Friday, October 25, 2013

As The Season Winds Down....

Intern Alison reflects on the season thus far and its impending closure... as well as quite a few other things!

As whale shark season starts to wind down, unfortunately we must start saying goodbye. Not goodbye to the sharks, not quite yet. No, we are saying goodbye to two people I have become good friends with over the past two months. First, Freya has moved on to volunteer with GVI where she will be diving everyday and conducting fish surveys in the beautiful Baie Ternay Marine Park. Next, Matt will be heading home to England to plan his next adventures- maybe volunteering with the roos and wallabies in Australia, or researching basking sharks in the UK? The interns and staff wish both of them the best of luck, and thanks for all the hard work, good memories and laughs (especially Matt’s impressions).

 Matt moving into position to get his photos...

We will all miss Freya in the last week...
Meanwhile, the rest of the interns left are extremely happy the whale shark season has been extended for another week. Although there aren’t the large numbers of sharks we had seen earlier in the season, almost everyday the pilot flies in the air he manages to spot one. Of course none of us care that there is only “just one shark”, we are just as pleased to swim with one shark as we are with three or four. 

There is always the day where the sharks play really hard to get, even if there were spotted by the pilot earlier. We had one of those dreaded days where we wait in nervous anticipation bobbing around the ocean, hoping the pilot will find us a shark soon before we have to head back to the dive centre empty handed.  Just as all hope seems lost, the radio comes to life with the pilot’s excitement as he states “I have a shark for you!” and both clients and staff can breathe a sigh of relief as they hop into the water with shark.

Otherwise the sharks seem to be much more content to be observed. One shark, which is quite distinctive by his scars, most notably his lack of a top tail fin, was seen two days in a row. On one day, he was the only shark spotted that day and as a result, everyone spent quite a good amount of time with him in the water. At first he seemed playing a game of cat and mouse with the boat. As soon as swimmers were put in the water, he would swim very fast or dive too deep to see. However, he would pop up minutes later and repeat the process all over again. After being a bit camera shy in the beginning, the shark started to relax and let the swimmers follow him for much longer. I think in the end this shark was quite keen to be the star of the show! 

 A much more chilled shark!
When unfortunately there are no sharks spotted on the morning flight, we still try to make the best of the situation by getting plenty of beach and snorkeling time in. This weeks snorkeling and diving adventure took us to the Baie Ternay again, where three turtles, two eagle rays, a shoal of squid, an overly friendly bat fish and a mantis shrimp were spotted, not to mention the thousands of fish and beautiful corals that inhabit the marine park. A few of the interns even tried a night snorkel off Sunset Beach. They weren’t very successful in their hope of seeing devil rays attracted by the floodlights of the hotel, but it was still an entertaining experience.

 Night snorkel was fun if not too productive!
 Spotted eagle rays are firm friends...
As are the local turtles!
We’re hoping the rest of the week is filled with sharky goodness as everyone is eager to see as many sharks as we can before they leave until next year. Even if we don’t see another whale shark this year, I think I can safely say all of the interns will treasure this experience for the rest of our lives. But here’s hoping we can see maybe just a few more wonderful whale sharks before we leave! 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Sorry for the delays in catching up on posts from the last week or two.... this one from Sarah in the last of our 'dry' weeks without sharks... thankfully they seem to have come back again this week!
So it hasn’t been the most successful week for whale sharking, in fact we haven’t been out on any trips at all. This is partly due to the recent bad weather; the pilots haven’t been able to fly round the whole island and also not spotting any sharks whilst in the air. Every day interns and staff wait for that all important phone call to tell us the results of the morning flight but we keep hearing the same words “no sharks”, you can see the disappointment in everyone’s faces and not to mention the poor intern who has to break the news to the clients that we won’t be going out. 

This week has been very much about trying to keep ourselves occupied, a few of the interns and Savi went for a dive at the Aquarium site and saw a Hawksbill turtle, whilst Matt and I went for a snorkel around Sunset Beach. As we were making our way to the right of the beach I suddenly heard Matt shouting my name and as I raced over I heard him shout “I’ve just seen a white-tip”. We both put our heads under the water and there it was. The shark didn’t stick around for long but it was really cool to see, we then went on to find a stingray, an eagle ray, a bumphead parrotfish and a honeycomb moray eel we had both concluded that it was a pretty successful afternoon snorkel.

