Friday, December 5, 2014

New Project for MCSS

We just thought you might like to know about a new project the MCSS team is undertaking with the Banyan Tree hotel which besides monitoring turtles and terrapins will be setting up a rehabilitation facility for them....You can find out all about it on our new project blog.

Wildlife Vets International are supporting the development of the Turtle and Terrapin Rehabilitation Facility at the Banyan Tree Resort. They are hoping to generate funds through the "Big Give Christmas Challenge" which allows matching funds of up to $4000 from the organisers! They are including our project in their wildlife vet development project in Seychelles and Mauritius which was mainly focused on birds so expanding to turtles and terrapins is a good move! So Please do visit their information page, watch the video and make a donation as whatever you donate will be matched by the Big Give!

Friday, October 24, 2014

TIP: Don't delay in writing your blog!!

Intern Michaela reaps the fruits of putting-off writing her post for the blog..... At least she's been busy, very busy!

Well, it probably wasn’t very clever to delay my blog entry for such a long time, because the last two weeks have been pretty eventful and now I don’t even know how/where to start!

First, as you can see by reading my collegues posts, things were not looking good for this years season. The weather conditions wouldn’t improve, our pilots were unable to fly, and even on days when they could get up, no whale sharks were spotted. Mornings at the dive-centre turned into nightmares. Dealing with all the dissapointed clients and explaining why we had to cancel their trip again, definitely NO FUN! 

All the while the MCSS team tried their best to keep us busy and entertained. Apart from our leisure time activities, such as snorkeling trips, beach days, or (my favorite one) our great night-hike, they gave us the opportunity to participate in their other research projects. 

Tiny endemic Sooglossid frog found on our night-hike
Our night-hike also revealed the local tree frog!

Savi, our teamleader started to take us with him on his boat. He is currently creating a map of St. Anne Marine National Park. Using an underwater-camera which is attached to a pole, he has to take pictures of the sea ground and match them to the corresponding Differential GPS points (150 on the day I went with him). With an total park area of 14,43 km2 including the six islands Moyenne, Long Island, Round Island, Ste. Anne Island, Île au Cerf and Île Cachée this means there’s quite a lot of work to do!

At the moment there’s  no other available information about the Marine National Park than simple satellite pictures, so establishing a proper sea bottom map will hopefully contribute to a better management and protection through the authorities. 

 The RTK D-GPS base station set up for mapping
Alvin (driving) and Savi (mapping) in the Marine Park

Another project in collaboration with the government (the Ministry of Environment) are our new beach-cleaning days. 
In order to improve the sea turtles nesting habitat, you will now find us wandering along Mahe’s beaches, removing all kinds of anthropogenic and natural debris, as well as trying to reduce the amount of coconut trees or the introduced woody vitex. Digging bare-handed in the sand, swinging the machete, both under the burning sun as well as in pouring rain, trust me, that’s probably the hardest full-body work-out you can imagine. 
 Jo and Vanessa doing a great job in removing coco-nut seedlings from the beach
Jo and Vanessa sheltering from the rain between beaches

Anyway, all our sore muscles and bruises were forgotten the next day, when we got a call from the turtle patrol, telling us that they already found a Hawksbill nest on one of our newly cleaned beaches. 

Furthermore, we made ourselves usefull by installing more acoustic receivers (for Pete’s marine mammal research) or dropping more BRUVS, which my collegues have already mentioned. 
We have also managed to remove another 43 Crown of Thorns individuals from various locations in Beau Vallon Bay and we are looking forward to at least doubeling that number on the dive scheduled for later today. 

Though we were always busy, as you my imagine the whale sharks were always in the back or maybe front  of our minds! We went out with the boat and took plankton samples, trying to find at least an explanation why they didn’t show up any more. But the samples we got were quite rich in plankton so more than enough available food, which still gave us reason to be positive and not abandon all hope.  Dr. David on the other hand was probably more rational. After 46 days without any encounters, he decided to stop this years season if there were no more sightings by the end of the week.  Sunday was meant to be judgement day!

