Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Brace Yourselves!

Saturday was a day like any other (well, at least like any other where there are sharks around): a morning of data processing, an afternoon swimming with whale sharks.  The sharks were plentiful that day, with multiple sightings, and in the end we had to leave with multiple sightings still being reported by our pilot.  As we headed back around the southwest coast, we contacted the pilot to request a fly-by.  The only response we got was, “Brace yourselves!”

A bit confused, we watched the skies.  From out of the blue appeared not only our microlite, but two other aircraft: a gyrocopter, and another microlite, this one with a small boat attached to the bottom! 
A trio of microlite aircraft line up for the fly-by!

Slowly they circled lower, joining forces in the skies, until, to our eyes, they looked to be almost flying on top of each other.  
Coming in low over the water, first the gyrocopter passed us, with a dog in the passenger seat....

Followed by the microlite-boat and then our own microlite under the command of Neil, before the trio climbed back into the air.
A rather unusual view of Neil taken by Fred Moinet in the 'flying boat'!

The clients on the boat loved it, as did we, and it was a fantastic end to a fun day of whale sharking.  Now we know the next time the pilot says “Brace yourself!” we’re in for a treat.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Whale Shark Reprise...

Intern Maddy describes the joys of finding sharks after four shark-less weeks.....

Just as we had resigned ourselves to the fact that the whale sharks had fallen out with us and decided to abandon the Seychelles entirely, a call from Neil changed everything. A lonesome shark was spotted on a morning survey flight, and while the pilot could not find the shark again when they returned later in the flight, and while we did not take a boat out to look for it that afternoon, our hope was restored.  Indeed, hope burgeoned when we learned the Save Our Seas team had found the shark again later in the day, and when the pilot had a repeat sighting the next day our excitement was uncontrollable.  Indeed, this first glimpse of a large shadow beneath the surface of the water foreshadowed five fantastic days of sharking.
That first spotty shadow was such a relief!!

We were in our element, with sharks galore! We had nervous sharks that didn’t hang around long and several sharks that wouldn’t leave us alone. This isn’t just a charming experience but also gives us chance to collect loads of data and take lots of photos. 
Hello.... did you miss me?

Some even stuck around with us so long that several groups of people got the chance to swim with them! This is something we call “hand-balling”. It means swapping one group out and putting another in. As the Whale shark encounter code states that we should only ever have 8 people in the water with the shark at one time. This can prove to be a bit difficult when you have an inquisitive male shark that wants to investigate you. But it is rather amusing to watch the Benny Hill style sketch unfold before you, with sharks following people and people following sharks. 
They were even sneaking round behind the boat...

This week was nothing short of spectacular, the radio was constant with news of the magical spotty creatures popping up everywhere! At one point, just as the shark I was with disappeared into the depths, I saw a shadow looming in the distance and was soon approached by another, without ever leaving the water. We experienced moments we will never forget, even being fortunate enough to see a couple of Manta rays! 

Lots of happy people making whale shark faces, even though our youngest isn't too sure about it!

The boat was filled with joyful faces and we were delighted to share some very close encounters with our favourite fish! Peaking at a total of 11 encounters in one day, with our longest lasting 35 minutes!! (A very friendly young chap indeed!). 
Back in business with lots of photos to ID... Whoopeee!

We have certainly had our hands full with some very successful shark trips, as well as having lots of data to analyse and are very happy to finally be busy with shark work! 

Maddy Cole, 2012  whale shark intern

Time Heals All Wounds...

Join Intern Savi on some sharky musings...

Time Heals All Wounds... Whether Chaucer was talking about emotional or physical wounds, we know one thing is true; time is definitely a plus for the physical. An integral section of the whale shark monitoring program involves the identifying of large spotty fish for population dynamics around the island of Mahe Seychelles. However, each encounter also involves the collection of pictures of each nick and abrasion of our hungry friends. With years of post-traumatic evidence in our database, we are able to track the healing progress of our recaptured sharks. 

