Thursday, November 19, 2009

Djibouti Whale Shark Expedition 2010

From January 1st to 14th we will be again running a research expedition to Djibouti aboard the M.V. Deli to monitor the whale shark aggregation in the Gulf of Tadjourah. This year the trip is going to be somewhat different as it will also be a training programme for volunteers from all over the Arabian Peninsula who are involved in setting up an Arabian Whale Shark Research Programme (AWSRP).
Multiple sharks in the 2009 Djibouti expedition

The impetus for the AWSRP programme came local film maker Jonathan Ali Khan who for many years has documented the wildlife of Arabia and became committed to saving Arabia’s sharks before they went the way of so many shark populations.
The Djibouti Expedition is once again be organised with Megaptera, a French based NGO, and their partner DECAN in Djibouti.

David & Katie visiting the DECAN Cheetah sanctuary after the 2009 expedition.

Last year the expedition had an amazing two weeks with a phenomenal 826 encounters with an identified 186 whale sharks. That was quite exceptional and we do not expect to get the same numbers again this year, but no matter how many sharks we see, the expedition will be a great opportunity for the keen AWSRP members to learn the skills needed for monitoring whale sharks in their own areas.

Because of the AWSRP involvement the expeditions are almost fully sold out, however, there are two places available for the first week (January 1st to 7th) so interested people should visit our web page for further details.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

New records for Seychelles monitoring programme

Now that the frantic activity of the season is over, or suspense in the case of the last week, David has had the chance to start to organise the data sets and have a look in more detail at this years results and there are already some surprises.

Of the 42 sharks that were resighted from previous years, four of these sharks were first seen way back in 2001 where we only got a total of 15 photo IDs. This is a new record for Seychelles and with the exception of a few images taken in 1996 & 1997 it is unlikely that we will be able to find matches to older images.

So who did we have returning to visit? Well two of these sharks are regular visitors and have been seen in four years each:

‘Acoustic 4’ is a male that was originally fitted with a short range acoustic tag and photographed on 24th October 2001has been resighted and photographed on 11th September 2007, 22nd October 2008 and again this year on the 13th September.

'Acoustic 4' photographed when first seen in 2001 (top) and again in September this year.

Sey2001.001, also male, was an un-tagged shark originally photographed on the 6th August and 2nd Sept 2001; he was photographed again on 21st October 2003, 4th October 2006 and this year on the 23rd September 2009.

S201, another male, was first photographed and tagged with a marker tag on the 7th August 2001. He was re sighted and photographed with his distinctive zig-zag pattern on his left side again on the 22nd August and 22nd & 28th October 2005 and this year on 13th September & 22nd October 2009.

S201 wearing his marker tag in 2001 (top) and seen again on the 22nd October this year.

Finally, Sey.2001.007 is another male un-tagged first photographed on the 24th October 2001 but had not been seen again until the 15th of October this year.

So some very interesting things coming to light from this years data and we are hopeful of more to come!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Seasons end….

Well the 2009 Seychelles Whale Shark Monitoring Programme is now officially closed as of the 31st of October although our last in-water monitoring session was in fact six days earlier as a change in the wind seasons put pay to flying for several days and also caused the sharks to move off to more fruitful waters….

So this compiled with the loss of the first ten days of the season have made 2009 one of the shortest monitoring periods in the history of the programme. That said, even if somewhat short, the season has been very productive with 89 sharks identified from a total of 291 in-water encounters which compares very favourably to the figures from 2008 where we were only able to identify 64 sharks from 139 encounters

Shark statistics:
291 in-water encounters

89 individual whale sharks identified

42 sharks identified from previous seasons

47 new sharks identified this season
81 sharks sexed (71 male and 10 female) 2
1 tissue sample biopsies taken

Aerial Survey:

74 microlight flights completed

140 hours and 59 minutes
of survey flown
443 whale shark sightings recorded

Boat Trips:
43 boat trips operated

95 hours and 25 mins spent on survey

As with last year season’s end was also Halloween and so it was only fitting that we saw the season out with a Halloween party for the team, friends and colleagues from the Underwater Centre and Global Vision International…

The team with 'Nerdiness' being raised to new heights by John, Torri and Dominique!

While the idea of getting one of the interns to the airport at 05:30 the following morning wasn’t exactly enthralling, it didn’t dampen everyone’s resolve to celebrate a great ten weeks of working with these captivating sharks. This year the costumes were even more wacky than before with Dominique, Torri and John, setting a new level in ‘Nerdiness’; also the pumpkin (or papaya) carving contest attracted a broad range of entries from traditional ‘Jack o lanterns’ to fish and cats…. The cat (Abi) won!

Abi with her winning pumpkin (papaya) carving of a cat.... the fish looked scary!

As has become the norm, David thanked all the interns for a really productive season that not only saw a return to reasonable numbers of sharks encountered but also set new levels in terms of data capture and the highest rate of resightings from previous years to date (47%).

It was also the opportunity to say thank you and goodbye to Luke Riley who has been a team leader for the last two years. Luke is returning to Australia to run his own charter yacht business with his partner Lanni, based out of Coral Bay near Ningaloo, Western Australia. We wish them both well and are sure they are going to get lots of visitors from their time with us here!

Luke had prepared a superb leaving-pack for the interns including a DVD of their time in Seychelles and as a bonus David also presented each intern with a PADI Whale Shark Awareness Specialty certification…..

Luke presenting Abi with her leaving pack... nice job both!

After that it was time for some Halloween fun and games which this year included a ‘biopsy the whale shark’ game (similar to pinning the tail on the donkey) which was made all the more hilarious by the teams ‘guiding’ their blindfolded team mates into position to biopsy the shark… thank goodness they were better in the water with real sharks than they were at this game!

And so another season is over and David now has some hard decisions to make… firstly about which of the interns will be going to Djibouti at the end of the year and then who to invite back to be a team leader next year to replace Luke…