We interns had already started to make our peace with not seeing any more whale sharks., when on Saturday,  the incredible happened. We finally got the long-awaited phone call from our microlight pilots: They had spotted a whale shark!!!!!

I don’t know who was more excited about this great news; the clients that would finally get the chance to see a whale shark, or ourselves at last being able to fulfil  the job we’ve been trained for and which brought us to the Seychelles. I was working in the Shop so it was my turn to get all the equipement and the clients ready. It was all a mad rush and by the time we were eventually on the boat all of us were praying, that the pilots will be able to find us the shark again!

Luckily they did, and even better, they found us a second one. 

In the end, this trip turned out to be the most amazing trip during the whole season. Both  sharks (2 new male individuals by the way) were extremely friendly and in fact really interested in us snorkelling around them, the boat and all the bubbles that we made. 
At last some whale sharks again!
They stayed with us for almost 50 minutes,  absolutely chilled and relaxed, making the encounter unforgettable for all of us. At 4pm our boat finally returned to the dive centre, on board, 15 fully satisfied people smiling from ear to ear. 

After this trip and as there’s been more sightings during the last days, we are now again full of expectations that the whale sharks found their way back. We hope to be able to continue the season and our research till the end of October. 

Let’s keep finger’s crossed .... 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

End of month one.... Megan's post!

MCSS Intern Megan gives us an insight into what the team have been up to during the current whale shark drought...

We’ve been here for 1 month now and have managed to settle in to island living, get some weekly rituals of Wednesday night stock up on food & goodies from the bazaar and Friday night out to let our hair down after the working week, meet a few locals and even perhaps pickup on some Seychellois slang (or maybe a twang:-))

As far as work goes however, to be fortunate in the Whale Shark season, we need a combination of natural elements to come together. These are – clear skies for flying the micro-light, calm sea state for boats & visibility and plankton to lure the Whale Sharks in for food. Sadly this has not been in our favour lately, due to multiple days of intermittent torrential rain, the fresh water and ocean current have pushed the plankton elsewhere. The water is now a beautiful colour and clear, which sounds delightful for snorkeling and those not aware of the reason we are here, must think we are a crazy bunch when they overhear us begging for that stinging plankton to return, as we long to be brave again not wearing the tourist stinger suits and emerge from the water with red marks and welts just for the mere experience of getting up close with these majestic creatures 
One of our whale sharks from our first week of monitoring

….. But, all is not lost since we are in paradise after all, there are many things we can do to stay occupied. We were given Sunday afternoon off, but it is a very quiet day with shops closed, so the choices are either sleep and recover from the night before or get out amongst the great outdoors. A few of us decided to try a new hike trail not far from home, that apparently has fresh water springs up the top. I say apparently, because it seems we got lost.  It is also evident that it is not a good idea to let the dogs choose the path direction we follow, whilst presuming that it is all part of the same loop, so what harm could it do …? (famous last words) … we walked up and down jungle terrain for 3-4 hours, it was beautiful, scenic, heart pumping, enduring and it seems we did find some fresh water to swim in, it was just the wrong one. 
Deep in a palm forest, somewhere on Mahe!
As the sun was setting, I was quietly (or maybe not so) getting nervous, hoping to see something that looked familiar, but it wasn’t to be and suddenly we saw car headlights and a road, aahhh saviour I thought. We weren’t sure which road it was and some locals laughed when we told them where we had to return to, but at least we were in civilisation and not lost in the jungle after darkness when all I had was an iPhone, camera and bottle of water (not exactly survival skills 101 kit), however the phone was useful for Googlemaps to get our bearings and a phone call to Jo and Pete asking to be picked up and rescued, just as the rain stated again (THANKS to you both and sorry for interrupting your Sunday night relaxing dinner!)

