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!