Sunday, September 27, 2009

Half way through the season….

It’s the last few days of September already, so we are half way through our monitoring season for 2009.

So far we have been beset by poor weather meaning that the micro-light has been unable to fly and that sea conditions have been too rough to get out. However, despite this from 10 monitoring trips we have already notched up a creditable 96 encounters with 48 sharks, 22 of which had been seen in previous years and 26 were newcomers; this compares very favourably to our results from last year where for the entire season we had 198 encounters from 30 monitoring trips with a total of 68 sharks.

Ciara spotting for the team on a young shark

The interns are all doing well and have really mastered the routine skills and are becoming skilled photo-ID specialists using the I3S software… with all the sharks we’re seeing they are getting lots of practice! One 2005 shark is becoming a confirmed favourite with the interns as he’s been seen the most often (6 encounters on 5 monitoring trips) and has been nicknamed Umberto because of the U shaped pattern on his right side.

Tori is going for the vacant Copepod crown now that Katie has left; she managed to notch up her first copepod sample from a new and very cooperative shark that pretty much exhausted everyone with a 31 minute encounter…. Great fun and he didn’t seem to mind Tori picking copepods off his nose!
Tori collecting copepods off this very cooperative shark

Gareth (alias Laser Boy!) is really getting into the nitty-gritty of his Masters project which is to develop an accurate method for measuring whale sharks using a laser-metric approach. His third generation of laser mounting frame with three plane adjustment for each laser is undergoing testing at the moment… just hope these lasers won’t leave a permanent mark on the kitchen wall!

There have also been more than a few nice surprises so far this season with a visit from two humpback whales with a calf, as well as the frenetic Manta day that Gareth talked about in his post.

Dr. David has also been busy collecting biopsy samples on most days; while spearing a whale shark with a pole spear may sound pretty barbaric, few sharks seem to react to loosing a small pellet of skin and ‘blubber’. Also, most have been resighted again either on the same day or on multiple days afterwards and so this doesn’t seem to disturb them too unduly.

As October approaches, so does the time for satellite tag attachment and all the team are keen to see which sharks will be chosen for this season’s pop-up satellite tags. The tags are deployed towards the end of the season to try to monitor the sharks’ movements as they leave Seychelles for pastures new. So far Seychelles sharks have been tracked towards East Africa, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and the St. Brandon shoals (towards Mauritius) and so seem to have a wide range!

So its fingers crossed that the weather improves and holds for the last five weeks of the season… there’s certainly plenty of sharks that need our attention!

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