Monday, the start of a new working week. Vanessa went on Turtle Patrol and after last week’s effort where I joined them for the wettest patrol day on record, she had the sun shining for her and a new MCSS employee Paul....

Me and the team on a very wet turtle patrol....

...meanwhile, the rest of us set off to change over the last acoustic receiver in the marine park and complete 3 BRUVS (Baited Recording Underwater Video System) drops after the success we had where a lemon shark was sighted in Friday’s video.
 Three BRUVs awaiting our deployment
and the last of the VR2 receiver stations

Tuesday was a similar day, where a reduced team headed out for more BRUVS drops under Freya’s guidance to see what we could find. They need to remain in the water uninterrupted for a minimum of 1hr, which meant we got free time for a snorkel and it was a lovely way to spend a working afternoon.
A screen shot of a young lemon shark from one of the BRUVs

Wednesday was my day in the dive shop, dealing with the bookings for the trip that day. There’s always an anxious wait for the 11am call to learn if Whale Sharks have been sighted and if we are heading out. Unfortunately this day, even though the weather was good enough for the pilot to circumnavigate the island fully, there weren’t any sharks spotted, so we had to cancel the trip. 

Later that afternoon Jo and Pete took a few of us and the 3 dogs for a sunset hike on a new track, trying to show us how it should be done and where to go. 
Me and Sid (and the back of Boris's head) at the top of the climb

The track had quite difficult inclines, where the path seems to have washed away and we needed to grab onto tree roots and branches to help hoist ourselves up. We were rewarded with a view of St Anne’s marine park and the Eden Island side of Mahe, before arriving back at the car in darkness … but this time we were wise enough to take head torches with us :o)
Thursday was a house day of data entry and no trip in the afternoon, so to break the cabin fever mentality at the end of the day, I got a lift to the main beach in Beau Vallon for a walk along the 3km beach and back home. When I arrived at the house the others were playing cards, so we settled in, played game after game, began pouring drinks and before we knew it, it was 2am and time for bed! Lucky for me Friday was my day off and I was able to have a slow start to the day. 
After Vanessa returned from her Turtle patrol where she saw 2 new nest tracks, we went for a quick snorkel close to home from Sunset beach, to try and find her the local resident Turtle we have seen a few times, but he must have been elsewhere that day. A tourist was telling us to stay until 6pm, because each day a Reef Shark comes right to the shore for feeding and so do Rays. Some evenings we watch an Eagle Ray jump out of the water from the balcony at home as the sun is setting, but he said they do that here as well, so we will have to return at the right time to have a look one day. There was no time to do so now, as we had to go and prepare to head out for Regatta weekend, where Beau Vallon becomes abuzz with market, food & drinks stalls, boat races, beach football/volleyball competitions and a band on stage.
Saturday was a slow working day at the house and no trip in the afternoon, so we headed down to the south end of the island for a change and had a snorkel and play on the beach, before heading home to get ready to do it all again, because Saturday was the main Regatta night, where we think the whole of Mahe island, may have come to party. 
Another hard day at the beach...
Not often, but sometimes, we are grateful for quiet days and waking on Sunday morning hearing rain drops, we knew it was going to be one of those, where we don’t need to feel guilty for wanting a lazy quiet day and can set up the projector and mattresses in the lounge room for Sunday night movie night …
Freya and Sid organising the afternoons activities....

Tomorrow is a new week, where it begins with me in the shop on Monday and a day off on Tuesday so I have booked in for my first fun dives of the trip. I have extended my visa to stay the whole 3 month duration allowed and can’t believe how quickly the weeks are passing, with 5 already complete and 7 still to come. Now we just need the Whale Sharks to return so we can get back in the water with them again, or take time to do some island hopping and explore and enjoy the archipelago oasis of Seychelles.

....... Megan

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Birthday Week

Intern Tom recounts the exploits of a very wet, shark free week in Seychelles....

