology
- Whale shark data collection:- filling out forms, writing up data, the systems and spreadsheets
- Photo identification:- sorting and filing images, pre-process preparation, matching software
- Laser-metrics: measuring sharks using underwater laser with digital photography
- Snorkel training and water skills development for whale shark activities
- Communications training:- between micro-light and boat and between boats
- Boat operations:- logistics, protocols and safety
- Micro-light aerial survey support and data handling, software use
- Environmental monitoring equipment use, data capture and handling

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 Seychelles, all of which are the intern’s responsibility.

For more information please download the information file (on the MCSS web site so may be slow!) and if you wish to apply please download and complete the application form.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Seychelles whale sharks on BBC TV

On Tuesday 18th November BBC2 aired the first screening of the whale shark episode in their series the Natural World, as many of you have contacted us to let us know!

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 Seychelles with the MCSS whale shark programme in 2007. While the sequences may be brief a number of our key people are on the film and it does portray the Seychelles programme well describing it as the “largest whale shark research programme in the world" with "massive tourist integration". So all of the interns who worked with us in 2007 can be pretty happy with their contribution to the filming of this episode.

The episode was made by the Big Wave production company and includes much underwater footage captured in Seychelles by Rory McGuinness, who proved to be both an exceptional cameraman and an accomplished diver, keeping up with the sharks while pushing a massive video camera in front of him. There’s also a sequence of a whale shark having a poo which seems to have captivated the press!

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 8.00pm and is also available for download through the BBC Natural World iPlayer (only available in the UK).

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Another late season surprise!

We recently received a series of whale shark photos taken by Frank Steinberg back in April of this year when on a diving expedition to Aldabra and the Southern Islands of Seychelles.

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 Seychelles seldom record whale sharks even though our tracking studies do indicate that whale sharks from Mahe do make the journey South West towards Mozambique.

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
Mozambique to see if this has been seen in his area at all.

We wonder if there are going to be any further end of season surprises?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Last minute shark…

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 UK based dive-tour organisation who had been persuaded to visit Seychelles by their leader Colin Miles in the knowledge that they might just get a chance to see a whale shark. The 25 divers knew that they were outside the peak period but as diving was their main objective they were happy with the potential for an opportunistic sighting.

And on the 12th of November during a dive on Grouper Point with Dive Seychelles they were lucky indeed as a 5 metre whale shark came in to visit them! Steve Sparkes was the one with a camera at the ready and managed to capture some good images that everyone in the group wish they had!

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!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Jean-Michel Cousteau visits the MCSS team!

On the very last day of operations for the 2008 whale shark season, the MCSS monitoring team members had a surprise visit from renown marine conservationist Jean-Michel Cousteau.

Jean-Michel was visiting Seychelles aboard the Regent and had arranged to dive with the Underwater Centre / Dive Seychelles; David and Glynis had known about this well in advance and had arranged with our micro-light pilot Johan that he would stay on an extra week to see if there were any whale sharks around for Jean-Michel’s visit….

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.

Jean-Michel Cousteau meets the MCSS whale shark team leaders, from left Luke Riley, David Rowat, Jean-Michel and Katie Brooks.

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 Seychelles visit planned in 2009 and so we may get another chance to find a whale shark for Jean-Michel then!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

As the season winds down and the whale sharks are beginning to disperse to more plankton rich waters, and the interns migrate back to colder climes, so the tempo of activities is also slackening off….

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!

COP on Grande Anse, Mahe, where COP's tyre tracks compete with horse hoof-prints for importance, while pilot Johan swelters in his red flight-suit....

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!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

MCSS supported whale shark monitoring programme in Djibouti January 2009

From the 1st to 15th January 2009, a whale shark monitoring programme is being run once again in Djibouti. This is a follow up expedition to the first research visit in 2006, which scientifically documented this aggregation of juvenile whale sharks.

A juvenile whale shark in the Djibouti aggregation feeding at the surface

The expedition is being organised by the Non-Governmental Organisation Megaptera (better known for their work on humpback whales but who were the initiators of the original Djibouti whale shark programme )
with the assistance of Dr. David Rowat and the whale shark research team from the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles.

Two weeks of scientific expedition are planned to study whale sharks in the waters of the Gulf of
Tadjoura, Djibouti; participants will assist in the collection of data on these placid giant sharks (photographs or videos for photo-identification, tissue sampling for DNA analysis, compilation of the data, photo-identification matching with previous years, etc ....).

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 .

Monday, November 3, 2008

October 31st, the official end of the 2008 Season but also Halloween….

October the 31st has arrived which marks the official end of the 2008 whale shark monitoring season in Seychelles; official end as this is the point at which we normally stop monitoring but this year has been different in many respect and we are in fact continuing with activities for a further week.

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:

Shark statistics

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

Aerial Survey

88 microlight flights completed
Over 8000 km flown in 175 hours and 33 minutes

Boat Trips

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 Seychelles and contribution to the monitoring programme.

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!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Update on Sammy the whale shark…

On Friday the 31st October, the Times Newspaper in the UK reported that the Government of the United Arab Emirates had ordered the Atlantis Resort to free the captive whale shark.
Sammy the whale shark in captivity at the Atlantis resort, Dubai. Photo courtesy Claire, Free Sammy facebook group

The 4 metre female shark was captured in August and has been in captivity in an enormous tank in the foyer of the Atlantis Resort at the Palm Jumeirah development in Dubai. The order to release the shark comes just a few weeks before the planned lavish opening party of the resort on November 20th reputed to be costing some $35 million!

The Government’s order is somewhat of a milestone for marine conservation in the region and is undoubtedly partly due to the huge amount of negative publicity generated by concerned Dubai residents and local conservationists, as well as the success of the Save Sammy facebook site.

As of this moment there has been no official confirmation that the order to release Sammy has been carried out but we will let you know as soon as we hear!