Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Intern Alison describes her first weeks on the programme... so far so good!

We are officially into week three of our whale shark season and while strong winds, rough ocean conditions, and buckets of rain have kept our shark encounters to a minimum, things are still going along swimmingly (sharks, swimming… get it?). However the sharks don’t seemed bothered by the dismal weather. It has been a bit frustrating to know our pilots have seen several sharks every day they have been up in the microlight , but we just can’t get to them because it is impossible to get to the sharks by boat. Well, at least without having everyone on the boat become violently seasick. At least we know there are sharks out there, compared to last year when they had the complete opposite problem- beautiful weather but no sharks! Our team leaders kept us busy during the bad weather with I3S practice, a computer program designed to identify whale sharks we see on our encounters by matching the spots with shark photos kept in the MCSS database.  So far we’ve done pretty well identifying the sharks we have seen, and have discovered some old MCSS whale shark friends have returned for a visit, and have even indentified eleven new sharks this year. 

 One of our spotty friends, complete with entourage of remoras...

But enough about computer programs, however interesting they may be. The weather has been slowly getting better and we have been able to spend more time with our large fishy friends. The last two days could definitely be considered a success with over 20 encounters with several different sharks. Some sharks have been just too quick for us land-dwelling humans to keep up with. The spotter will have just enough time to snap an ID photo or two while the rest of us are finning and puffing away to keep up, but the shark will keep swimming effortlessly until it disappears into the big blue. Other sharks however are a bit more cooperative and let us get a good look at. One of today’s sharks was a bit more than cooperative and hung around with our swimmers for more than 50 minutes! He was a curious little guy. And when I say little, I mean 4.5 meters long (Not really so little!)  He seemed to be unaffected by the presence of swimmers with him, and even put on a bit of a show for the group by circling them, chasing some bubbles created by the snorkeller’s fins, and coming up to the boat to check it out. 

Getting up-close and personal with the boat.... sharks don't read the encounter rules!

The shark gave the interns a good opportunity to properly photograph both sides, determine the sex, count the remoras and pilot fish, note any scars (this guy had some interesting black spots on his tail) and have a bit of fun too.  Either way it doesn’t matter if you swim with these giants for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, it’s such an incredible and unforgettable experience. 

The past few days have been a big learning curve learning to work with bad weather and still trying to collect all the data we need, but I think we passed the rough weather test and every other condition will seem to be a piece of cake in comparison. Just don’t forget the number one rule of unpleasant weather: don’t forget to take a sea sickness tablet before you get on the boat! 

The weather seems to be improving every day and all of the interns are crossing our fingers the weather will stay nice enough to see more whale sharks. After all, it’s not every day you get to swim with the biggest fish in the ocean!

No comments: