Author Archives: Paula

MEXICO DREAMING

I have spent all day at my computer applying for travel funding for the 2nd International Whale Shark conference to be held in Mexico this July. Here is an excerpt of my justification of attendance document in support of my application.

Background:The story goes that when God created the whale shark he was so pleased with his handiwork that he gave his angels handfuls of gold and silver coins to throw down from heaven into the sea. These coins landed on the whale shark’s back as it swam peacefully near the surface and that is why the whale shark is called “papa shillingi” which translates as “shark covered in shillings”. So it is that whale sharks swim near the surface as a way of saying thank you to their maker. Whale sharks have called Kenyan waters home for many years. Recently, there has been a significant increase which is perhaps related to the post El Nino mantis shrimp invasion. Based on Diani Beach the East African Whale Shark Trust was founded by Volker Bassen in response to the dramatic increase in sightings as well as increased interest from the tourist sector. The increase in whale sharks along the Kenyan coast has meant that they have become more of a target. Under international law, whale sharks are only given a secondary type of protection. They are listed under CITES Appendix II meaning that trade in whale sharks is allowed but must be monitored. Although relatively little is known about the biggest fish in the ocean, most specialists will agree that this level of protection is not enough. The overall aim of many whale shark projects is to raise awareness so that the level of protection afforded to whale shark is increased. The more we know about whale sharks the easier it will be to review the level of protection. The EAWST aims to provide a research centre for collecting and analyzing data on the local whale shark population, its habits and movements. The Trust will work closely with other regional organizations because whale sharks are migratory. About the whale shark:Seen as an indicator of a healthy marine eco-system, whale sharks are filter feeders. They eat plankton, sieving it from the water through their gills. They are often seen swimming slowly along with their mouths agape, feeding as they move through the water. They can grow up to 18m and weigh up to 20 tons. They give birth to live young. They are solitary creatures for the most part and live in temperate waters around the equator, both along coastlines and in the open seas. Recent studies have revealed that they can dive to depths of over 1000m and that they spend most of their time at great depths, coming to the surface mostly at night to feed when the plankton rises with the diminishing ambient light. Threats:The major threat the whale sharks in our waters face is being caught in the local fishermen’s large mesh nylon drift nets. Unfortunately this is getting increasingly common. Joint initiatives are underway between the EAWST and local fishermen to encourage more environmentally friendly fishing methods.  EAWST:The EAWST has various projects underway, perhaps the most exciting being our tagging programmes. 2007 marked the first ever successful tagging expedition to be run off the coast of Africa. Over 50 whale sharks were spotted and 11 tagged in an 8 day period. Various tags were deployed including satellite tags and streamer tags; DNA samples were also taken. In 2008 we made history by tagging 17 whale sharks with satellite tags – the most ever to be tagged in one place at the same time with satellite tags. We spotted over 40 whale sharks in a 10 day period. April 2008 will see our first acoustic tagging expedition in conjunction with WCS.  About the tags:The satellite tags can store data for up to one year after which the tag is released by a timer and the data is transmitted via satellite. These tags give data such as dive profile, ambient light, and salinity levels. From that it is possible to work out migration patterns. These tags cost around USD 5000 each. The archival tags are considerably cheaper at USD 600 a piece and whilst they store similar data they have to be removed from the whale shark in order to retrieve the data. Acoustic tags at USD 250 each very quickly give us an idea of our local population. Whenever a shark swims within a certain radius of the underwater receiver the data is stored and retrieved weekly. Finally the streamer tags are small numbered flags that are attached to the whale shark to allow visual identification. Mexico Conference:

The potential for conservation, education and tourism in Kenya is enormous as people travel all over the world to see whale sharks in remote places such as Mexico and Australia. Kenya is easily accessible to the European market in particular, as well as having other attractions such as our beautiful game parks. Attending the Mexico conference will promote our country by raising the profile of whale sharks in Kenya. Whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea and whilst they belong to the shark family they are completely harmless and eat plankton. As a flagship species of our ocean they deserve the ultimate level of protection and respect. We still have so much to learn about the whale shark and international conferences are a crucial way of collaborating the work that is being done world-wide. It is important for Kenya to be represented at the conference so that we are given the opportunity of presenting our work in this field todate particularly the tagging research that we have started.

