WHALE SHARK TAGGING 2012

Diani Beach, Kenya February 19/02/2012

Our annual whale shark tagging expedition took off with a splendid start yesterday. We had 9 people onboard, all equally excited and hoping to see (and maybe swim) with the biggest fish in the world, the whale shark. We had been out about an hour waiting for the micro-light airplane radio to crackle with the words “whale shark!” Instead Volker Bassen, the expedition leader got a phone call from a fishing boat nearby, they had spotted a whale shark. It took us about 15 minutes to reach the spot (cruising at 35knm , an experience not to be missed!) but by the time we reached the fishing boat, the shark had dived! Volker contacted the plane to come and help us find it but just as he put down the radio, he shouted “whale shark, straight ahead of us!”

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It was an awesome sight; one of the biggest whale shark ever seen off Diani beach suddenly appeared seemingly out of nowhere and came straight towards the boat. There were a lot of sardines around the boat that seemed to attract the shark. Everyone put on their masks and fins in record time and jumped overboard while the whale shark decided to stick around, maybe to check out these strange creatures. We managed to swim with this gentle giant for about 15 minutes before it finally dived deeper and disappeared. By this time the micro-light airplane had reached us and it didn’t take more than 10 minutes before the boat radio started crackling “whale shark, 11 o’clock, 200 meters from you!”

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It was the same whale shark and once again it seemed as if the whale shark wanted to check out who these strange creatures were, this time it stayed with us even longer, at one point the shark even touched the boat! After about half an hour the shark left us again and disappeared into the deep blue.

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After a short time, the plane again spotted the shark and guided us directly towards it. This time Volker wanted to tag the shark with an identification tag (K009) but every time we approached it, it just dived deeper, making it impossible to tag. We did managed to get some great photos however, these photos will help us to identify this particular shark, because all whale sharks have different patterns and spots, just like the human fingerprint.

As we started cruising around, looking for the whale shark, Volker suddenly shouted “turtle, straight ahead!”. We came closer and saw that it was a dead hawk-bill turtle (probably drowned in one of the many fishing nets according to Volker) to our surprise we saw something sticking out from the top of the shell. “It’s an antenna from a tag! We need to get it!” said Volker.

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Michael, the expedition rescue diver, dove in and tried to get the tag off the turtle without success until one of the clients dove in as well. Together they managed to get the tag but as they climbed into the boat there was a very unpleasant pungent smell surrounding them, dead turtle doesn’t smell nice, let me assure you!

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So expedition 2012 is well underway!!

Pilot Coral Restoration takes off

Tiwi River, South Coast, Kenya

Hello, my name is Nadia and I am volunteering with the EAWST. Every day for the past two weeks the EAWST, Camp Kenya and The Leap gap year volunteers have collaborated to help rescue a dying coral reef off the coast of Diani Beach.  Depending on when the tides were low, we would set out to sea anytime from 6am to noon to the same site each day to combat the overgrowth of seaweed and urchins, which have been spreading like wildfire. El Nino, a climate pattern that happens around every five years bringing warmer waters, has had detrimental effects on the reef causing the seaweed to grow in abundance smothering the reef and preventing exposure to sunlight which is essential for it to live and thrive.

The volunteers and I spent a few hours a day in the warm, turquoise waters working to clean the coral reef, pulling out the seaweed and killing urchins, which have infested the site since they feed on seaweed, in hopes to promote growth of the reef which would, in turn, brings back sea life that had flourished here before El Nino. The first few days out there the only sign of life we noticed was the sea weed solely. Even the urchins weren’t visible, although we soon found them nestled between the seaweed and deeply embedded within the crevices of the coral.We put together a short underwater video which you can watch below:

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All it took was a few days of hard work, albeit in the relentless sun, to witness an abundance of sea life beginning to show itself! From the third day onward we noted so many species of colorful fish, snake eels, starfish, octopuses and we were even lucky to see a pod of 20 or so bottlenose dolphins (who make their way inside the reef on uncommon occasions). We couldn’t believe we were in the same place! The reef has proved to be so resilient, and it was truly amazing to see an almost immediate improvement made by our own hands.

South Coast Diani, Kenya

TAGGING EXPEDITION 2010

Happy new year everyone!

