Saturday, October 29, 2011

“You guys have a huge manta ray heading straight for you...”

Well, the last three weeks of the season have been as difficult as the the previous ones.... lots of rain, high winds and on the few days when we can get out the sharks have been pretty scarce. But intern Darren Whitehead, Mr. Eternal Optimist, was well psyched up for our one good trip last week....

Tuesday 25th October

11am the call came from our pilot confirming the sight of our one of the Gentle Giants in the Conception Channel, our regular search area in the North of Mahe. As our boat made its way out from Beau Vallon Bay there was a feeling of anticipation from the team, a feeling of excitement. As soon as our on boat Recorder made contact with the microlight pilot his voice rang a confident jingle, with promising signs of our little island alive with marine life once again J.

From his vantage point, the reports kept coming of turtles, fish schooling and a rather unique description: “ you guys have a huge manta ray heading straight for you!”

As the boat came to a stop, I positioned myself on the bow of the boat, in anticipation for a sight of this magical gentle creature of the ocean. Suddenly, without warning, a dorsal fin-like wing began cutting at the surface of the water about 20m ahead of us. With all guests and boat crew locked upon this magical creature it began to swop and fly around our boat, filling its appetite with the rich planktonic food source and in a flash out of sight it glided. Again and again our pilot repeatedly placed us into the best viewing point to gaze at this beautiful animal as it made our boat look like a child's toy.

If there ever could be an environmental omen for what was to follow for the trip, this would be a good starting point ha ha ha ha J. Then the report came down that he had a whale shark within his sight!

We positioned ourselves for the encounter and as we were about to enter the water another shark was spotted from the air. Words cannot explain the feelings that run through me whenever our pilot reports a sighting, but one thing that does come through is a uncontrollable feeling of joy and admiration for this ecologically vulnerable species.

A whale shark at last! The first of the sharks seen on the 25th, one of five spotted by the pilot that afternoon.

The work that MCSS does is without question invaluable to the protection of the whale shark aggregation within Seychelles waters and without the support of paying guests and donations their research could not go ahead and it would truly be missed....

Monday, October 17, 2011

An Intern's Lament.....

After another week of rainy weather put pay to whale shark activities, the interns were getting a little restless to say the least... however, a new arrival seemed to help them get over their disappointment as intern Julia Rushton rhymes....

The microlite pilots haven’t been able to fly,
Leaving us glaring at the clouds in the sky.
No one is allowed to mention the weather,
It’s safe to say, we’re at the end of our tether.
Weather is on the mind of every intern,
For whale sharks and boat trips we do yearn.
But despite all of the persistent rain,
A new friendly face we did gain.
He’s not as spectacular as our beloved whale sharks
But he’s furry and cute and occasionally barks.
The roads and our garden he once did roam,
Until we fed him at the MCSS home.
Smelly Dog was the name given to him,
Due to him living out near the bins.
He’s much better now, he’s not skin and bone,
Sleeping outside, he hasn’t left us alone.
He’s playful and sweet- a happy old chap,
If you give him the chance, he’ll be on your lap.

He’s now called Sid cos he’s spotless and clean,
Plus calling him Smelly seemed rather mean.
His coat is white with patches of brown,
We think he’s the best looking dog in town.
For Honey he hasn’t been such a hit,
She’s playing hard to get and seems good at it.
Don’t worry Sid-it’s only a matter of time,
This fiery lady can be soft and sublime.
So forget about your stinky flea-ridden start,
We’ve scrubbed you down to win Honey’s heart.
New collar and lead, he’s eager to play,
With us, we’re sure, he’s happy to stay.
So as you can see, Sid has a wonderful life,
All he needs now is Honey as a wife!

Honey seeming rather bored with her new admirer....

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Lemon Shark Tagging

What do you do when you can't get out onto the whale sharks, well tagging lemon sharks is a bit of a favourite at the moment.... Intern Susie Lilley tells all.....

After the most awful week of Rain, Thunder and Lightning stopping the whale shark trips everyone had cabin fever….

However, MCSS are not just about the whale sharks, David & Georgia look out for the pointed sharks too. So we all jumped at the chance to help Georgia tag baby Lemon sharks that had been seen in the mangroves at Back Bay in the North of the island.
Being in unprotected water where the likelihood of being captured by local fisherman is very high, the plan was to capture if we could then tag and release them back into a protected area called Baie Ternay Marine Park, one of the few areas within the Seychelles where fishing is not allowed.