It was also James’ 19th Birthday this week; we made him a little card and went out for pizza at one of the local restaurants. One night however he thought it would be a good idea to climb a palm tree and then got stuck, but I was fortunate enough to have a camera and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a photo!! 
So this is what interns get up to in the evening....

It has been a frustrating week for interns and staff but we are still smiling and have everything crossed for a better week. (Which it was.....)
Sarah, Alison, Savi, Freya and James (not up a tree this time!)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

And now a post from Intern Matt who's been putting on a brave show during a fairly shark-free period...

It seems to be an unending game of cat and mouse at the moment. We are the cats, waiting with as much patience as we can muster on the shore, hoping that today will be our lucky day and praying that the mice – the very big, spotty mice that eat plankton – decide that today is a good day to come out and play.

It was very unfortunate that we had a long spree with no whale sharks whatsoever recently. Almost a week and a half of no activity at all, and this meant that each and every morning, whichever one of us was in the shop taking bookings and answering the phone had to dish out the bad news to the hopeful clients that no, unfortunately there would be no boat trip today. It was slightly frustrating for all of us, for we were just as eager to get out there as they were. But the sharks were playing hardball and definitely were not making it easy on us.

Still, even without the presence of the world’s largest fish, we’ve been determined to make sure our visit was worth it, and snorkelling off the rocks just outside our intern house rarely fails to disappoint. We all usually try and get into the water at least once a day. And there is a whole host of wildlife out there to greet us and lift our spirits.

On one such occasion we saw no less then ten stingrays in places where we usually saw none at all. Not to mention the giant Marbled Rays that seem to make their home under one particular rock.

Recently we’ve also seen White-tip Reef Sharks on a few occasions. Actually, now that I think about it, I am the only person that has been present every time a White-tip has been sighted. We were all there to see the one at Conception at the start before we even saw our first whale shark of the trip. But then me and Sarah spotted another north of Sunset Beach. Two days later, James and I were in the water chasing Eagle Rays when we came across another. Then I found another while snorkelling alone a few days later. And then, just two days ago, a large one was found resting on the bottom on our group trip to Bay Ternay. How lucky am I?

Bay Ternay was perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever snorkelled. The beds of sea grass gave way to veritable fields of coral alongside stretches of sandbank, each of which seemed to inhabit different kinds of animals. Twenty Eagle Rays cruised by like kites in a gentle breeze. Several batfish, which normally keep their distance, seemed to take an interest in us and followed us around. And not long after the shark swam away, a second animal was found calmly relaxing on the sea-floor – another Hawksbill turtle. Rays, sharks and turtles have become my personal big three, and for a single snorkel to contain all three… now that is what I call a success.

Of course, then we had the bright idea of going for a hike despite the ominous grey clouds overhead. I cannot remember the last time I got so thoroughly soaked to the skin while on dry land. I feel like I got more wet than I would if I had jumped into the ocean. Impossible, I know, but that’s what it felt like. But I enjoyed it. It allows you to fully appreciate that you are, in fact, in the tropics. As did the praying mantis that flew into our house one evening and landed on my head. It made itself quite comfortable up there for a while.

But despite all the excellent wildlife around, the whale sharks that we are actually here to see continue to toy with us. Naturally if our pilots see nothing on their morning flight then we do not go out on the boat. But they also always take a flight in the afternoon if the weather allows, and for three days running last week a single whale shark was spotted on those afternoon flights. It was a relief to know they were still around, but torture at the same time because we knew they were there but by that time it was too late to go and find them.

Then, suddenly, there was a buzz in the office as Dirk finally spotted a shark on the morning flight. It felt almost the same as it had the very first time a shark was seen right at the beginning of our internship and all of us were hopping to get back on the boat, and were praying that today would not be one with the worst possible outcome – a boat trip with nothing to see. Please be there! Please be there! Please be there!

