Saturday, September 10, 2011

Seychelles International School Students First Whale Shark Encounter

For several years MCSS have hosted students on work attachment from educational establishments in Seychelles; this week we have three International School Year 11 students who have just completed week one of their two week work assignment. Anthony Hayman, Felicia Gaitanou and Jasper George-Gilbert, together with two Maritime Training Centrer students, Rebecca Hoareau and Dainise Quater, have had a busy week which consisted of attending lectures on the Seychelles whale shark monitoring programme, whale shark anatomy and aerial surveys, presented by Dr David Rowat and further presentations of Turtle Monitoring Method and Coastal Development presented by Project Coordinator Georgia French. In addition to learning the theory, they have had an opportunity to put their newly acquired knowledge into action by helping to conduct plankton tows, beach profiling on Beau Vallon, turtle monitoring on the beaches in the South of Mahe and kindly help us to trial our kite for aerial surveillance.

Birds-eye view from the Kite-Cam during practice off the beach

Anthony, Felicia and Jasper were particularly lucky this week by having the opportunity to encounter two whale sharks (obviously obeying the encounter code) during the kite test. In their own words, here’s what they each thought of the experience which appears to be the highlight of their first week…

Felicia’s account:

The International School students enjoying their first whale shark encounter

On the second day with MCSS I was able to experience swimming with a whale shark and this for me was my first time to see one. It was really unexpected as the aim of going on the boat was to fly a kite off the boat with a camera to be able to survey a specified area from an aerial perspective. It was when the kite was finally in the air that we got the call from the pilot of the microlight plane that there was a whale shark in the Conception Channel! Quickly the kite was pulled in and off we went to find the whale shark. The microlight was able to direct the boat towards the shark. When we were about 100m away, we put on our gear and swung our legs over the edge of the boat. Once arrived, a spotter would jump in and lift their hand when everyone else should get in the water. Seeing the shark for the first time was scary as he kept opening his mouth which was huge and it was as if it could swallow you up. On seeing the second whale shark I realised that it was a peaceful animal not meaning for any harm as we were able to stay with it for 15 minutes which was great! At that moment I appreciated what a peaceful animal the whale shark really is and what a lovely experience it was to actually swim with such a big and powerful animal!

Felicia and Anthony discussing their first whale shark experience...

Anthony’s experience:

Firstly, I would start by saying that the reason I chose to do this course with the MCSS is because I love everything about the ocean. All ocean life really interests me especially after completing my open water dive certification.

Starting this course, none of us ever expected to swim with a whale shark or even see one, we only thought that we would encounter turtles, but the MCSS, being who they are, took us out to go and fly the kite with a special fitting for a camera so that we would be able to survey a certain area from a bird’s eye view.

The Kite-Cam view of the team launching the kite at sea

On the same day our microlight pilot took off to go and see if he could spot any whale sharks. It took us all a lot of hard work to get the kite up and flying and just as we did, we then received a radio call from the pilot saying that he had a visual of a whale shark not far from our location, so we quickly pulled in the kite and headed off to Conception Channel. On the way there, our good friend Gareth told us the procedure of how to get into the water and how to get out safely when a whale shark is around. After the explanation, the pilot gave us the direction and approximate distance to where the shark was.

When we got near our ‘spotter’ Gareth got into the water to look for the whale shark. The spotter puts his hand up when it is safe for us to get in and follow the whale shark. Getting into the water for the first time not knowing what will happen ended up being the best experience of my life. Being able to swim with one of the animals and to be able to do this four times in one day was really amazing and I hope to go and swim with whale sharks again. So many thanks to our friends at the MCSS for the really great experience...

Jasper’s Description:

Jasper recovering from his swim with the world's biggest shark....

I didn’t expect to swim with whale sharks within the first week of starting work experience with MCSS, but as it happens I was in the water with two on the second day. We hadn’t planned to see the whale sharks while on the boat outing, we actually planned to fly a kite of the boat with a special camera fitted so we could survey the surrounding area from an Aerial point of view. After releasing the kite off of the boat which took a painstakingly long time, we were contacted by Johan, one of the skilled microlight pilots that spot whale sharks. He told us he spotted a whale shark in the Conception Channel. We pulled in the kite and off we set, excited but nervous.

Gareth, the team leader, taught us the safety procedures on how to get out of the boat safely and quickly. He then explained how he would get in the water and raise his hand to indicate when it was safe for the rest of us to get in. The whale shark was very curious at first, always trying to swim towards us, which is very scary when it’s your first time in the water with one. Images flashed through my mind of me being sucked into its mouth. But I calmed down after a while and I was able to admire its true beauty and take in this once in a life time opportunity.

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