Saturday, January 22, 2011

Week Three….

The third week of the 2011 Djibouti Whale shark expedition was the busiest in terms of participants. The monitoring team team were joined by Mathilde Le Jeune, Dorothee Milon and Damien Flageul, eco-volunteers from Megaptera, as well as two returning ‘Djibouti veterans’ Laetita Muth and Warren Baverstock ; two British divers Lucy Gower and Sue Sutherland joined Hussain Al Qalaf on his second week to complete the group.

As with the previous two weeks there were to be some surprises in store…. And as ever Hussain and his camera were there to record them all!

A super Djibouti moon shot by Hussain

Work-wise the MCSS team had been doing well and the photo ID results had been worked-out up to the 10th of January with a total of 92 individual sharks identified, just four short of the total recorded in the 2010 and so looking good for the expedition this year.

Over to the three hard-working team leaders to give you their impressions….

From Ciara….

So we have come to the end of our three week expedition in Djibouti and it has proved to be a wonderful experience for all some even deciding that they hate their jobs and that they want to do more work in marine conservation. Whale sharks do have that effect on people.

Ciara, a whale shark and one of the ever present swimming crabs, photo Hussain Al Qallaf

Our third week lived up to everyone’s expectations with fantastic people again and beautiful sharks to match. Here is a tail about three sharks who caught my eye this week…..

One shark in particular got everyone talking this week. We came across this 4m male on the afternoon of the 15th it was such a shock to myself and my boat when we jumped into the water to see that almost all of the left side of this shark appeared to be a golden colour. This spurred much debate on the boat all afternoon as to what it could be.

Goldie the whale shark, photo Ciara McCarten

It wasn’t until we returned on board that the Dr David had the answers…. MUD!!!
We all accepted that “Goldie Looking Shark” had indeed been rolling around on the bottom somewhere in the area picking up this gold coloration to its body. Sharks do do the strangest things.

Another shark that sparked our attention this week was not quite for such pleasant reasons. One shark which was spotted had been badly and very recently hit by a boat leaving a very deep scar to the area behind the gills slits on the left hand side. Many of the sharks in Djibouti are badly scarred majority of which appear to be by boats in particular propellers which can cause a lot of damage to these sharks which tend to be on the surface in this area. This shark does appear to be healing which is good news as there is a definite improvement from when it was spotted in week one to when it was spotted in week three. Hopefully if we see this shark next year it will be nicely healed without a care in the world, as long as it stays away from boats.

One of the nastiest wounds we saw this week, witness to the damage caused by boat propellers, photo Ciara McCarten

My third shark of interest this week is one which has been spotted over the three weeks a new shark this year that we have aptly named hook eye due to the fishing hook and meters of line hooked into his eye and trailing down its body. We first thought about pulling the hook out however due to the fact that the hook was barbed this would be too difficult. So we settled as a team on cutting off the fishing line trailing sown his body so to reduce the drag as it already seemed to be attracting a lot of algae and life.

Hook-eye with the offending line trailing from it, photo David Robinson

So it was then our mission and each boat went out with scissors on board so that if we saw him we could do the job, at this point however it seemed hook eye had miraculously disappeared and was nowhere to be seen. Until finally on our last day I spotted him in the water and dashed back to the boat to get the scissors and carefully cut off all the line, this does mean however he will be harder for us to spot in the water but at least he’s swimming along happily with less discomfort.

Well I could go on forever about all the sharks I have seen this week however that wouldn’t leave anything for anyone else to write about.

And now from Gareth….

The 2011 Djibouti whale shark expedition is now officially over with only a few stragglers left at the Hotel in Djibouti City all looking forward to some home comforts after three very rewarding weeks at sea. The season was an undoubted success once again with so many of the people joining us on board now hooked on large spotty fish.

Those who were new to whale sharks all got their own special experiences to take away with them; be that multiple sharks vertical feeding together, a friendly shark politely trying to nudge you out of the way when your back is turned, a night snorkel with a whale shark, or the sheer magnitude of up to 60 encounters in a single day. No one left disappointed.

Vertical feeding sharks were always popular, photo Hussain Al Qallaf

This was also true back on the boat when it was time to sort our photos, write up the information collected from the day and then id and measure each individual shark encountered. Amazingly this didn’t appear to curb anyone’s enthusiasm, and everyone’s willingness to get stuck in meant that even those long evenings spent in front of a computer screen were thoroughly enjoyed.

A night snorkel with whale sharks and a whole lot of food, Gareth Jeffreys

The trip also contained many non-whale shark highlights; swimming with dolphins proved very popular in the final week when a pod could be seen on most trips out, together with ospreys hunting around the boat (although they were not as popular when perched above us on the top of the masts) and gazelles and camels grazing by the shore. A leather-back turtle was also spotted but the picture evidence was lost when it was pointed out the lens cap was still on.

The end of the expedition was consequently seen off in some style, including a magnificent paella cooked over a fire on the beach and everyone exhausted from dancing, very energetically, in to the small hours of the night.

Captain Vicente overseeing the beach Paella, photo Hussain Al Qallaf

A big thank you must therefore go to everyone involved, the crew, the guests and the MCSS team but most of all to the whale sharks!

And last but not least, Abi's point of view coming shortly...

There was definitely something in the water in week 2 of our expedition. Plankton tows showed that something to be arrow worms galore, a favourite food of the whale shark, so our friendly giants were there in force.

Night time plankton tows were full of larval fish, photo Hussain Al Qallaf

We had some great vertical feeding action and many encounters with multiple sharks. A highlight for me was an evening visit from the sharks. Photographer Alexis Rosenfield brought an underwater filming light which was set up at the back of the boat. Within no time plankton attracted by the light was filling the illuminated sea.

Soon in came shoals of juvenile fish feeding on the plankton, then of course the biggest, spottiest plankton lover swooped on in. It was spectacular to watch the whale shark from the boat as it came to the surface, light glistening on his head and the small fish dancing around his immense gaping mouth as he began to feed.

Abi and night feeding whale shark, photo Hussain Al Qallaf

However, even more impressive was the sight beneath the surface. With others I donned my snorkelling gear and braved the crab infested water. It was an incredible sight, coming out of the darkness to find the vertical feeding giant. He gulped away, each time opening his mouth the fish scattered as the water was sucked in. He was so close to the light, at times he mouthed at the bulb, obviously getting a hot dinner!

A whale shark trying a spot of hot plankton, photo Abi March

Later that evening he was joined by two more spotty friends, and with the crabs and other fish, they all dined on plankton well into the night.

The gauntlet of swimming crabs was also attracted to the lights, photo Abi

No comments: