Ocean News

Its… the final day

14th January 2009

One of the great cliché’s of wildlife film-making is the ‘final day’ scenario. We’ve all heard it before; it’s the last day of an expedition, a disheartened film crew hasn’t managed to document the rare / endemic / endangered creature in remote / hostile / inaccessible location its been sent to. We reach the final day, and miraculously everything comes together, and in perfect light the crew end up filming more than they could ever have wished for.

Call me a cynic, but I think that sometimes the ‘final day’ scenarios we’re told about involve a healthy dose of poetic license and clever editing. Nevertheless, its fun and interesting viewing. At times however, the final day really does offer up all that history has made it out to be, and our last day on the water in Djibouti did just that.

I was still desperate to get more footage of multiple sharks feeding together in the midday light, and also in the very late light, where the water turns an emerald green, from the cobalt blue it appears in the middle of the day. Mercifully, the sharks and the conditions turned out as I hoped on all accounts. Thanks to some careful spotting by Luke (one of the MCSS volunteers) and some excellent maneuvering by Awad, the skipper of our skiff, I managed to drop in next to plenty of whale shark pile-ups, and shoot all the footage I needed. At times I had four of whale sharks in the same frame, ram-feeding together and eye-balling the camera.

At one stage whilst on the skiff, I was changing tapes in my camera, about to get back in the water to continue shooting, when I realized that I was putting (unlucky?) tape number 13 into the camera. I almost changed my mind and ejected it for a different one, but I decided I should be more rational and continue. Then, I realized… it was the 13th of January. I thought I was doomed for sure.  But no, my prayers to the whale sharks gods had been answered, and everything was going swimmingly (sorry, terrible pun) on the final day to end all final days.

As the whale sharks were feeding, taking periodic gulps of water, I somehow managed to get into my head the Paul McCartney  / Rupert the Bear song ‘We all stand together’ If you’re not familiar with it, check it out here. If you could see the footage, you’d understand where I’m coming from.

So there I was, me and half a dozen whale sharks together in the water, with me humming through my snorkel;

“Win or lose, sink or swim,
One thing is certain, we’ll never give in
Side by side, hand in hand
We all stand together”

It wasn’t till a much later on in the day when reviewing the footage that I realized what an odd situation this was.

Probably the happiest part of our final day, was that David Rowat managed get close enough to ‘Rope-tail’ a shark I mentioned in an earlier post, and cut away the lasso that had been deliberately tied around its tail, and was causing serious damage. Our previous attempts to remove the rope had resulted in the shark hurriedly swimming away, perhaps recalling the trauma it must have experienced when the rope was first attached. But this time the shark did not try and swim away, even when David lifted the rope out of the large wounds in the shark’s flesh that had been caused by rope slowly cutting into it like a cheese-wire. Its difficult to say for sure what might have happened to this shark if the lasso had been left where it was. The rope is made of natural fibers, so theoretically it would have broken up after a while, but this would have taken many years, by which time it could have cause enough damage to the shark to stop it from swimming properly. Its great knowing that the shark is free of the rope, it would have been horrible leaving Djibouti knowing it was still there, causing further injury to the shark with every stroke of its tail.

On the way back to the boat Tom took some celebratory images of the group that was on our skiff for the whole of our two weeks in Djibouti. Looking back at them now, I’m grateful for the opportunity I had to spend time with a group of people who are so passionate about whale sharks and marine conservation, in such an amazing diving location. Our expedition to Djibouti has been successful on all counts, and it wouldn’t have been so without such a good team; thanks everyone.

The Team (Left to right); Awad; our trusty skipper. Tom Peschak; SOSF, Luke Riley; (popping out of Tom’s head) MCSS, Me (Dan Beecham); SOSF (note the exceptional sunburn mark on my forehead), Katie Brooks; MCSS,Cheryl-Samantha Owen; SOSF, David Rowat; MCSS, and Mark Bradfield; MCSS.