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!

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