 Wish me luck with my applications! You can help by telling all your friends about our blog so that they can follow our work and donate to help save whale sharks in Kenya! 

SORRY AND THANK YOU

Sorry for the silence – we have been away (celebrating my mum’s 70th birthday). Very very nice but good to be home.

And what a treat to come back to the news that an anonymous donor has made a kind donation of USD25. Thank you SO much whoever you are 🙂 We really appreciate your help and in fact depend completely on it. You probably know that we don’t have any funding as such. Noone at the project (currently it is just me, Volker and Simon) receives a salary and we have all been working here for a long time on a pro bono basis. You will appreciate how hard it is sometimes to motivate volunteer staff when we all have bills to pay and mouths to feed at home. You probably wonder how we survive – I wonder that myself but basically all 3 of us have to do other things so that we get by financially. Our goal for this year is to get some formal funding/sponsorship but this is never easy.

When we receive a donation it means we can carry on with our work, be it community based or research based. When the money runs out, it means quite simply that we cannot do our work unless we pay for it ourselves (which we have all done for years too!). So a donation, nomatter how small, makes a very REAL difference to us. We can buy education materials to make our workshops in schools more fun, we can help Simon with his food bills, we can pay for boat fuel when we go out on research expeditions, we can give fishermen viable alternatives to using their deadly nets that catch whale sharks and hundreds of turtles each month. With your help we really do make a significant difference straightaway.

So a big thank YOU!!

Our current focus is on getting funding to attend the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference in Mexico this July. We are applying for travel grants. We feel that it is really important that we attend this conference. We both attended the first ever international whale shark conference in Perth, Australia in 2005. We made invaluable contacts there and can honestly say that we are where we are today on the back of that amazing opportunity to network and see how Australia manages its whale shark eco-tourism. Since then we have done an enormous amount of work – we have done 4 tagging expeditions, numerous fundraising campaigns, consistent community work and publicity. This year we put out the highest amount of satellite tags in one place in history and we want to be able to present all our work in Mexico. We have effectively put Kenya on the global whale shark map. Last year we almost made it to Mexico but Hurricane Dean caused the conference to be cancelled which was really sad. We are determined to get there this year to fly the flag for Kenyan whale sharks!

I am also busy trying to organise a big fundraising concert to raise money for the project. Katya Grineva who came to do a charity benefit for us wants to come back – her big concert in January had to be cancelled because of the post-election violence. We are delighted that she wants to come back but need at least one big sponsor to help us make that happen.

So as it pours with rain outside and the seas heave and the wind screams and the boats are all brought up for the next 3 months, we continue with what community work we can and as much paper work and admin as we can stomach!

Please help us get to Mexico so that we can continue with our work here in Diani come October when the whale shark season starts.

POP POP!!

Greetings!

News from our scientist Brent in San Diego – another of this year’s tags has popped up. Tag 80172 appeared a few days ago just south of the Kenya-Somalia border and has drifted steadily NE along the coastline. It is now near Ras Komboni, Somalia (a reported Al Quaida training area so Brent advises not to go chasing this particular tag just now). The tag appeared offshore jus a little north of Lamu and near Pate island. This tag was scheduled to come off in November (9 months after tagging on 22 February off Diani beach. We don’t know yet why it has popped off. It could have been taken off or the dart tip came off or the line was bitten through – the shark was at relatively the same depth for a while and sometimes this can trigger the early default release as well. We might get some clues when the data is all in and can be analysed properly. In any event, we will have 2  months worth of data on where this shark has been which is great news! Very positive 🙂

Last known coordinates are 1Deg 37.87’S, 41Deg 39.43’E so for those of you who can help us retrieve this tag, do feel free!

