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.

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