Sunday, September 26, 2010

Week four brings some unusual behaviour

This week has brought us calm seas, blue sky and clear waters which has made the MCSS crew very happy.

Thursday 23 September the guys headed South and ended up at Capucin Rock, a favourite hang out for Whale Sharks. The team was having a great afternoon with 10 Whale Shark encounters and ideal conditions when they had some unexpected visitors. A large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins was spotted from the boat and soon after the same pod joined Ciara, Dave.S and clients while they were swimming with a Whale Shark close to the rocks, an amazing experience never to be forgotten.

The next day we headed south with, yet again, blue skies and calm seas. This proved for another productive afternoon with 5 new Sharks and 4 old, two of which were from 2009 and the other two were from 2005 and 2006!

The 25 September brought another unforgettable afternoon. The team had two boats heading south full of excited and eager clients. Mariska, Kate, Jenny and Joe were on Reef Diver with Gareth. We managed to find 7m male without aerial support just North of Point Lazare which only stayed on the surface for just enough time for Gareth to snap some ID shots. We then had a call over the Radio from Neil, our eyes in the sky, that he had a nice shark in a sheltered bay in shallow water which is always a treat.

Gareth was the first in and did well staying with the ram feeding shark(swimming fast through the water with mouth wide open).

The clients had a good swim with the 6.5m male, then to our amazement the shark pointed its head to the sky, arched its pectoral fins and started vertically feeding (hanging vertically in the water sucking water down into the mouth) .

This is a very uncommon behavior for whale sharks in the Seychelles and is very rarely observed. The water was so shallow in the bay that in place’s the sharks tale was almost touching the bottom! Another unforgettable afternoon in paradise.

Text and photos by Joe Daniels, one of the 2010 intern team.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Some old friends return...

Week four has started off well with two of our old friends from 2001 making a reappearance; both have been seen before in the last two weeks but it seems that this was the first time they were in the same area together.

Sey.2001.008 was first seen on the 31st of October 2001 and was one of the sharks fitted with an acoustic tag that year and so was also known as Acoustic 4 for some time. He has become a regular having been seen every year since 2006.

Sey.2001.008 photographed off South Mahe on 19th September 2010, Photo Dave Stirling

Week four has started off well with two of our old friends from 2001 making a reappearance; both have been seen before in the last two weeks but it seems that this was the first time they were in the same area together.

Sey.2001.008 was first seen on the 31st of October 2001 and was one of the sharks fitted with an acoustic tag that year and so was also known as Acoustic 4 for some time. He has become a regular having been seen every year since 2006.

The other 2001 repeat visitor is Sey.2001.010 who was first seen on the 3rd of November 2001; he was photographed again in November 2006 and then again this year, so not as regular a visitor as 008 but still nice to see him again.

Sey.2001.010 also photographed off South Mahe on 19th September 2010, Photo Dave Stirling

One of this year’s new sharks must have a story to tell as he was completely missing his dorsal fin which looked suspiciously ‘surgically’ removed.

The shark with its dorsal 'surgically' removed, photo Gareth Jeffreys

There was a report from the Maldives of a whale shark swimming in their aggregation in May 2008 that had its dorsal fin almost severed in a similar straight, surgical cut. Actually of the 57 new sharks seen this year, seven are missing their dorsal fins which is a surprisingly high number and somewhat worrying!

So, lots of interesting sharks this season and our current aerial sighting rate is up to 4.9 sharks per hour so definitely a good season to date!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week three....

Wow doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun! Certainly the season seems to be zipping along now despite being punctuated by several days of grotty weather when we couldn’t get the microlight aircraft up. Having said that Johan and Neil our pilots have been doing a sterling job of dodging between the showers to give us the aerial support we need.

Its inter-phase time at the Global Vision International project and so we get to do the weekly plankton tows at grouper point which was a great way of passing a rainy morning and several hours of fun for the interns.... who managed to sport a remarkable range of unusual rain-wear! GVI don’t need to worry about the plankton recovery record although Gareth is beginning to catch up on Luke Riley’s long standing record.
Sherry & Jenny braving the rain during the plankton tow... jenny has been banned from wearing polka dots again!

We have had some interesting days in monitoring as well we a lot of new whale sharks appearing, several at the small end of the scale for us at around 3.5 metres.

One of the new small sharks, accompanied by some black & white pilots as well as a bunch of remoras, photo Ciara

We also had a whale shark with a very unusual injury which we suspect might be a bite mark from another ‘toothy’ type of shark; it is a complete oval whole just before the first gill slit on the right side of the shark. What’s a bit worrying is that it appears to be quite fresh so whatever caused it might still be around!
The shark with the unusual injury, possibly from a shark bite? Photo Gareth

Hopefully there will be a few posts from the interns over the coming few days, when they’re not too busy writing up encounter sheets!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Week two and still looking good….

Week two started with the same troubled weather of showers, storms and sunny periods all within the same few hours making our lives difficult and things almost impossible for our micro-light pilots. But after several days of no surveys we took a gamble and the intern team went out to the area where we had been successful at the end of the last week to look for sharks without aerial support.

Well the gamble paid off as we soon found several sharks surface feeding and in fact had 22 encounters with at least seven individual sharks….. who needs aircraft anyway? Among the sharks was a particularly large mail shark nick-named ‘Hooky’ due to the pronounce injury to his tail forming an almost perfect hook.

The very distinctive hook in 'Hooky's' tail, Photo Joe Daniels

The day also produced a number of oceanic mantas found near the whale sharks barrel rolling in the same patch of food…. So a very welcome addition to the afternoon’s activities.