2009 was a big year for us here at the East African Whale Shark Trust. Volker qualified as a microlight pilot in June and HUGE news is that the EAWST now has its own microlight thanks to very generous donations in lieu of wedding gifts – yes you guessed it, Volker and I got married in October :)  we figured that rather than a gift register (how many toasters and towels do you need!!) we would ask people to make donations to the EAWST instead. We didn’t expect so many people to be so generous but it seems love was all around that day and voila we now have our own microlight!!

In practical terms this will make an enormous difference for us because we won’t have to hire a plane. It will really bring down the cost of running the expedition and we will be able to do so much more for whale sharks now that we are more independent. Effectively as soon as we know the whale sharks are around we can get out there and work rather than having to book a plane and a pilot in advance. We are also going to work with the KWS on more regular marine surveys, something we have been harping on about for years. Now it is really going to happen. So we are very excited at the start of 2010!

Just letting you know as well that we are now taking bookings for the 2010 tagging expedition which will run from February through March. Trips leave from Aqualand Watersports Centre next to Pinewood Hotel on Galu-Kinondo beach south of Diani on Kenya’s beautiful south coast. The 4-5 hour trip costs USD150 and all the proceeds go directly to running the expedition. We are already flying several times a week to check on whale shark numbers and will keep you posted. Email me nimu@giantsharks.org for more info on the expedition and we hope to see you in Diani next month.

GIANT TURTLE SAVED

Sorry for the silence folks! I have been away most of the summer helping my parents recover from hip surgeries and planning my wedding which is now in less than a week (yikes)!! The EAWST is still alive though and getting ready for the season.

Yesterday a giant green turtle was rescued on our beach, caught in the fishermen’s
net.  Even the fishermen were amazed at the size, saying
they had never seen such a big turtle. Measurements were taken – length of
shell : 1m 56 cm; width of shell : 108 cm; size of front leg taken from
armpit 57 cm ; back leg 32 cm. Huge!!

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Thanks to Luciana, Cara and the Colobus Trust for helping in the rescue and sending me these pictures.

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Let’s hope she stays clear of the nets in the future.

Papa Pata Pata!

My name is Dipesh Pabari and its great to be able to have the opportunity to be blogging on the WildlifeDirect platform having worked in the Nairobi office for several months. Over the last few months, my wife, Elodie and I have been assisting a little bit at the Colobus Trust  so being the blogaholic I am, I have been in full blog mode down the road from the East Africa Whale Shark Trust as well as at Camps International where I am now working on lots of different exciting projects.

Can’t tell you how happy my family and I are to be back on the Coast especially Diani. For small town people like us it’s perfect and finally I have learned where north and south are (only because Diani is a one street town going north or south! :)). More importantly, I am finally doing exactly what I have always wanted to be doing – working within a responsible business framework that cares for the people, the environment and the wildlife that it depends upon…

Enough of me…

Aside from all the other exciting projects that Camp Kenya is involved with this summer, one of the most exciting funky little projects we have initiated is building a life size whale shark out of recycled flipflops picked off the beaches here! Yup!

And here’s the proof…

First we had to do a lot of wiring to make the frame which an amazing local artist called Benson literally got his hands tied up all in for three days!

Once it was done we had not quite figured out how we were going to get it to our beach camp. Alas, the old landcruiser had to prove herself!

Alas, he arrived well and unharmed to his new mother, Fadhili who is an old friend and accomplice in creating funky marine art from recycled beach debris…

Fadhili and I met a few years ago when we did the first ever life size minke whale from recycled flipflops. It was quite ambitious but we had a lot of support from the World Society for the Protection of Animals, Camp Kenya, Global Vision International, Watamu Turtle Watch, UniquEco and hundreds of local school children across the Kenyan coast who helped pick over 15,000 flipflops and countless bags of rubbish in less than two months.  BBC and a number of other media houses loved the story. You can watch the first BBC feature by clicking HERE

Mfalme (above) was built as our contribution to a global campaign against whaling but stood for so much and really put us on the map as having people who genuinely care for our environment. We hope that Papa Pata Pata will make people from all over the world realize how precious and misunderstood whale sharks are…

Dipesh Pabari
Camps International

Whale Sharks A Plenty in Mafia

We were lucky to meet Matt Potenski who came from Mafia Island to visit us during the expedition. He has sent the following report and pictures showing the work he has done in Mafia. Rachel our scientist from the WCS gave him some receivers and tags to put out so that we can all work together. It is a very exciting start for Mafia as you will read below!! Many thanks for the info Matt – at least we now know where all the sharks are!!!