Why am I rambling on about what you avid whale shark blog readers already know? Because lately I’ve been assigned to a side project which handles this graphic library of wounds and must assign a label to what each shark has encountered. Speed et al. 2008 have done this with several whale shark aggregations (Australia, Seychelles and Mozambique) and have compiled a list of categories for each scar to go in. Long story short (although a very interesting read), major and minor are the two classes of categories; major being anything life threatening and minor being any shallow or superficial scrapes if you will. 

Sey2010.031 as seen in September of 2010 with some very painfull looking lacerations across the gilll slits.

During our week long whale shark extravaganza, a not so curious shark was encountered with. With the encounter code being kept, all guests were on the right side and as spotter I was desperate to get to the left for proper ID shots. Upon much frantic swimming, I achieved reaching the left and that’s when I saw it; a rather impressive dent upon the gills. After quickly snapping photos, the shark dove and the encounter ended. The next morning, the photos were I3S’d and lo and behold; Sey.2010.031 was our mystery shark. Every photo (left gill shot, left fingerprint, right gill shot, right fingerprint and the healed scar) was put into its respective folder in the Iris database. When reviewing past scar photos, we can see the gruesome lacerations upon the gill slits. 

Why is this exciting? At 14:50 on Sept. 7th. 2010, the 31st new whale shark of 2010 was encountered off Matoopa Point and seen with a life threatening gash. Trauma around the head and gill slits can severely affect the life span of Rhincodon typus seeing as this particular injury hinders the proper filtering of the nutrient he seeks in our rich Indian Ocean waters. But ho! What was thought to be a doomed shark hath now returned to Mahe to feed and be a part of the magnificent Seychelles aggregation (though not so magnificent around Mahe this year). He was seen again off South Mahe on the 17th October alive and doing very nicely, thank you!
Here he is this year with the lacerations healed up, though not the prettiest of sharks!

We can extrapolate from this that perhaps this injury was not Seychelles related but on his crossing over to feast around this tropical archipelago. Which unfortunately strengthens the question of where do these magnificent creatures go when not partaking in planktonic feasting. This gauntlet of predators and boats; where does it lie and how often does it occur? Satellite tags have of course given us a clue and hopefully more tags to come.  Here’s to many more years of research and heartier aggregations with tagging for mapping of this migratory creatures. Here’s to you sey.2010.031; hope you come back next year!

Savinien Leblonde, 2012 whale shark intern.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A season with a difference

Regular readers of the blog would have noticed that despite this being the peak of the Seychelles whale shark season there have been very few posts... The reason is basically that there has been a major lack of sharks. The beginning of September brought two hopeful days with shark sightings and reasonable conditions but then a period of three weeks followed where rain stopped play and thereafter we had several weeks of glorious wind and rain free days, fantastic in-water visibility, but no sharks whatsoever... 

Things went from bad to worse when our main supporter, the Underwater Centre, was burnt to the ground by a fire in the kitchens of the adjacent hotel pizzeria. 

MCSS Interns help sort through the debris of the fire at the Underwater Centre / Dive Seychelles

However, with a lot of hard work from staff and the MCSS interns the centre was able to resurrect itself from the ashes, and with it the sharks came back! Last week was good with multiple sharks in the south and several old friends coming back to visit...
 At last a whale shark!! Things are looking up!

So apologies for the hiatus but there will be several posts coming along with more inspiring stories of our big spotty fish.

There's lots of people pleased to see you guys again!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sunday 9th Sept

At last it was my turn to go up in the Micro light. As I arrived at the airport and met the voice from the sky, Neil, who is the only pilot so far to spot a Whale shark for us this season,  not that we think Johan has problems with his sight, but he has taken to strapping binoculars to his head when he flies (only joking  Johan)!

Look! No strings! 

As I saw the micro light for the first time I said to Neil that I did not realise that you could get kites with an engine on them, and did we still need a long piece of string attached to it. No really it looked as strong and capable of flying as a Budgie in a cyclone. Any way I had my safety briefing and felt confident that if we had to ditch at sea I was ready to jump out at the instruction of my capable pilot when we were just about to hit the water, little did he know at the first sign of trouble I was out and flapping my arms for all they were worth.  