So we all set off on the 1hr bus trip across the island to meet up with Chris Mason-Parker from GVI, to lead us to where at least 5 baby sharks had been spotted. Once we arrived we all grabbed the gear and set off into the mangroves to try and capture some, if not all of them.

Carrying the net into the bay, it was rolled out in front of the mangrove area where Georgia & Chris could see the baby sharks swimming around.

The team setting the net on 'Back Beach' ready for the first of the pups

We made a semi-circle to try and stop any escaping and within minutes the call went up that one was caught in the net. After untangling them, very carefully they were transferred into the eske/igloo for transport across to the beach at Baie Ternay. We successfully managed to catch 3 out of the 5 on this occasion but I am sure Georgia will be back to try and catch the rest in the future.

Dr. D., the shark whisperer, gently untangles a lemon shark pup from the net....

So gathering up the net, cameras and all the Interns and the rest of the MCSS team we all headed down to meet with Georgia to support her with her Tagging. This would be her first ‘solo’-tagging tagging venture and she was slightly nervous. But by the time we got there she had already tagged one baby shark and released it and she was about to start work on No. 2. Working on these sharks requires protective gloves and careful handling; even at this size they can do serious damage to your fingers as they have razor sharp teeth and rough sandpaper like skin. So with one hand holding the shark firmly just behind the head and the other holding the tail, we turned the shark upside down. It instantly went into its catatonic state to allow Georgia to do her stuff. Its not as easy as you would think, and it took her a few attempts to cut through the skin.

Now this sounds like it is hurting the shark but these little guys don’t seem to notice, so with the final cut through the belly Georgia slipped the tag inside the sharks cavity space (this would be the equivalent of slipping a beer bottle inside your chest by the way) she makes a couple of professional looking stitches and the little guy is good to go. We measure and sex each shark before releasing him or her back into the safety of the marine park.

Tagged and being measured, ready to go!

Georgia is extremely pleased with the results (see photo!) – a good days work for MCSS.

A very happy Georgia takes one of the tagged pups out to the reef....

Once back at the office Georgia is able to identify the sharks at baby Sharptooth Lemon Sharks, these are currently on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Vulnerable.

Happy and cruising... one of the tagged lemon shark pups explores Bay Ternay back-reef

However there are currently no conservation measures in place for this species and its current population is decreasing in size. This makes the tagging of these baby sharks even more important and moving them into the Baie Ternay Marine Park will hopefully help them to grow large enough to survive.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

My First Whale Shark encounter Wohooooooooo

Cathrina Freminot is an assistant researcher working with MCSS on our coastal development project, but as with all our staff we try to get them aware of all of the programmes so when space came up on the whale shark monitoring boat she was raring to go....

Dr Rowat: "Do you want to go out on the boat this afternoon?"
Cathrina (Me): "Well I don’t mind, that would be nice."

It was a nice sunny day, after doing the Plankton Tow, that I got another chance to go out on the boat but this time is to see a Whale Shark. After the nice Briefing with Dr Rowat next to the coast, the skipper drove us to the deeper water. As we continue our journey , we got a call from the pilot saying that there’s a Whale Shark at Baie lazare, so we were all excited as there were no sharks seen in the morning.

When we were about 100m away, we put on our gear and swung our legs over the edge of the boat. Once arrived, Gareth, the spotter, would jump in and lift his hand when everyone else should get in the water, (you must be very fast). I was so excited as it was my first time, I grabbed my camera to make sure that I get some souvenir of that huge spotty animal.

Cathrina's first shark, later identified as a 2010 shark sey2010.072

As the second group went in the water, the first group got out from the water. While all of us were sitting in the boat, Dirk (pilot) gave us another call as there were another shark in his visual, I wanted to go in ASAP as I was so excited to see him again, that day I got the chance to swim with three of the world’s largest fish!

A happy Cathrina with intern Susie, the recorder for the trip.

What a lovely experience, a day to remember.

So many thanks to all the MCSS Staff, Pilot and Interns!

P.S I wanna swim with them Again!!!!!! It was so AMAZING!!