EAWST Blog – Cooperation with Tanzania

     To all the EAWST friends, greetings from Tanzania.  My name is Matthew D Potenski, and I run a research program on whale sharks in Mafia Island, Tanzania.  Over the last few years, some data has been collected to suggest that whale sharks may use areas of both Kenya and Tanzania.  This year I had the pleasure to come up to Kenya to meet with members of the EAWST and head out into the field with Dr. Rachel Graham.  Upon discussion with both Dr. Graham and the EAWST, we were able to look at some data and agree to collaborate on projects in the future.  In that vein, I have just completed my season of field research at Mafia, and have a number of interesting things to report.

Last year I made observations of a tagged shark off Mafia Island.  This is not remarkable as I tag the sharks there, but this shark had a tag that was not like the ones I put out.  After some effort, I was able to remove enough algae from the tag to decipher a number.  The tag read K001, and I rightly guessed that the tag’s origin was in Kenya.  I contacted members of the EAWST and they confirmed that it was a tag they put out.   In the past few months, I have re-sighted this shark numerous times.  At the last count, I have encountered this shark six times over a span of three weeks.  All the sightings have been made in the waters immediately to the west of Mafia Island.  Shark K001 was seen on January 27th and 29th, and February 1st, 2nd, 9th, and 23rd.  The identification of this shark was confirmed by spot-pattern analysis.  Please see below for a spot ID picture taken of shark K001 on January 27th.

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I am also happy to report that in cooperation with the EAWST and Dr. Graham, I have been able to deploy automated telemetry equipment at Mafia Island.

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This means that Tanzania has joined with Madagascar, Mozambique, and Kenya in forming acoustic arrays for whale shark detection.  On March 20th-22nd I managed to deploy the eight transmitters I received from Dr. Graham.  Seven male sharks ranging from 3-6.5 meters and one 5m female were fitted with a Vemco V16 acoustic transmitter.

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On the 23rd, a small team helped me deploy two Vemco VR2W acoustic receivers.  This involved diving on scuba and pounding iron bars into the sand.  We then attached the units both to the bars and to 150 kg cement blocks as a preventative measure.  There is some net fishing in the area where these receivers are located and the cement block should be heavy enough to keep the units from being pulled up in a net.

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The important point is that the deployment of this equipment is completely reciprocal with transmitters and receivers deployed by the EAWST.  This automated telemetry equipment may give further insights into the actual amount of migration by whale sharks between Kenya and Tanzania.  Sharks tagged with transmitters in one location can be detected by receivers in another location.  The actual residence time or amount of time a whale shark spends in a location with each receiver will be measured.  This means that data on both local movements and migrations between receiver arrays can be collected.  The receivers will spend several months in the water before they are retrieved and their data downloaded.  I know I am very excited to see what data we will be able to get with this technology, and I look forward to comparing data with the EAWST so that we can get a more accurate picture of the behavioral patterns of whale sharks in East Africa.

Special thanks to Volker, Nimu, and all the volunteers at the EAWST and to Dr. Rachel Graham of the Wildlife Conservation Society for their friendship and support.   I look forward to more whale sharks in both Kenya and Tanzania in 2010.

Whale Sharks In Captivity

We know as fact that whale sharks do several deep dives everyday. They do not fare well in captivity.

Please go to www.whalesharkpetition.com and sign the petition. Tell all your friends to do the same.

Resorts World at Sentosa wants to import whale sharks for the attraction and entertainment of visitors. Whale sharks are vulnerable to extinction and have never done well in captivity. They can grow as large as two city buses, migrate thousands of kilometers in the wild, and live up to a hundred years. It is just plain cruel to keep them in glass cages.

Whale sharks have never fared well in captivity. Two whale sharks died within five months of each other at the Georgia Aquarium.

Write to the Minister of National Development, the Singapore Tourism Board and
Resorts World at Sentosa before this tragedy happens on our shores.

Think of all the whale sharks swimming wild and free, think of how very little we know about these gentle giants and then think of them dying in aquariums. Please sign the petition.

Thank you.

Meet Eagle Eye The Whale Shark

Here are some pictures of the whale shark we tagged on Sunday 8 March. It was a small juvenile male of about 4 metres tagged by Rachel Graham of the WCS. This shark has been adopted by London Vision Clinic and is called Eagle Eye.

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You can see the tag clearly in the picture just below the dorsal fin.