Off we go, taxiing along the runway for all of 50 yards and we were air born.  Once up in the sky, you soon forget that you are sitting on a seat attached to a big piece of cloth, once we got to cruising height the views were fantastic helped by a reasonable sunny day. 

We first headed down to the south of the Island spotting schools of fish and some fish traps but no signs of any whale sharks, so we proceeded round the south point and headed up the east coast of the Island, after about 5mins a call from Neil to say he has spotted a whale shark, I search the ocean below with no luck (must get my eyes tested again), again Neil called to me and pointed, I began to think he had something in his goggles but as he banked the micro light (kite) down towards where he had seen the shark, I saw my first glimpse of the shark from the sky. 

Now I see it! They look really small from up here!

Neil plotted the position on his map and I attempted to get some photos of the shark, not having practiced my photography skills from a micro light found this to be a harder task than normal, as I tried to get a photo of the shark without any part of the micro light in the photo, not as easy as you would think. At last I got one snap not great but a photo anyway. We had not continued far in our search for more, when Neil called out again that he has another whale shark in his sight, next to a large school of fish, again Neil had spotted it long before me  (will have to start calling him Hawkeye) from now on. Just as we started to fly lower towards the shark we saw that the shark was heading straight towards the school of fish, and that the fish had opened up a large area and totally encircled the whale shark.
A perfect fish halo....

We circled around for some time and then we were off again to pursue our search, as we flew into Takamaka bay, Neil calls again another shark (this is getting old news) Hammerhead he calls (excitement returns), Again he has to point it out, but once directly overhead at 2000ft I saw the shark and it was large, as big as the whale sharks that we had just seen, which we estimated at between 4-5m in length. I rushed to get my camera ready as we passed over but alas my photography skills had deserted me again so only the photograph in my mind capturing the image. 

We set off again heading towards Conception channel where we snorkelled with the Whale sharks last week and is the hot spot for the sharks at this time of year but after 2 or 3 passes nothing to report, but we did have some rain and got some nice rainbows which are circular from up high, managed to get some nice pictures of Baie Ternay.
 Picture perfect rainbow over Bay Ternay

We left there and headed up towards the north of the Island with no more sightings, just some fish traps and a couple of schools of fish. We turned round North point and headed south on our last leg of our flight towards the Airport.

After a smooth landing and taxing to the hanger it was time to extricate oneself from the seat, after sitting with legs splayed for nearly 2 hours, said legs do not work as easily as they should and once out of seat my legs seemed to have a mind of their own, once the blood started to circulate again.     I thanked Hawkeye for an amazing flight and experience, and would suggest anyone to try it out.

John Tulley, MCSS intern                      

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

First Encounter... a personal perspective

Prepped with our new found proficiencies and filled to the brim with enthusiasm, we have now finally been able to reap the rewards of our hard work during boot camp. Wally (the fake Whale Shark) has been traded in for the real deal and we finally have the chance to regurgitate our Whale Shark knowledge upon unsuspecting clients. With all six of us chomping at the bit, we have finally been set free. Whale Shark season 2012 won’t know what’s hit it!

As we headed out to Conception Channel we were full of anticipation, all beaming and hawk-eyed hoping to spot a fin poking out from amongst the waves or the dark silhouette of everyone’s favourite spotty fish moving under the surface! 

Finally, a very large spotty fish!

After a lot of waiting and watching, with the rocking of the boat starting to make us feel sleepy, our hope was diminishing. Maybe these ever elusive animals just didn’t want to play today. But then, finally, we got the call that we’d all been waiting for. The muffled voice of Neil (one of the pilots) coming through on the radio “I’ve got a shark for you!” Everyone sparked into action, the skipper following our directions as we tried to listen to Neil over the squeaks and squeals of exhilaration. There was a rush to get our fins, masks and cameras and an exchange of smiles throughout the group as we approached our target. The boat slows down when we start approaching 100m from the shark, at 50m it almost cuts off completely, and then an aberrant silence as we perched on the sides of the boat, waiting to get visual affirmation of the sharks’ position.

