Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Djibouti, Week two

So here we are in week two, and unfortunately I find myself with ample time on my hands to begin writing this blog. It’s day three back aboard the Deli and unbelievably we have only seen a handful sharks. This is unheard of in the history of Djibouti trips and we are all wondering where these guys are hiding! Every session we set off with the hope of finding our spotty friends, but so far we are coming back to the Deli cold, wet and sharkless. However all is not lost and the team has been keeping occupied with the other marine wonders that Djibouti has to offer. Savi and I were lucky enough to come across a pair of friendly bottlenose dolphins, who played with us for ages! They were very chatty and we wondered what they were saying to each other.. it was probably along the lines of “Who’s that weirdo in the green fins trying to swim with us?” “I dunno, let’s go hang out with the other one, she seems cool”. Savi oblivious to their confusion about him and his fins went as far as to say that he now ‘likes marine mammals’, which is a life changing revelation. 
 Our dolphin buddies
We also came across some friendly camels while the sharks deserted us. 
As we rolled into day four things were not looking good and with still no sharks we were slowly slipping into madness. Scientists without work to do can get a little weird. With a last flicker of hope we donned our whale shark looking goggles (something invented during the period of aforementioned madness) and headed to Ghoubet, a location that in past years has had very little shark activity…we were getting desperate. You can probably guess what happened, and as is always the way with whale shark research it was unexpected and unpredictable. We had come across a group of actively feeding sharks in Ghoubet, where we least expected them to show up. These guys like to make it really hard for us to study them don’t they! We got to work and the encounters were once again racking up. 

For me the difference in this week has been the number of multiple encounters I’ve had. It has been incredible. In my last blog I tried and failed to put into words how amazing it is to swim with one whale shark, so as you can imagine I won’t be great at this. All I am going to say is it is an out of this world experience and show some pictures to give you an idea of what we see when in the water with these giant creatures.  

During these encounters we have been getting all the data we need to help build a better picture of the Djibouti aggregation, which Savi and I have been loving! We’ve been analyzing photos of lasered sharks to get more accurate length estimations, we’ve been IRISing sharks and seeing which ones have returned from past years, and we’ve even squeezed tagging a 4.5m male into the morning before our flight. With our total number of shark encounters reaching 311 it’s a lot less than previous years, but better than expected given the poor season in Seychelles. However, don’t fret as this doesn’t necessarily mean that shark numbers are falling, it may be that they are simply harder to find.
Quick tangent... during one session in Ghoubet we came across an odd looking floating object, as drove closer we noticed that it was a tiny juvenile hawksbill struggling at the surface. He was covered in barnacles, which prevented him from diving down. I got the go ahead from David and jumped in to save him. We carried him in the boat for the rest of the session and after we had got all the sharks we took him back to the Deli. He is now at the front of the boat in a tub of fresh water, which will kill off the barnacles and he will be fit and ready to be released back into the ocean in a week or two. His name is Barney and we love him.
Me saving Barny

Barny in a tub of fresh water beginning barnacle removal therapy!

It’s now the last day aboard Deli, our trip has come to an end and it is with a heavy heart that I write this final chapter. It’s been marvellous hanging out with the MCSS team and whale sharks for 2 weeks and I wonder how I will adjust to life without waking up by jumping into the ocean with the world’s largest fish every morning. I have had the best time and would like to say big thank you to David for inviting me along, to Savi for being an amazing team-mate and to Dolphin Cruises and all the staff aboard the Deli, who helped to make this trip an amazing success. Finally I will end this blog how I started my very first one for MCSS with words from a wise man who summed up our trip to Djibouti with three insightful words.. ‘Food, Sharks,Wow’!..

The team: Erica, Savi, Dan, Freya and David

Oh, and we saw a Manta Ray!!

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