Well this week hasn't been the most exciting of weeks shark-wise, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't been a good week. In brief, we’ve been diving, getting a lot of rain and wind, data entry, and celebrating an interns and one of the pilot’s birthdays. 

Friday, we dove in the afternoon to replace more of the acoustic receivers that we have been working on. It was great to once again be in and underwater doing something useful to the scientific aims of the Bay Ternay Nation Park. 

 Tom & Jo replacing a VR2 receiver
Tom inspecting a very crusty VR2
All sorts of marine life, well it is a Marine Park!
Following a full day of diving we heading out for a Friday night on the town, but that did not stop us from continuing with data entry the following morning. Luckily we had the afternoon off so all the interns headed to Eden Island to watch the South African and Australian rugby games and get a bite to eat. Saturday night we spent watching movies. David was nice enough to let us use the projector which is good because 1) we are running out of puzzles to do and 2) we are in the middle of the rainy season and our activities are limited since every activity on Mahe is outside. 

That brings me to Sunday and Monday which were monsoon days and I mean monsoon! The rain started late afternoon on Saturday and continued till Tuesday with very little break. I even had to make the trip down to the dive shop by bus through it, which involved placing the booking folder into a plastic bag that in turn went into my bag which went under my coat, oh and it still nearly got wet… So sadly there was no boat work, or outdoor activities that could be done. 

Tuesday the sun came back out, but the dive center was short on boat captains so we couldn't go out. I had a day off and so when I had heard that there was no boat work packed my bag and went for walk. From the house I heading north along the beach road and before I knew it has managed to walk past North Point, which isn't exactly to close to the house. I then took a path off the road that was less of a path and more of a water runoff, but was well rewarded when I found that it lead to a secluded beach so stopped to have some lunch there. I then went further on to find another nice spot to relax that had a natural rock pool large enough for at least 10 people but completely calm and facing the large waves breaking before you, a must return to spot. The rest of the interns went to Sunset Beach and had a relaxing beach day. Tuesday was also Kyle’s, one of the pilots, 27th birthday so we went out for pizza and drinks and then got some beers and sat on the beach. We were sitting in a circle and Amber said ‘I have a game we can play called charades. In Florida, we play at the bar and it's an app on my phone where you pick a category and then hold the phone to your forehead so everyone can see the word and give you clues to guess it’. So you can picture both MCSS interns and employees with a iPhone stuck to their forehead yelling words and making gestures to guess music, movies, fairytales, harry potter, animals and of course science. It was quite entertaining and we spent about 1 1/2 hours doing this before we decided it was time to head home and get some sleep. 

We’ve been getting calls of crown of thorns starfish hotspots so we had to go out that day and do some eradication. Crown of thorns decimate the reef in large numbers because they eat their size in branching corals daily. They also have venomous spines so not many things can eat them. So when calls come in of hotspots they need to be acted upon as soon as possible to ensure that they are found and removed as quickly as possible! We went to two reef sites and did about hour long dives to ±15m and had a skewer which was a piece of rebar with a handle. When we found one, we would just stab it in the center and after you got a few on your skewer, about 3-4 depending on how heavy they were or 8 if you found too many in a spot without the basket. But they can get very heavy especially the 30cm ones which were easily over a kilo or two which adds up if you have too many on! We would swim over to a plastic laundry basket attached to a buoy at the surface with a snorkeler following it and deposit the crown of thorns as carefully as possible not to get stabbed with a spine. When the basket was half full we would signal to the snorkeler following us to haul it up to the boat and we continued this until we hit our air/time limit. 
 A bucket full of COTS
Jo disposing of the COTS in special collection bins
At the second site, Amber was depositing her starfish into the basket when Michaela swims up and shows her the four she had on a skewer. . . then Michaela points to her knee which is bleeding and full of sea urchin spines (our second sea urchin injury to date) so Amber had to grab her skewer and sent Michaela to the surface.
Michaela's battered knee!
Poor Michaela who was limping around had to have hot wax poured on her knee and then peeled off repeatedly.  She took it like a champ!