 Worth the wait! Our very first whale shark was a beauty!

I saw a dark shadow moving as we approached and heard our team leaders telling us to get in. I think I swallowed my fair share of sea water as I very inelegantly threw myself in the water. He was beautiful, we were in complete awe! It made all the hard work completely worth it and it really reiterated to us all why we applied to join the project in the first place. Just to be in the presence of these gorgeous creatures felt like a privilege. As he moved effortlessly through the water (a damn sight more graceful than any of us) we soaked up the experience and followed him for an awesome few minutes before he dived. We gave the signal to the boat that the encounter had ended and waited for the boat to pick us up.

 Glad I took the photos as I forgot to count the remoras!

We were hoping to get a chance to get some of our excitement out before we had to prioritise getting the all important data and looking after customers. And we lucked out! With all six of us on the boat we have now encountered 5 sharks. The first encounter was understandably a mixture of being dumb-struck and forgetting near enough everything we had learnt about counting remoras, pilot fish and getting the necessary photographs. Ooops! But, after the first shark, possibly the second, we got our act together and made our team leaders proud. Even with Savi’s snorkel-laughs being heard across conception channel and Amanda only being able to muster various expressions of astonishment for a good while after. 

We also got to grips with “the science” whilst on the boat and you can now call us fully competent “Plankton pullers”, “Secci disk lowerers” and “Conductivity, temperature and depth investigators”. It was fantastic to put our skills to the test and to finally use the I3S software to identify REAL sharks. We have already found out that a couple of the sharks have been seen in the Seychelles in previous years. 

Maddy getting to know her new spotty friend!

Its great to feel like the season has got going and we look forward to ID’ing many more sharks. As well as sharing the remarkable experience of encountering the lovely Whale Shark with lots of other people. 

Maddy Cole, 2012 whale shark intern

Thursday, September 6, 2012

My First Micro-Light Experience

Monday 27th August 2012 was a very interesting and exciting day. I was about to have a first time experience in the micro-light aircraft and of course not to forget being on the lookout for whale sharks , turtles as well as some schools of fish along the coast of the Island of Mahe. 

I met with the pilot Joahn at Beau Vallon and we drove down to Airport at Pointe Larue. Upon arriving at the hanger, Johan refueled the micro- light and also conduct some pre-flight checks and test to ensure the aircraft is ok for the flight. We both had to properly dress up for the flight as I was informed that it’s quite cold while flying above the clouds. 

It was a cloudy and overcast weather with not much wind, Johan conducted a short briefing about the Emergency Safety Procedures and Precautions in case an Emergency Landing is required..... 

Uzice......All set and ready to go  
After having taxied on the runaway and waiting for the control tower to give the green light for the micro-light to take-off, the small aircraft raced down the tarmac and we were airborne at exactly 09:32am heading south. I was comfortably seated behind the pilot, a bit tense during the take-off but I managed to relax once in the air.                               

Uzice & Johan (pilot) during the flight   

We crossed our fingers throughout the journey, hoping a whale shark might surface any moment. Unlucky for me, not a single whale shark was seen, but I was enjoying the thrills of cold air rushing past my face as the micro-light keeps climbing and descending from time to time. During the flight Johan is constantly in contact with the Air Traffic Controller at the Airport Control Tower, keeping update of our current position in case of other oncoming planes in the air.
There were a few bumps from time to time, ups and down through the clouds, we also circle some turtle nesting beaches in the south to check out turtle tracks. As we fly by we were also on the lookout for fish traps, fishing nets and fishing vessel along the coast of the Island of Mahe. The scenery from above was very beautiful even though the weather wasn’t that very sunny. 