Will keep you posted with any other developments.

Have a nice day 🙂

SAD NEWS

Sad news re the acoustic tagging expedition – we went out yesterday from 10am to just before 3pm and did not see a single shark! We had 6 hardy expedition members with us including staunch supporters from Nairobi and a journalist all the way from Kigali in Rwanda. Peter Zanetti was our pilot teamed up with David Kimtai our KWS spotter and Volker was all set to tag. It was very windy and overcast so the sea was quite rough and it was hard to see anything with the sun. It had poured with rain during the night as well and even though I had dreamt about seeing lots of sharks it was not meant to be. We sat out there on the churning sea for hours watching the plane go up and down but we only saw dolphins and turtles (not bad but not great when you are looking for whale sharks).

Here is Volker giving a briefing and behind him you can see Gwili from the Colobus Trust who also joined us. Gwili’s mum has actually adopted and named the first 2 sharks that we tag with acoustic tags so although it was completely by chance it was very fitting that Gwili was on the boat with us for the start of the expedition.

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This is a picture of the actual tags with some visual references for you thrown in for you to judge size easily.

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They are amazingly small – the silver dart goes into the whale shark’s skin. You can also see that they are numbered and coded.

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And here is a mournful sight – Volker’s spear gun with tag attached and fins close by – all set for him to jump in when the radio call comes in.

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Sadly the fins did not touch water yesterday and the tags won’t be put out now until November at the earliest. I am really disappointed as I wanted to report on this when we presented our work to date at the 2nd International Whale Shark Conference to be held in Mexico in July. We have never tried tagging at this time of year but were of the opinion that unless we try we will never know more about our whale shark population. I was totally convinced that we would see whale sharks!

Thank you to all the people who came down to support us, and hopefully we will have more success next time. We are glad that we tried because otherwise we wouldn’t have learnt what we did. Every little bit of research that we do really counts and helps us build a clearer picture of whale sharks in Kenya. It will now be a double celebration when we finally do put these tags out because we were so disappointed this time.

Every donation we receive will also help us carry on with our work so please help us continue what we have started.

DEATH OF A SUNI

I was on my morning run this morning and as I ran past Baobab Hotel going south I looked up at their colobridge (bridge for colobus monkeys suspended above the road) and thought of the mass destruction the hotel has recently wreaked on our ecosystem. Once upon a time they cared enough about the environment to sponsor a colobridge – what went wrong? I was thinking about setting up some sort of protest/picket line because of the massive deforestation they have caused. I was thinking of calling the KTN/Standard group. I made a mental note to talk to Gwili about it later that day. On my back going north as I passed the hotel I noticed a small crowd and saw one of them holding a suni (a type of miniature antelope) with very badly broken hind legs. I could hardly bear to look at it because it was in such extreme pain. I went to the guards’ booth and asked what was going on. They said that everything was under control so I asked if they had called the vet but nobody replied. I suggested that one of the looky loos with bikes rode quickly down to the vet’s surgery which is about 300metres away but nobody wanted to help. I asked to speak to the manager of the hotel using the phone from the guards’ booth but when I spoke to him and calmly explained the situation I was dismissed. I said that I didn’t have a car and that the animal was in real distress. He said he didn’t have a car either despite the fact that Baobab Hotel is a large, well-established resort. I asked him to call the vet or the Colobus Trust because it was before opening hours but he said he didn’t have their numbers. I was horrified by the way I was treated and by the complete lack of interest displayed by the management. Nobody came to the gate to find out what was happening. Nobody came to see if they could help the poor creature. So I refused to leave until the vet or the Colobus Trust was called. I tried being nice then I tried explaining how the hotel didn’t need any more bad publicity – please see the Colobus Trust blog for details on the devastation caused by the development of the hotel.  I even threatened to go the police and the media which got the guards a bit twitchy. I kept praying for someone I knew to drive past. Eventually after a lot of begging I convinced one of the taxi drivers to take me and the animal to the Colobus Trust. If he hadn’t agreed I would have had to walk with the poor creature in absolute agony. We put it in the back and I held onto it’s neck, trying to reassure it. It had the most beautiful dark eyes. They were bright and alert. It must have been terrified. I kept thinking that it was probably going to be put down and felt utterly heartbroken.