In total we killed 82 crown of thorns between 6 of us! The starfish are then deposited on shore in special bins to be disposed of. Stabbing sea stars was probably the most fun dive day we have had thus far, even though it was torrential down-pouring. The second dive site was especially nice with loads of swim-throughs, caverns, tunnels, and amazing sea life so it felt good knowing that we had done our bit to help. Sadly though I found another hot spot at the end of the dive, which meant we do need to return and as soon as possible!

Thursday and Friday were acoustic receiver days. We only have one more shallow receiver to replace now before we can start tagging turtles. Yep, you heard me correctly, we are going to tag turtles!!  

Oh and finally that other birthday you may be wondering about. Friday was my 23rd birthday so everyone from MCSS went out to celebrate. We drank on the beach and then went to a South African bar in Eden Island, my god did Kyle and myself feel at home. We met some of the people great people and bumped into others we met around before and had an absolutely brilliant night. A huge thank you to everyone for making it such a great night and a great birthday as well! Saturday was a bit of a no event day, especially for myself as the night went on till 7am which is apparently normal for here..

Let's hope for no rain today so Kyle and Amber can hopefully see some sharks! But sitting here, writing this and looking out the window I fear that today is not going that way as the heavens have reopened and left the sky a blanket of grey :( 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Amber's first weeks...

This week its intern Amber's turn to write a post for the blog....

Week one of whale shark season started off strong with 7 sharks, but none were spotted the later part of that week. Sunday we had the afternoon free and Jo took us on a hike to the 2nd highest mountain in Mahe and the view was absolutely breathtaking. We also took the 3 dogs along which made it interesting.

Boris, Sid and Dora’s big adventure!  

Monday, I was off and decided to get up at 6am and do the turtle walk with Pete and Vanessa. Vanessa surveys year round for turtle nests on 14 beaches on the island. There are two species of turtle, the hawksbill and green sea turtle. Right now they are surveying Mondays and Fridays and next month it goes to Monday, Wednesday, Friday with November and December being the main season for nests and hatchlings. There are 6 main beaches towards the south of the island that they walk every survey day and then they alternate between the 4 on the west and the 4 on the east as well, so Monday we walked 10 beaches including the west side and then we had an awesome lunch at the Banyan Tree resort. No nests were detected, but we did some beach erosion surveying and I got to walk the 10 most beautiful beaches I've ever seen!

Pete and Vanessa doing the beach erosion surveying

Walking the beach looking for turtle tracks

This past week we have been catching up on a lot of data entry both from the past week and past years of behavior recordings. When the pilot sees a shark, they will circle and keep visual for up to 5 minutes recording all of the shark’s behavior. The pilot will also note information on environmental conditions, any other species in the area, and whether there is influence on the shark’s behavior by a boat or swimmers in the water. We have been listening to these recordings and entering the pilot’s comments and sharks behavior with the time and duration of the behavior into a spreadsheet for Jo to later analyze for her project. It has been really interesting to see how a shark’s behavior changes from just a morning spotting with no boats or people in the area to an afternoon sighting with a boat and up to 8 swimmers nearby. It is also helpful to hear the recordings from the pilot’s perspective when they are radioing to the recorder on the boat. We have all been recorders now and understand how important and difficult the job can be to clearly relay messages from the pilot to the boat captain while the engine is running and you have all the excited guests looking at you to get them in the water with their first whale shark. I think we can really learn from analyzing these recordings and hopefully improve our skills as recorders. 

So the bad news is we didn’t see any sharks this week, but the good news is we have been diving all week and replacing acoustic receivers in Bay Ternay. Acoustic receivers will ping off a tracker when the turtle swims by and when the receiver is switched out every year, you can download the data from it. We've also started placing marine mammal acoustic gear out for Pete's project. 

Tom, Jo, Freya, and me replacing an acoustic receiver in Bay Ternay

So, while we aren't swimming with sharks, we are able to learn about MCSS’s other projects and get more hands on experience in other aspects of marine conservation. 