Clouds above the mountains and the airport during the descend for landing

As the micro-light approached the Airport at Point Larue the pilot was given clearance to land. We slowly start descending towards the airfield and touch the tarmac at 11:22am. The pilot raced the small aircraft across the runway and headed towards the hangar. There, he refuels the aircraft for another flight scheduled in the afternoon. 

What a ride it was! Thanks MCSS, Johan for making it possible.

Uzice Samedi,  MCSS Researcher

Monday, September 3, 2012

Intern Introductions...

Like Willie Wonka giving out the chance to tour his wondrous factory, Dr. David Rowat has chosen six interns to take part in Marine Conservation Society Seychelles; the much anticipated 2012 Seychelles whale shark season is upon us. Who are these lucky interns who have signed up for what plans to be the best 3 months of their lives? Let’s read on and meet them those lucky few with a golden ticket of sorts.

 John Tully – A retired firefighter from Scotland who has gone gallivanting about in the world exploring what it can offer or more importantly what he can offer the world. Singapore, Spain, France, and South Africa are just a few areas he has stepped foot in. His most recent voyage served as volunteer at GVI Seychelles (A volunteer expedition that studies and surveys the reef’s health around the island through their biodiversity, as well as megafauna and turtle monitorings around the north bays of Mahe). Lately known to pull tom-fooleries around the intern house, we wonder what mischief is next.

Jozefien Decoene – With a degree in biology (majoring in zoology and a year in marine biology) Jozefien teaches students 17/18 years of age in Belgium (the equivalent to American High School or A levels in England). When on holiday from teaching, she takes part in expeditions very much like MCSS. Last year involved a study on dolphins off the Canary Islands (Identification, and size populations of Bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales). With English as her second language, a hearty laugh is in order when trying to explain why there are background giggles whenever the program G.I.S is said alloud in its abbreviated form.


Amanda Hutchinson – Coming from a medicinal background, a business woman in the chiropractic field from Birmingham decided to have a “mid-life crisis”. Taking a year off thanks to a patient who recommended the Seychelles, she is pursuing a dream of being in the presence of the magnificent whale shark. Selfish reasons are not the case here as she is more than happy to partake in the marine conservation projects that MCSS has to offer. Medicine and marine life aren’t the only big “M’s” in her life. She wishes deeply to play the guitar and constantly keeps the interns upbeat with her laughter and songs. Can she perhaps lure these gentle giants into our presence with her dulcet tones?
 Ross Makulec – With a bachelor’s and a master’s in Mechanical Engineering, Ross then flew to Seychelles to also take part in GVI for 22 weeks (10 volunteering at Cap Ternay followed by 12 weeks of divemaster internship at the Under Water Center). Ross loved the Seychelles so much he never left as he has been volunteering with MCSS since March of 2012 helping David and the MCSS team with many projects. Ross is an exceptional photographer and I’m certain David will appreciate the extraordinary ID photos for use with Iris (I3S: Interactive Individual Identification System). The intern house is also indebted to Ross for his unbelievable culinary skills. 
Maddy Cole – Where do we start? This outdoorsy girl has done it all; kayaking, rock climbing, scuba diving, mountain biking, hiking and more. Another person to traipse through the GVI Seychelles dive master halls with a marine background and an insane amount of love for animals, Maddy returned to Seychelles to join the MCSS team in its entire whale shark splendor. Already having background to MCSS with their turtle monitoring last year, she has a heads-up as the how the program works and hopes to see and ID as many whale sharks as possible.

Savinien Leblond – This guy has also seen the likes of GVI Seychelles and was immediately hooked in the marine conservation life as a diver. With a bachelor’s in Biology and a massive history of constantly being in the water growing up, he would do anything to come back to the Seychelles to partake in the marine research. Lo and behold…an intern on the MCSS whale shark team for the year 2012. Using his leadership skills gained from the scholar life at Cap Ternay he hopes to make a mark this expedition and continue his pursue to be a marine biologist.

