Sunday, December 18, 2016

Djibouti Week two

As Savi so aptly put we were ‘pleased as punch’ to have had a week full of amazing encounters and lots sharky fun for our 2016/17 expedition. Our expectations were exceeded after last season’s low numbers and we entered week two with restored faith, renewed vigour and hopes to top our 2015 season encounter numbers. 
Loading up the Deli for the start of week two
As is the way with whale sharks, however, they weren’t going to make it that easy. On day one we were off to a slow start and even my new found bionic shark spotting vision was struggling to pick out a fin. They were defiantly a lot shyer; with the guys we did spot tending to be a few meters deeper and not as willing to stick around. We hoped that they were still feeling a little timid after a weekend of heavy tourist activity and perhaps they would return to last week’s cooperativity on day two.   
Trying to keep up with skittish sharks.....

PHOTO 2 (Trying to keep up with skittish sharks!)

Sure enough on day two we began to see some more activity. Turtle point seemed to be a hot spot this year with many schools of fish and regular shark visitors. This is where we spend a lot of day two and were lucky enough to find a couple of content vertical feeders that didn’t mind twirling for the camera to have their ID shots taken and display their claspers or lack thereof. We had a few females pop up this year, mainly in Ghoubet where we had more than three in one session. It seems the girls like sticking together! 
Some vertical feeding sharks were a lot more cooperative!
As the days went on we were seeing a few more sharks, but it must be said that numbers were nowhere near as high as last week. There were still some very exciting moments though! Remember our friend that we rescued last week with the fishing line entangled on the left pectoral fin, he seemed to stick around and was sighted almost every day this week. Perhaps it was his way of saying thank you. It was certainly nice to see him swimming normally even with a slightly odd looking pectoral!
Our friend with the damaged but now fishing line free pectoral fin
We were pretty happy that our friends hadn’t completely disappeared but still a bit baffled that numbers can alter so much in the space of a few days. There are still many unanswered questions about these sharks and their movements. As we had a little bit of extra time due to fewer encounter photos to sort we got us discussing possible answers to these questions. David did a presentation to interested tourists, we had Ginevra visit Deli and chat about research and Savi and I considered our individual research interests a bit further. We are all excited about future research directions and will keep you posted!
David giving a presentation to the guests aboard the Elegante
As the week drew to a close were all still in high spirits, as our team always is, despite 15% of encounters when compared to week one. We headed out on out final session optimistic yet realistic, not expecting too much. We had searched the both Turtle Point and Acacia with one encounter of a small 3.5m female so decided to call it a day and head back to Deli. As I began to take off my fins the skipper spotted a tail fin. It was in a fairly unusual location and Savi and I were in the water like a shot, knowing that this would likely be out last encounter. It was a memorable one, possibly my favourite of the trip as we were able to spend about 10 minutes with this 5.5m male which was well over our 1 minute encounter time average. He was very chilled and happily fed as we swam alongside him. Savi and I gave each other a little wave and both relished in the presence of this docile giant together. 
Freya on her last whale shark encounter for several months to come....
So, here’s to another superb Djibouti season with some fantastic experiences for the team and a new batch of encounters for the database. We wish Ginevra and the guys at Dolphin all the best for the remainder of the season, and look forward to returning next year. Let’s hope the sharks play nicely while we’re gone, but for now it’s home for Christmas. 
Its beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.... Advent calendar aboard the Deli
The Djibouti expedition has now completed and the team is packing up ready to fly home, we had a total of 268 encounters over the two weeks, the exact number of individual sharks is not yet known as we are still processing the photo IDs but we have 18 new sharks already identified and we haven't finished the first week of encounters.... We have also had a bunch of repeat visitors so we loo forward to updating you all over the coming weeks.

In the mean-time, our best wishes to you all for the coming festive season and New Year!

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