We got to the Colobus Trust and woke Gwili up. The creature was immediately in good hands and Gwili and his team were so kind. It was such a relief to be able to go to the Colobus Trust premises where they take such good care of animals.

I learnt later that they had to put the suni down.

I feel so sad about the whole incident. The hotel staff at the gate were not equipped to deal with the emergency although they arguably did their best. The management’s response was shocking. They should a have list of emergency numbers on hand. As a so-called eco-friendly hotel, they should jump at the chance to help animals in distress PARTICULARLY in light of the negative publicity they have had over the past few weeks (which believe it or not they have the nerve to dispute). Instead the manager I spoke to on the phone was rude and unhelpful. The worst part is that the death of the suni this morning is a direct result of the deforestation caused by their illegal development. Those little creatures have nowhere to go and so they wander onto the road or get snared in traps because they are more visible. Without the protection of dense indigenous forests, they are easy targets. It is beyond description.

 I urge you all, please read the Colobus Trust’s blog which details the illegal development this hotel is carrying out. Please contact NEMA (National Environment Management Authority) email [email protected] or [email protected] and voice your concerns. I have emailed the manager of the hotel, NEMA, KWS, the police, the Diani Residents Association and everyone else I can think of.

This one little suni is just the start if we don’t stop them.

AGNES’ PHOTOS

Check out these pictures of the last tagging expedition taken by Agnes on a disposable (!!) camera – I think they are great!!

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Look at the beautiful patterns on this shark. What a marvellous creation!

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That is a remora (sucker fish) next to the shark below.

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A big thank you to Agnes for sending me her pictures. And, nice surprise, here is Brent tagging elephant seals – check out the East African Whale Shark Trust T shirt!!

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 I still have some spaces left for the acoustic tagging expedition coming up this weekend so contact me if you are interested!

Have a nice day folks!

WHALE SHARK PUPS MYSTERY

Quezon task force seizes cargo of alleged young whale sharks in Phillipines

By Delfin Mallari Jr.
Southern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 16:57:00 04/07/2008

LUCENA CITY — A cargo of baby sharks, four of them allegedly from the “butanding” (whale sharks) species were intercepted in nearby Pagbilao town early Monday by a task force of provincial fishery officials and environmentalists, an official said.

Glenn Forbes, Tanggol Kalikasan-Southern Tagalog program officer, said that on Sunday evening a concerned citizen and a local government official from the coastal town of Calauag, Quezon province tipped them off through a mobile phone that several baby “butandings” would be transported to Manila.

“We were alarmed when we were told that several newly born ‘butandings’ from Lamon Bay would be smuggled out. We could not let that happen,” said Forbes.

He said he immediately alerted the Quezon Task Force Karagatan/Sagip Kalikasan headed by Allan Castillo of the provincial agriculture office and, along with several policemen, set up a checkpoint in front of the Pagbilao town hall.

At around 1 a.m. on Monday, the group flagged down a cargo jeepney being driven by one Alberto Abat.

When searched, the vehicle yielded live “lapu-lapu” (groupers) and assorted ornamental fish in several plastic bags with oxygen tubes attached to the containers.

Hidden among the piles was a plastic bag with oxygen, which contained nine newly born sharks measuring half a foot to one foot in length.

Forbes said the owner of the fish cargo, a certain Analie Abat from Barangay (village) Sto. Angel, Calauag, admitted that she owned the fish cargo, including the sharks which she also called “butanding.”

The shark has random white stripes and dots, markings similar to the “butanding.”

Abat, according to Forbes, claimed that she bought the sharks from local fishermen for P20 each and that she intended to deliver them to an undisclosed place in Metro Manila.