So these are the interns for 2012. Two weeks of boot camp have already gone by which means we have been thoroughly trained in the arts of ID’ing through IRIS, sequencing waypoints using the program G.I.S as well as being very hands on and intimate with Wally. Our two team leaders, Sam and Darren have done an exceptional job (they were interns last year) so far and have kept moral up during the “dry” no fly days. Everyone has been welcoming and we already feel part of the team ready to work for the goal; 2012 MCSS…here we are with our golden tickets.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


Well it’s September 1st and the first official day of the whale shark season and after a bit of a shaky start its GAME ON with the team’s first whale shark of the season!

After two weeks of ‘boot camp’ where our team of six interns were learning all about the methods we use and following our fake whale shark ‘Wally’, it has to be said that they were getting a little bit itchy to get in the water with the real thing, but things weren’t working out…

Team leader Sam (left) with John (centre) and Ross (right) wait hopefully for a big spotty fish!

Team Leaders Darren Whitehead (UK) and Sam West (Aus) were doing their best to keep the interns focused and everyone appeared to be in good cheer, but when they start to do jig-saws of horses in the apartment, you can tell they are in need of some real shark action! Our team this year comprises of Amanda Hutchins (UK), Jozefien Decoene (Belgium), Maddy Cole (UK), John Tully (UK), Savi Leblond (Fr) and Ross Makulec (USA).

 Darren keeps Jozefien and Maddy occupied with plankton tows...

In the first week, our pilot Johan Anderson had the plane ready and flying but no sharks were sighted, a real disappointment. Then in week two, the winds got up and the plane was grounded for several days… so the interns went out and terrorised Wally a bit more!

The 1st of September arrived, along with second pilot Neil Koopman, and Johan had Neil up in the air almost as soon as he had unpacked his bag! But the morning flight again came back empty… Johan saw a dark shadow in one of the channels but couldn’t determine if it was a whale shark and so we cancelled the first public encounter trip of the season… this wasn’t looking like a good start! However, Dr. D. sent the team out anyway as he had some technical tasks he needed them to do to standardise some new equipment, and the pilots reckoned they could fly as well so it was worth a try….

And here he is.... accompanied by a yellow pilot and a herd of remoras!

And worth a try it certainly was as Neil and Johan soon had the team moving into position near a whale shark…. But it wasn’t easy as the shark kept diving into the rather thick plankton layer and disappearing… but they persevered and got their first shark of the season! Johan and Neil saw a further three sharks in the same area but the thick plankton layer made them impossible to get on to.

 We're not sure of his identity yet but by tomorrow all will be revealed!

But its day 1 with shark # 1! So the interns have some data to start work on first thing tomorrow with the anticipation of more by tomorrow afternoon!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The first of the season’s whale sharks are now arriving…. We have had several reports of whale sharks around the North of Mahe and a ‘dry run’ on a dive on June 10th, where a single whale shark appeared over 16 divers. However, the only two who saw it were the only pair without a camera (someone’s law at work there!), but now we do have had our first ID of the year!
So here is sey.2010.097 as recorded on the 17th June 2012

On Sunday 17th team members from Global  Vision International saw a whale shark off the Lighthouse at Bay Ternay; although the shark swam off quite fast, they were able to get a couple of ID photographs. The team at MCSS using the I3S software matched the image to a shark first seen on 9th October 2010 around 4.00pm swimming quite deep  of Anse Corail, South West Mahe. The shark was identified as a male of around 6 m and has the local ID of sey.2010.097; however, he was only seen on the one occasion. The shark was not seen in 2011 but its sure nice to see him back again this year!

And here he is again (from 2010) with his distinctive pattern of spots and stripes outlined

GVI seem to be setting a trend as they also captured our first ID in 2011 (on July 25th) so they are off to an early start this year…

We look forward to seeing sey.2010.097 and lots of his friends over the coming months!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Satellite tags & Baby whale shark videos...

News on the tagging front is that both of the Mini-Pats attached during the Djibouti expedition in January have now released and both the sharks seem to be having a holiday in the Southern Red Sea! One is off the coast of Eritrea, north of Massawa, while the other is of the coast of Yemen. The data is still being downloaded and the research team are keen to get into it to see what these two have been up to for the last three months!