Were they there?

Yes, they were.

They returned with a vengeance that day and we had a total of twelve separate encounters with what were at least five different sharks. Dirk was kept busy spotting for us up in the air and the moment we slipped back into the blue and saw that long, spotted shape again, our excitement knew no bounds. It was as if all the previous weeks had never happened and this was our first ever sighting of a shark. That’s how euphoric we were.

The following day was another day with the sharks, though we had less success, culminating in three encounters with what turned out to be the same shark each time, not to mention after the first encounter with it the shark stayed away until right at the end of the trip and we could finally get everybody in. But there may have been a reason for this – there were Bottlenose Dolphins in the area on that day. It was exciting to see their streamlined shapes cut through the surface of the water like knives, and several of us got the opportunity to swim with them (though the one of us who got the best encounter totally forgot to take one of the cameras in with him). But in the long run, this was a bad sign since dolphins and sharks do not like each other, even if the shark is a peaceful giant that couldn’t hurt the dolphin if it tried.

It culminated the next day with a trip to the south where the whale sharks stayed down and out of sight and there were dolphins everywhere. There were at least two separate pods, possibly three, and we were perhaps some of the only people in the world who just groaned when we were told there were dolphins in the area. But it appeared that our concerns were valid because the worst case scenario did happen on that day. A full boat of fourteen clients and no sharks to show them. Where were they? Did the dolphins drive them off? Who can tell but whatever the reason the disappointment was the same.

And since then, we’ve become the cats on the shore again, waiting for another chance to take a trip. This time the bad weather is getting in the way again and with the season so close to finishing, we can only hope that we’ll all get another chance in the next week to see them once more. If not, then that’s unfortunate, but at the end of the day I have a hard-drive full of photos and a head full of memories to take back with me to England. This trip has been amazing, and I cannot thank MCSS enough for the opportunity to take part in it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A post from intern James this week about the trial and tribulations of working with wildlife...

So it’s my turn already! I have to say it hasn’t felt like 5 weeks since Matt, Ali, Freya, Sarah and I all first showed up in the MCSS house to begin training for the whale shark season. Well, it has been eventful and I have to say everyone has embraced the programme, though how hard is it to get excited about swimming with the biggest fish in the sea?

Sadly, this week has not quite lived up to expectations; the sharks have been isolated down south in ones or twos, putting a lot of pressure on our pilots, Dirk and Johan to find them. They have stepped up well however, with only one day this week being a sharkless trip. All the same team leaders, interns and pilots have been feeling the pressure, praying our little spotty friends will crop up again as wind speeds increase. 

Whilst the sharks have not been as plentiful this week we have seen other examples of awesome ocean life from Devil rays to Moray Eels. 

The Seychelles is truly a haven for marine life. Unfortunately the search for the elusive Manta goes on (sorry David)! Dirk had my heart in my mouth when I heard his voice through the radio saying he had seen a manta with a wingspan wider than the boat, this led to a stream of requests to speed into police bay. However as conservationists whilst we aim to support all marine life, our primary concern is the whale shark and we conveniently had a young male eager to deprive the manta of our reverence, so, quite rightly, we stayed. 

This week, whilst it has been tough, has also provided many highlights of the trip, namely the regatta. With music, food and drink (in moderation of course) the regatta has provided entertainment over the weekend; even if the Seychellois idea of a festival is for it to end at eleven, Tequila Boom is on-hand to pick up any stragglers. 

Anyway this is a whale shark blog not a guide on Mahe’s “extensive” night-life, so back to it. This week has still seen us go out four times, I have been fortunate enough to have been on the boat three times, twice as recorder and once as a swimmer, though that time the sharks were elusive and despite Johan’s best efforts we could not manage a single encounter. This is just the way it goes, but as Savi pointed out its ‘Setti luck’. Yes Savi it is indeed!

Whilst Ali, Savi and I struggled to find any sharks it has been fortunate that the other half of the team have had several encounters this week, making up for our lack thereof and keeping the guests happy and flocking in to book more spaces on the boats. Here’s hoping next week picks up again!