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Sophies First Few Weeks

The first of this seasons contributions from our intern... Here is Sophie’s post from her first few weeks in Seychelles:

Welcome to the underwater world of the 2014 MCSS Whale Shark interns team! Our team this year is made up of five very friendly international people!

The interns doing the whale shark face (Tom, Amber, Michaela, Megan and me!)

As a team, we couldn’t have anticipated a more exciting experience. Our first few days together were hilarious mainly due to our discovery of the house which was a complete challenge for us at the beginning.  This challenge includes an entry door that never opens, the shower that doesn’t have any water pressure, the ant invasion, sneaky rats or mice visiting the kitchen, mains water that suddenly turns off, things that disappear from the fridge and the funny array of mosquito nets dubbing our bedroom, the “princess room”! Fortunately, we all quickly forgot about it as we looked through the windows and saw the million dollar ocean view lighted in the sun and surrounded by Frangipani trees.

Showers are now taken outside (better pressure) with the sunset view on the bay, and Sid and Dora keeping an eye on you! I can’t dream of a better shower!! Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention that Sid and Dora are our two lovely house guard dogs that like to go for walks with us; however, you better hide your shoes because if you leave them outside during the night, the shoes and anything hanging on the clothes line will disappear! Dora loves to jump the fence as well and follow us wherever we go.

After a nice weekend settling in and trying to get to know everyone in the team (and fixing stuff in the house), we started our training week this past Monday.

It was hectic with a lot of paperwork, spreadsheets, GIS mapping, and photo identification on top of the in water training. A little background first, each individual whale shark has distinct markings (spots and line patterns, and unfortunately scars just like you and me) that can be used by computer software to identify the individual using the white spots on the shark as a fingerprint. The area we use is a triangle formed between the top and bottom of the 5th gill slit and the body directly in line with the pectoral fin. Within the triangle, we mark all the spots and then run it through a database comparing pictures to see if we can find a match. This will tell us if the shark has returned from previous years or if we are dealing with a new shark. We have approximately 550 individual sharks in our database which started in 2001. One of the sharks has actually been spotted 12 years in a row. Pretty cool!! So every time we jump in with the sharks, we have to take left and right photos of the identification area, dive down to determine the sex, estimate the length, look for any scars, and count how many remoras and pilot fish or other organisms are swimming with them and then record this on data sheets when we get back to the boat. It's a lot to think about!

On the Wednesday we got out on the boat to practice the identification photo shots on Wally our fake whale shark which is a 3.8m green canvas with yellow gills. Wally was towed behind the boat at 4m depth with us chasing after it trying to dive down to take pictures. It was torrential downpouring and we were swimming through a soup of jellyfish and stinging zooplankton... What training!

Just an idea of our training conditions that day...

Then the real work started.....

I started my first day at the dive shop under Freya’s (MCSS scholar this year) direction, taking bookings for the afternoon’s first Whale shark trip of the season.  Our job in the shop is to answer the phone, take bookings, inform people about the project and prepare equipment if needed. All of that has to be completed in the morning. Then, around 11am we get a phone call from the pilot saying if sharks were spotted and whether they are at the north or south side of the island.  David then makes the final decision on whether a boat trip goes in the afternoon or not. This is when the rush starts: trying to get all the clients to meet us on time, getting all the gear on board, making radio contact with our pilot etc.

At first it was pretty quiet at the shop until THE phone call of the morning (that you should never miss) informed us that the pilot of the microlight aircraft has seen whale sharks on the south side of the island! Ahh what a rush!  After that call, the phone did not stop ringing with clients asking if there was a whale shark trip going, people walking in asking lots of questions about the whale sharks and, at the same time, we are trying to get all the clients gear ready for a quick boat departure.