“Four of the baby sharks looked like ‘butanding’ but they also looked like ‘coral catfish’ shark species. We’re still awaiting the official confirmation from BFAR [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources] if it’s really butanding,” he said.

Forbes said four were confirmed to be “long tail carpet” while the species of the remaining one was still unknown.

He expressed alarmed that if the newborn shark species were confirmed to be “butanding,” most probably they would be smuggled out of the country.

Forbes said they allowed the fish traders to be released after several hours of investigation pending official confirmation of the shark species.

However, Castillo said there was no need for the official confirmation from BFAR. “The sharks were definitely not butanding,” he said.

The “butanding” is considered the biggest shark and the biggest fish in the sea, with some measuring up to 20 meters long and weighing up to 34,000 kilograms.

Two years ago, Lamon Bay fishermen celebrated the reappearance of the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), indicating renewed vibrancy of marine life in the bay.

Whale sharks in Lamon Bay were common during the 1980s. They slowly disappeared because of irresponsible fishermen who feasted on their meat.

The group brought the shark species to TK office and placed them in an aquarium.

Unfortunately, three of the “long tail carpet” sharks died.

“We suspected that the sharks, including the groupers, were caught through cyanide fishing methods. And since they were newly born, their tender bodies were not able to withstand the toxic poison,” Zeny Bernal, TK marine office, said.

It is encouraging that this cargo was seized but really this is such sad news – obviously we hope that they weren’t whale shark pups but whatever they were, they died in horribly shocking and distressing circumstances and the threat to whale sharks all over the world remains high. Reading this article makes me feel really bleak. Please pass it on to all your friends and contacts in order to raise awareness on this issue.

This news comes hot on the heels of a request for pictures of whale shark pups – I am trying to locate the only one I have ever seen which is rows and rows of dead pups found after the mother was slaughtered. I will post it up when I find it.

TAG NUMBER ONE

Here is a picture of the tag from this year that came off after only a few weeks. This was the 3rd shark we tagged this year. We tagged it on 21 February and it came off on 3 March. As you can see if you look really carefully, you can see that about half the dart tip is sticking out.

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I think we were having trouble with the pressure charge on the speargun about then which might explain why it didn’t penetrate deeply.   Brent had made notes in his log stating that he wasn’t sure that it was a good penetration, just from seeing how much of the tether was exposed when looking at it underwater.    In any event, it did stay on for about 2 weeks so we will get some data on movements and diving and of course a real plus on the recovery as we can use it again. 

Here are the GPS positions that helped us find it.

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SOMALIA CALLING

Sorry for the silence everyone, we have been away! It’s good to be home although we are still en route and will get back to the coast on Friday 🙂

We have been working with SIFO Fish Organisation in Somalia for some time now because one of the 3 tags from last year came off up there. Mohamed, our kind contact, has been working tirelessly in an attempt to find that tag for us and he recently sent me these photos of his work. He is using this poster as a way of raising awareness about the plight of whale sharks in Somalia and we are really grateful for his help. We are hoping he will come to watch the acoustic tagging programme, set to start next week.

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It’s a gruesome picture but it sends a strong message which is important.

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It shows how if we work together, we can make a difference.

A big thank you to Mohamed and his team in Somalia 🙂

NOUVELLES FANTASTIQUE!

Fantastic news from France!! Our 2 tags have arrived in San Diego and they are now safely in Brent’s hands. They will be sent off for analysis and then stand by for ground breaking data and history making news! I am so relieved that they are safely with Brent. You always worry that such a precious cargo might get lost somewhere along the way…but Brent has just emailed to say he has them and we are delighted!

Here is a close up of tag 66003, our famous year old tag.

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Look how battered it is – almost like someone has tried to scrape off some bits…for now it is a mystery. We will learn a lot about this tag in the coming days but we will never know everything about its journey…

Volker and I are in France and we send you bisou a tous!!