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Rachel has been with us for over a week now and this is the only shark we have seen. We are planning to go out again this weekend and Rachel has extended her stay so that she is here for the last 2 days of the expedition! Her enthusiasm abounds and she is firing up her satellite tags in anticipation of the Saturday expedition even as I write this blog so she is obviously hopeful :)

Thanks for reading our blog and we will keep you posted on how the expedition goes.

3rd Acoustic Tag Deployed

WONDERFUL NEWS!!!

After almost 2 weeks with zero sightings, yesterday at almost the end of the expedition Rob our pilot spotted a whale shark opposite the Barclays shopping centre. He said he had to look twice and nearly fell out of his seat he was so surprised! We have searched solidly now for 2 weeks with no joy and Rob was coming in to land when we spotted this shark. Quick as  a flash Rachel tagged it with our 3rd acoustic tag and the boat full of kind expedition members danced with joy!

With sightings so low we have had to keep our researcher and film crew busy. One of the things we did was to put down an acoustic receiver in Nyuli which is a deep site further south with the kind assistance of Harm and Selina from Pili Pippa. Harm and Selina run a fantastic snorkelling and diving dhow trip. They will be in charge of the receiver station and work together with us and with Rachel at the WCS to gather and analyse data. We all got some great footage of the Nyuli receiver being put down and I will put some pictures up soon. I had the opportunity to film it with my new video camera. Filming underwater is not as easy as Volker makes it look that’s for sure!! I really enjoyed it but have a lot to learn!

Another thing we did with the Australian filmcrew is take them up to the Shimba hills – Kenya is one of the only places in the world where you can swim with whale sharks in the morning and have sundowners with elephants in the afternoon! Quite a claim to fame and one that will feature in the documentary being made.

We have also been kept busy with local film crews doing stories on the whale sharks. We have had no less than 3 different crews from Nairobi alone. As always the huge interest in our work is so encouraging even when we don’t see any sharks! The boats have been full every day and people are so supportive of what we are trying to do. When they don’t see sharks they all look on the bright side and we haven’t had a single complaint if they don’t see sharks! People understand that whale sharks are wild and free (thank God) and if they don’t show up there’s nothing much we can do about it. But we have seen hundreds of dolphins each day which is always very special. We are learning more each time we take the boat out and put the plane up. This expedition is one of the longest aerial surveys of Kenya’s south coast ever to be carried out. It’s amazing what you can do with community support and interest from the public – we are acutely conscious of that and very grateful to everyone who has supported us.

This shark we tagged yesterday has been adopted and sponsored by London Vision Clinic and is to be called Eagle Eye. Thank you so much to Professor Dan Reinstein and the London Vision Clinic for their kind and constant support to our project. It is through Professor Dan that we met world renowned concert pianist Katya Grineva who you might remember visited the project last year to do some fund raising concerts. It is also thanks to Professor Dan that Katya, my dad and I all have eagle eye vision!

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Pictures of Eagle Eyes to follow :)

Whale Shark Expedition Highs and Lows

It is the start of a new week and we hope we will see more sharks than we did last week! The sightings have been very poor with no sharks seen for 6 days. We don’t really know why but we suspect it may be due to the unsettled weather we have been experiencing. The sea is a lot rougher than it should be at this time of year and the wind direction keeps changing. Climate-wise nothing is really as it should be but then isn’t that true of so many parts of the world these days.

Despite the disappointing number of sharks, we remain positive. We will keep trying and the huge numbers of people interested in our work keeps us motivated. We have had full boats every day. The media interest has been immense and we have 4 different film crews in the past few days. Reuters, AP, KTN and The Standard have all covered the expedition.

Last night the film crew from Australia and our lead scientist Dr Rachel Graham arrived. We are set for a good weeks worth of work here in Diani. If we don’t see sharks here, we will move the expedition further north where there have been sightings.

We are carrying out the longest and most coherent aeriel survey ever to be done for whale sharks in Kenya. Whatever happens we will learn something and continue to work hard for whale shark conservation in Kenya.

This week the boat is booked exclusively for the Australian film crew to film for their documentary. We are so excited that they are here! Volker gets the opportunity to work alongside one of the top underwater videographers in the world. From Friday the boat is fully booked over the weekend and the last weekend of the expedition is almost fully booked as well. We continue to be amazed and encouraged by the number of people who come and support our work. We are determined and 110% committed to see it through.

I will keep you posted as the week progresses.