Monday, I was the recorder on the boat. The role of the recorder is to take notes of everything: the date, time, location, how many sharks, sharks description, if any scars or others fish are swimming with them. The list is very long! The recorder also has to keep record of the shark’s location using a GPS and keeps radio contact with the pilot who is flying near the boat giving us directions to the nearest whale shark. This is the busiest role on the boat!
 Amber acting as the recorder and...
me ready to jump in the water!

Fortunately, one of the other interns took over for a bit and I got to go in the water!!! This is when I saw my first whale shark!! To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by that first shark. It swam away so fast that the only thing I managed to see as I dropped into the water was his massive tail! But, we were lucky and saw a total of four whale sharks that afternoon. Being able to see these magnificent giants of the ocean just cruising in the blue water without any resistance (while we had to swim very hard to catch up...) is a once in a lifetime experience!!

My first attempts to get a left identification picture (I can do better I think...)

Wednesday went even better than Monday. I had the opportunity to go on the morning survey flight with Kyle, one of our two pilots. That little plane does not look like much; some kind of three wheeled bike with two seats and a triangular kite on top. 

Our little aircraft.....

I was a bit scared at the beginning, but the feeling once we took off was unreal!! My feet were just hanging free, the wind was blowing on my face and looking down was a bit scary at first, but you get use to it. The first whale shark I saw from about 500 feet looked so small, almost like a tadpole in the ocean. We flew all around the island of Mahé to find whale sharks, but only spotted that one shark and several shoals of fish which are also amazing to see from the sky!
 Kyle, one of our two micro-light pilots

For each of us interns, our first flight in the microlight aircraft and first swim with whale sharks was definitely moments that we will remember forever!

Thanks to Amber for her writing advice and inspiration which were of great help.


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Its Whale Shark Time in Seychelles Again!

Guess what? It’s that time of year again, and Whale Shark Season 2014 is officially underway. The interns have arrived and been trained, the Microlight is up and flying, all we need now are some big ol’ fish to join the party! Before we get into full season swing let us introduce you to this years team…

The Team Leaders:
Savi and Jo are this year's team leaders... 

·         Dr. Joanna Bluemel, from the UK; Jo is the MCSS Project Coordinator and is analysing the whale shark data generated by the monitoring programme as well as overseeing all of the other MCSS projects.

·         Savi Leblond, is from France & the USA, and returns for a third whale shark season.  After interning and ‘scholaring’, Savi could not stay away from Seychelles and is juggling being whale shark season team leader with his other project as Marine Stewardship Project Leader

These two will be ably assisted by a 'Scholar' from last year's intern team; Freya Womersley, a graduate from the UK aims to help out the interns and team leaders alike to help make this season go swimmingly! 
This seasons scholar Freya... just add sharks!

The successful interns have all been initiated into the team and are officially labeled, ’shark bait’ (hoo ha ha). This year they are from all four corners of the globe:

Sophie Raillard (Shark Bait (or bate?) No.1) is from New Caledonia (a small French island lost in the Pacific). She has a Masters Degree in Protected Area Management and has joined our team to expand her fieldwork experiences in biodiversity monitoring and conservation of protected species.
 Amber Metallo (Shark Bait No. 2) is from the United States, and is currently working on her Master’s degree studying invertebrates and artificial reefs. She also wants to gain practical experience before deciding what career path to go down in future, as well as completing number one on her bucket list…swim with a whale shark, obviously.
 Tom Nuttell-Smith (Shark Bait No.3) is originally from Botswana but has spent much of his life being schooled in the UK. As well as obtaining a degree in Biology and Animal Behavior, Tom has spent time volunteering abroad with the aim to explore and conserve the marine environment.
 Michaela Hadolt  (Shark Bait No.4) comes from Austria and in in the midst of her studies in Vetinerary Medicine specializing in wildlife medicine and conservation. She aims to consolidate her skills in conservation medicine, gain working experience within a team, and of course, enhance her knowledge on our big spotty friends.
Megan Rohan (Shark Bait No.5) is from Australia but has been living in the UK for the past 7 years. Having always had a fascination with the ocean and dreamed of meeting a whale shark face to face she is dropping in on Seychelles before making her way back to Australia!
Here's hoping for a busy 2014 season!!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Djibouti, week two...