The two tags popped off either side of the southern Red Sea
In ither news, ex Whale shark Team Leader Katie Brooks recently came across this 2006 footage posted on U-Tube by Nick Hope of his diving holiday off Bunaken, Indonesia.  The whale shark was apparently only 4 or 5 feet long and had two big remoras attached to it.

Another new posting on U-Tube is of a baby whale shark inside the reef crest off Ahnd Atoll, Pohnpei, Micronesia. Uploaded on the  24th May 2011 by deveyn1, the video shows a similar sized whale shark in very shallow waters...

So things seem to be warming up on the juvenile front! Fingers crossed for the coming Seychelles whale shark season!!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Whale sharks in trouble…

Colleagues from the African mainland contacted us this weekend worried about an article that appeared recently in a Kenyan newspaper about the East African Whale Shark Trust. Apparently they have netted off a 500 metre enclosure at Waa on the south coast of Kenya between Diani and Mombasa and are planning to capture two whale sharks to put in this “sanctuary” for tourists to swim with.

The purpose of having a sanctuary is two-tiered. It will generate revenue from tourism that can be re-invested in the conservation of whale sharks through awareness campaigns and establish a research centre and a potential breeding programme” the article says.

The article says that a captive programme is necessary because of the high number of whale sharks being killed off the Kenyan coast “EAWST founder Volker Bassen says the threat to whale sharks has increased over the years, resulting in a dramatic decline in the population of whale sharks (known locally as papa shillingi) off the coast of Kenya as they are killed for their fins and livers. In February 2008, a reported 42 whale sharks were killed off Pate Island in just that month.The fins are sold abroad and their livers are used to make liver oil, which is used to protect wooden boats from ship-worms and other degradation.

Similar netted enclosures are found off Japan and China, as aficionados of XXXXX may recall from the krill filled fish-net shorts sequence, but these are generally low budget affairs catering for local tourism.
Whale sharks in a netted enclosure run by local fishermen in China...

The whole subject of keeping large pelagic sharks such as whale sharks in captivity tends to bring mixed responses; the Georgia and Okinawa aquariums have been able to justify their specimens based largely on the research carried out on these individuals. However, there seems to be little to support this in the proposed project; similarly whale sharks have never been seen breeding, let alone bred in captivity, and with the majority of sharks off the Kenyan coast being admittedly juvenile a captive breeding programme is pretty fanciful….

Feeding captive whale sharks can also be a major problem...

More information can be found in the Kenyan Nation article.

Add your view in our POLL on keeping whale sharks in captivity in the bar on the right!

In other news, here we are at the beginning of April and already two whale sharks have been reported by one of our research boat captains off the South of Mahe…. Fingers crossed for a good Seychelles season in 2012.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Little Miss Daisy

A little off subject, here's a brief introduction to one of the newest MCSS team members from Project Coordinator Georgia French...

'Super Sid' our current MCSS team guard dog and furniture terrorist!

We are very happy to announce that we have a new addition to the MCSS team as of the 24th of January. Our newcomer is in the form of Daisy, a ridiculously cute, fluffy eared little terror found by the side of the road by myself, and Dr. D.

On first passing this skinny puppy I did my best impersonation and gave Dr. D. the puppy dog eyes, but as David is much more sensible than I am and less prone to picking up every waif and stray that he finds (but only just!) we decided to wait and see if she belonged to somebody before puppy-napping her. It turned out that she had been spotted in the same place for several days by our Dive Master Interns and so when we were on our way back to the office and spotted her again the puppy dog eyes did the trick and I was allowed to jump gleefully from the truck to pick her up. She was very skinny and thirsty but so sweet and affectionate everybody immediately fell in love with her, including resident MCSS dog, Sid (formerly known as Smelly Dog). David even helped to clean up the surprising amount of sick that she projectile vomited over the inside of the new Hilux...Thanks Dr. D!

