Friday, January 14, 2011

Week Two: Return of the Arrow Worms

Week two saw some Djibouti whale shark programme faithfuls re-joining the team with Luis and Flora Correira and Hussain Al Qalaf arriving. These keen photographers were hoping to update their image libraries with even more impressive photos this year and so we hoped to oblige.

Team leader Gareth Jeffries tells his side of the story….

Week two started fairly slow in Djibouti terms, averaging around 10 whale shark encounters per boat per session; this appeared to coincide with a lack of chaetognaths or arrow worms found in our plankton tows, but the week ended in some style….

Good viz but few sharks marked an unusual start to the week, photo Hussain Al Qalaf

The morning of the last full day started as it meant to go on. Sitting on the boat in the middle of the bay just 20 metres from shore, sharks could be seen in all directions. Each group that went in to the water were coming back with multiple encounters to record and sometimes with so many sharks they didn’t come back to the boat at all.

Multiple shark encounters were the norm for the last few days, photo Luis Correira

43 encounters (from just one boat) later, all had a great morning, and despite the sharks having more energy than their snorkeling companions (although Mark was making a sterling effort with the stereo-video system) everyone was excited to see what the afternoon would bring… and it didn’t disappoint.

After a frantic break trying to make sense of the quickly scribbled encounter sheets and hundreds of photos from the morning, we set out again and were immediately greeted by multiple sharks ram and vertical feeding all across the bay.
In the water it was apparent what the sharks were there for, the sea was thick with arrow worms: they had returned and so had the sharks. Three, four, or five sharks could be seen feeding and swimming together at any one time. Which made getting ID pictures somewhat precarious when positioning yourself in between them all; the sharks’ focus definitely wasn’t on avoiding you. Its surprising how easily a four metre fish can sneak up behind you!

Not sure what the swimming crab is doing in there, but the chategnaths were just being hoovered up by the gulp-ful! Photo Luis Correira

Passing on the information to the poor recorder back on the boat wasn’t easy either, the conversation would last all of ten seconds before the next group of sharks were spotted and you were thrown in to the thick of it again.

All of this made for a lot of hard work for everyone come the evening but with the sun setting as we headed back to our boat it was work we were very happy to have.

Time for a spot of vertical feeding... photo Luis Correira

Seeing a whale shark swim by you at speed and then suddenly stop, pivot on its pectoral fins and vertically gulp at the surface when reaching a particularly thick patch of these apparently tasty arrow worms is quite a sight in itself, when you witness so many doing this you know you’ve been very lucky indeed.

The perfect end to a perfect day... photo Gareth Jeffries

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