Savi Leblond takes you into the second week of our Djibouti expedition...

Week 2 was looking to be a daunting one with one of the team members down with dengue fever, but with the aid of Erica Wenzel and Dan Drahozal from Dolphin Excursions we managed 375 encounters for a grand total of 783 encounters in 9 successful days of “sharking”.

Dan getting to grips with gender identification!

The encounter code clearly states that for the safety of both the animal and the human to respect a minimum 3 meters from the body, and 4 meters from the caudal tail. Seeing as whale sharks don’t read their own handbook, all regulations and advisory cautions seem to be defenestrated by the whale sharks themselves in their everlasting quest to feed in however which way. 

One exceptional afternoon (all the sharking sessions were amazing of course but this one ranks top 3), we managed to see the feeding chaos which resulted in individuals ram feeding in haphazard patterns around 5m below the surface, totally without regard to those vertically feeding who were then also further disturbed by individuals whizzing past actively surface feeding. The ensuing chaos erupting into bouts of antsy tail thrashing. Somehow I kept my cool and managed to get the photos necessary but still wanting to explode in laughter being in such an elated state. Before it was all over however, I managed to see our shark friend that had a trinket of interest. On the leading edge of his lower caudal fin there was a horizontal gash in which was lodged a long piece of nylon mono-filament fish netting. Doubting that this is some gang related sign to warn off other whale sharks (though another individual sports a fishing hook resembling a small anchor in his left flank- all that’s missing is the “I love mom” tattoo), I hoped to see this fellow again and have the chance to remove aforementioned netting. 
Mr Fish-net, alias dji.2007.018

During the feeding orgy this fellow (now identified as dji.2007.018) was holding his ground, err water, and vertically feeding. For once he wasn’t actively surface feeding or felt the need to play the fastest game of cat and mouse (shark and human?) and I took my chance. Diving down and stabilizing myself so as to do this hastily and least invasively (seeing as his caudal tail appeared twice my height and a reflexed slap to the body wouldn’t exactly be the most ideal), I pulled up and felt it was quite lodged in his flesh. Running out of air and not knowing of having this opportunity again, I repeated with slight more force and his caudal and netting became separate entities once more. Minimal reaction (just one swish of the caudal, moved one meter away and continued feeding), and I was back on the surface feeling pretty darn chuffed. Reality set back in as a few more sharks zoomed past however and they made for some fun hand signals at the end of each shark encounter. 
Savi with the net he successfully removed from dji.2007.018

Needless to say, these two weeks were physically and mentally exhausting but every second was worth it (even if at some points you are recording and not chasing these spotty friends). Sadly we didn’t see a baby whale shark though we managed one at around 1.75m who was trying his hardest to active surface feed. Who knows what next year brings? I’ve got some ideas but that’s for another day when all is set in stone. For now however, enjoy more photos and musings from the rest of the team. 

Erica has an easier time with the suction feeding puppy!

And yet another one....

Carrying on from Savi’s tale, and his pertinent reference to the minimum distance rule in the code of conduct, which these sharks seem to be completely indifferent to when it comes to feeding time, David had more than a few ‘situations’ of his own to contend with particularly from two small individuals who became known as the terrible twins! These two young male sharks, of 2.5 and 3 meters respectively, seemed to be pretty inseparable which became an issue when trying to collect left and right side photo IDs as sometimes the space between them was pretty small! 
David cautiously gets between the twins...

While getting IDs from just one side is acceptable, we always try to get both sides at the same time….  so some patience, determination and a fair bit of luck was needed to get between them, get the pictures and get back out without getting more than a little sandwiched! But in the end David managed and survived unscathed….

The resulting ID of the twin on the left... not too shabby!