Sid and Miss Daisy.... bit of a size difference to resolve here!

Unfortunately for Daisy, Sid is substantially bigger than her but doesn’t seem to realise it! As such, when he has his characteristic “Redbull” moments and bounces around the office garden like a possessed gazelle, Daisy can usually be seen scuttling into the safety of the volunteer house. When Sid remembers his manners and is a bit less boisterous they do enjoy a nice game of tug of war with the dedicated dog sock which is pretty heart melting to watch.

Daisy goes home with me every night under the insistence that she is too small to stay at the office with Sid by herself. I don’t understand all the accusations of this being a thinly veiled excuse to take the puppy home, how very cynical of you all!

A pretty content Daisy, now very at home with MCSS....

Daisy has now had her jabs, worming and de-fleaing treatment and proudly sports her new collar and lead on her walks to the beach where she seems to be in training to take on Sid in bounce-off. So there you go, one happy puppy, one very happy Georgia, one bouncy Sid and an office full of people determined to spoil little Miss Daisy rotten.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Week Three and its all over again....

Expedition leader Gareth Jeffreys posts the last blog from the 2012 Djibouti expedition and as always, its sad to have to wrap things up... but there's always next year!

The third and final week of the Djibouti whale shark expedition has come to an end, and we unfortunately have had to say goodbye to our north African whale sharks, as well as the skippers and crew of the Deli Valetta, for another year.

The team for week three aboard the Deli

This week we had a full boat to see off our trip, with both new and familiar faces joining us on board. David Robinson returned for his second year (and he certainly hopes it won’t be his last) while some of the new faces to the Deli were in fact well known friends of the MCSS. Peter Verhoog of the Save Our Seas Foundation, came to see what we were up to as the Foundation were part sponsoring the expedition again this year; also aboard was Dr. Jennifer Schmidt of the University of Illinois, who assists the programme with genetic analysis. They were joined David Dixon, a very experienced British diver, Benoit Pardigon, an attorney from Paris and Gabrielle Methou for the last thrilling encounters of 2012.

A night encounter under the flood lights of Deli

Also with us for a few days were Yannick Aubry, of the Sheraton, Djibouti and cinematographer Rene Heuzey, both keen to be involved with the project to help with the protection of the species here in the Djibouti.

The week didn’t disappoint either, and the whale sharks certainly put a smile on everyone’s faces with encounters taking place both day and night throughout the final phase.

MCSS Expedition leader Gareth Jeffreys surfaces during a night encounter

And so it was certainly a sad moment when the Deli left her mooring on Friday morning to embark back for port.

This did not however detract from some much needed relaxation time, and the annual excursion to Lac Assal (the lowest point in Africa and second lowest in the world I have been reliably informed) performed miracles to some aching joints with a 15 minute floating session in, or more aptly, on top of the salt rich waters. Which was a wonderful idea at the time, but not quite so wonderful come the trip home for those without a spare pair of shorts (Ben)!

A little salty relaxation for the team at Lac Assal

Usually this would have marked the end of our time in Djibouti before working through all the data over the coming weeks back in the Seychelles, but this year Michel Vely and Daniel Jouannet of Megaptera, together with Rene Heuzey and Bertrand LaFrance of DECAN, the Djibouti Cheetah Refuge, had arranged for a whale shark conference to be given to the people of Djibouti the Saturday of our return. And so it was that we were able to present to all those that attended our findings from the nine years of study so far and inform them of the remarkable gift they possess and what actions will be needed if they are to preserve it.

Michel Vely and Gareth presenting the research findings

Judging by the number of people in the audience and the interest shown from all, we came away positive and confident for the future of whale shark protection in the Gulf of Tadjoura.

It therefore just leaves me to say a massive thank you to all those who joined us over the three weeks, to Yannick for his extra support, to the hard working and ever helpful crew of the Deli, to the Megaptera team, to the Save Our Seas Foundation, and last but certainly not least, to the sleep deprived but very satisfied members of the MCSS.

Gareth Jeffreys, expedition leader