Saturday, October 1, 2016

Djibouti Week 2 January 2016 with Savi...

Here we are at week 2 of the Djibouti Whale Shark expedition as we’ve waved goodbye to David Robinson and turned our backs onto the shockingly quiet week 1. Our levels of hope have been on an intense rollercoaster ride as they soar with each whale shark encounter and plummet to the depths each day we are sans spotty fish.
The 'fake shark' made up by highly trained pesky surgeon fish!
This week has brought us quite a few surprises however as we have learned to lower our expectations as we take the spine crushing skiff rides up and down the Djibouti coastline. One particularly gloomy afternoon we had reached the point of where the yellow buoy used to rest and decided to make our way back down the coast towards the Deli. It’s usually at this point when all hope is lost, the fins, mask and snorkel come off and we hang our heads low accepting whale shark defeat. ‘twas a few minutes later whilst dazed and feeling a bit lost that I spotted something up ahead; It was a familiar sight yet felt strange at the same time. This wasn’t a plastic bag shark, it wasn’t a turtle, it wasn’t some seaweed, and it wasn’t those pesky surgeons pretending to be a whale shark; It was an actual whale shark with caudal fin breaking the surface of the water as it was swimming and feeding! After a few seconds of shouting “It’s a real shark!” and letting that moment sink in, I realized I was completely naked in terms of swimming gear and was rather unprepared for the first whale shark encounter during a searching session. Donning all appropriate sharking material and slipping off the skiff into the water, Freya and I set off to photographically capture this animal.  A male of approximately 2.25m (later ID’d to be Mr. 2016.002) was a fast little shark zipping around the roiling seas (well maybe not roiling but it was still windy with sea state 3 seas). We swam with him as long as possible but after many seawater snorkel filled breaths we let him disappear into the greenish waters.
Yes its a real feeding shark!
The following day was but an exceptional one as we received an exciting phone call in the late morning. Christi, the whale shark intern and dive instructor at Dolphin Services, had taken two clients from the Deli to search for our whale shark friend along the coast of Acacia beach. Two had been spotted and we quickly set off for our second search session to join them in the glory of whale sharky goodness. We met up with Mr. 2016.002 who was happily chilling along the shoreline occasionally suction feeding on the remaining arrow worms and other delights in the water column. He was, as David would put it, “a happy chappy” and we were accompanied by the 2nd whale shark! Mrs. 2014.056 had come along to join the fun as she too was cruising the coastline (a bit faster than the feasting male and not munching as often). It was such a spectacular site when these two crossed paths as they carefully avoided each other as if previously rehearsed. Freya and I were naturally wearing our biggest of whale shark grins enjoying this multiple encounter. 

The next few days did not bring the throngs of sharks we believed we would encounter given the trickling start of individuals appearing. We’ve exhausted our search options as we’ve turned to three sessions a day, manta tows and even the weather permitting drone assisted search! Alas, with the water visibility being up to 13m, its clear that the food abundance has drastically decreased and the sharks have found some exclusive buffet to which we are not invited to. 

Though these two weeks have been rather shark quite, we as a team have been quite productive in digging up past data and looking at spatial distribution, shark associations and scarring patterns of the Djibouti aggregations in preparation for the 4th International Whale Shark Conference in Quatar this coming May. We’ve also had time to snorkel and see other favorites of the Tadjourah Reefs such as the blue spotted stingrays, green and hawksbill turtles and even a visit from a devil ray! Despite the whale sharks missing their appointments this trip has been pretty fantastic and we must extend our gratitude once more to Dolphin Excursion Services and the Deli crew for putting up with our whale shark obsessed team of misfits. Until next time!
Farewell Djibouti, until next time!

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