As the second week of the intern programme comes to a close our team of seven interns, two young volunteers and one MSc student have been putting in to practise what they had learnt in week one and remarkably well at that!
Last weekend microlight pilot David Daniel with team leader Luke Riley got the intern team onto their first whale shark of the season but our two young local volunteers, Rachel Pool and Clara Anganuzzi, weren’t able to join that day so we had some catching up to do….
However, as is often the case, the weather had other ideas and when conditions were okay for the aerial surveys the sharks had decided to play coy and visit their relatives! However, on Wednesday things were looking good and we headed to the South of Mahe where prospects looked good for an afternoon encounter session; we were also joined by two contributing eco-tourists Claire and Adrian, keen to help with whale shark conservation ….. over to Clara and Rachel:
“We didn’t get to swim with our first whale shark. The micro-light saw it and contacted us but when we got to the site, the shark swam under the boat. We were really disappointed especially as we had already frantically pulled on our snorkeling gear just seconds before. Then we found one. Hearts in our mouths, we yet again pulled on the gear and waited for the okay from the spotter to get in the water. When the okay finally came, we were frozen by the sight of the dorsal fin that had seemingly popped out of nowhere.”
Rachel: “My first impression was that it looked like a toy. One of those inflatable things that you stick in your pool. Then I wondered how they got it in the middle of the sea without us seeing it. It didn’t move that fast at first. I kept up quite easily and floated around for a bit. Time seemed endless. Then I lost sight of him for a few seconds and the next thing I knew, everyone was swimming in the opposite direction. He looked like a clown. A really big clown.”
Clara: “I thought it was squishy and had to suppress an immediate desire to reach out and grab it. I was so excited to get into the water that when I did and water entered my mask, I forgot to breathe through my snorkel and instead inhaled a lot of seawater. Not fun. The shark was beautiful. I didn’t think it was that big. It looked like a plastic toy. What was actually five minutes seemed like so much longer.”
Claire and Adrian also had a great encounter with the shark while the interns were using the trip to fine tune their newly acquired skills: Alex was recorder and radio controller for the micro-light while Anna was working with intern Richard on the multi-level plankton tows and CTD casts. Up in the air intern Tomoko was assisting pilot David Daniel with locating the sharks while back on the boat team leaders Katie and Luke were spotting and making sure all the protocols were being followed; meanwhile ‘the boss’ Dr. David was enjoying being able to have an encounter without all the hard work (even if he was timing every activity!).
The interns also proved that they had got the measure of the data entry and photo ID system and Clara’s ‘squishy shark’ was identified the following morning as a Seychelles regular, having been photo ID’d previously in both 2006 and 2007.
As the week has progressed the weather pattern seems to be stabilising and we are getting more whale sharks on the aerial surveys and so the coming weeks look as though they are going to get a bit busy shark wise!