Manta barrel rolling in the dense plankton, photo Ciara McCarten

Another big manta with a bunch of hitch-hiking remoras, Photo Sherrie Chambers

As the week drew to a close the weather finally broke as the rain and gusty winds moved North away from Seychelles allowing our pilots to make aerial surveys once again… Just as well as there were some reasonable numbers of sharks around Mahe for the team to work on! In fact pilot Johan recorded an impressive 42 individual sharks on the morning flight on Friday 10th of September, approaching the record for the Seychelles aerial survey programme of 38 sharks on the 13th of September 2002…

Perhaps this is going to be a season of new records??

Sunday, September 5, 2010

First week of monitoring brings some BIG surprises…

The first few days of the in-water monitoring programme brought more than a few unexpected moments. The first day saw an impressive 10 in-water encounters which we all hoped was a sign of great things to come… the 10 encounters after completion of photo ID revealed only 1 new shark and 3 previously identified sharks.

August 31st dawned with reasonable flying conditions and after the morning flight the pilots reported a total of 27 sharks by aerial survey, most of which were in the North…. So we just had to go see who they were!

Well going and seeing were easy… trying to work out who they were was going to be a severe test for both the interns and the team leaders as there were basically three groups of feeding sharks that were alternately charging around feeding on the surface amongst several thousand fusilier fish before submerging, swapping groups and then repeating the whole process!

Once back in the office it appeared we had logged 27 encounters but sorting out the photos was going to take some considerable time. What was apparent was that there were a number of large sharks of 7 metres or more with one close to 10 metres in length…. Such large sharks are very unusual for Seychelles and so perhaps not so surprisingly most were ‘New’ sharks when identified by photo ID.

The first of September arrived with a distinct change in conditions and also shark numbers with a notable decline in the number of sharks reported from the aerial survey; however, we were able to get out for a third consecutive day logging 16 encounters with 7 sharks, 3 new and 4 which had been seen previously.

The rest of the week was a bit of a wash-out with rain and strong winds preventing the micro-light from getting into the air, but the days were certainly not wasted as the team had plenty to do in terms of sorting out the data from the first three days…

The Seychelles Met Office reckons that this period of rain is nearly over with the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone moving North of the Equator once again so we should be back in the water very soon!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

First weeks... An Interns View by Kate Nicole

August 23rd – 31st 2010

After a week of settling in and training we had our first day out on the boat. We headed out towards Conception Island, and without aerial support we managed to find three whale sharks to swim with, which was lucky and very exciting as it was for some of us our very first whale shark encounter!
After a few swims we were all back on the boat enthralled by these huge spotty sharks, all very excited when Joe said “ Guys, I think you might want to look over here!” and there alongside the boat was a beautiful five meter whale shark on the surface, so we jumped in again.

On Saturday David and Glynis had a big BBQ for us all, where we all met everyone that would be part of the 2010 season, a great night of delicious food and exciting atmosphere.

We had a few more training sessions and then the week started properly where we took out clients on the boat and we all got a taste of things to come…

But nothing could have prepared us for Tuesday; in the morning we had heard from the micro light that there were some big aggregations of sharks just off Conception Island. The time could not go quicker, we organized ourselves and then waited in anticipation to get on the boat! With only three clients on the boat we were all able to go out. As soon as we stepped on the boat the mayhem began.

On the Southern part of Conception Island we found a group of several sharks feeding on the surface, we put snorkelers in the water straight away, with them all very excited. The ‘spotter’ in the water shouting back to the boat “there’s three, four, no, five!” The pilot was telling us there were more sharks around us; we were going back and forth along the southern part of Conception Island with groups of sharks everywhere. As soon as we got back on the boat, we had a moment to pause and then back in on another shark, it was so exhilarating!

Overall we had twenty eight encounters for the day, an awesome landmark for the start of the season!

A great sign of things to come!

Photos courtesy Joe Daniels

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

First day of 2010 season off to a good start!

The first day of the season (Monday 30th August) got off to a good start with a total of 10 in-water encounters with potentially 8 sharks in the Conception Channel off NW Mahe. This was also the first day we were able to get our microlight aircraft into the air, so all was good....

Eager team members waiting for the next encounter

Interestingly, the sharks all seemed to be quite big, but that may just be because the team had got use to the smaller Djibouti sharks, but the laser measurements will give us the actual sizes.

Photo-identification was a bit challenging as the visibility wasn't great making the distinction of whale shark spots difficult from floating plankton particles, but the team were soon on it and are currently working the sharks through I3S. So far of the 10 sharks six have been run through the system giving us 3 resighted sharks and 3 new sharks.

Of the resighted sharks one was a male 2001 shark (Sey.2001.008) originally nick-named Acoustic 4 as he had an Acoustic tag attached previously. This is the fifth year he has been seen since 2001 and makes him currently the shark who has remained in the aggregation the longest period (10 years).

Sey.2001.008 (Acoustic 4) is now our longest resident shark in the Seychelles aggregation

The second shark matched was another male shark first recorded on the 6th of June 2008 (Sey.2008.002) in adjacent Bay Ternay Marine National Park and only seen once in that year, so seems to be an early season visitor.

Sey.2008.002 a single visit shark from 2008

The third shark resighted was Sey.2008.017, also a male shark, who was first recorded on the 19th of September 2008, South of Therese Island (about 3 km from where he was seen this time); this shark was similarly only seen once during the 2008 season...

Sey.2008.017 was the second single visit shark recorded on day one

So the season is definitley off to a good start and the interns are getting right into the swing of things...