Whale Sharks a plenty
We launched in to the water with Peri Peri Divers and everyone on the boat was really excited to see a whale shark. On most Ocean Safaris we see one whale shark at a time which is what we expected from this ocean safari. First off the boat went out into the bay and we came across some bottlenose dolphins. All the volunteers slid into the water to get a chance to swim with the Dolphins. Alice Day, one of our volunteers, took a fantastic shot which captured a dolphin looking directly at her from about 4m away. We were so close that we could hear the clicking noises the dolphins were making under the water. It is truly amazing to see dolphins in the wild where they have the choice to either swim with you or not, making it an utterly unforgettable experience when they choose to swim with you!
Once we were all back on the boat the safari continued around the point to Tofinio where, to everyone’s amazement, the ocean was filled with whale sharks! It was stunning to see so many of these oceanic giants grouped together. They had been drawn together into a feeding aggregation spurred on by an accessible plankton supply near the surface. Whale sharks are known to group into feeding aggregations at sites across the globe but these aggregations are very rare. In fact, here in Tofo although we see whale sharks year round we see feeding aggregations only once or twice per year.
The volunteers all slid gently into the water so as not to scare the sharks. They had their underwater cameras at the ready and took as many ID shots as they could. A Whale Sharks identifying marks are found in the area just behind the gills above the pectoral fin focusing on the left side of the sharks. Using the left side ID photos we can not only pattern match the encounter photos to pre-existing sharks in the ECOCEAN Global Whale Shark Database but also identify new individuals never recorded before. Climbing back onto the boat we recorded the GPS location of the encounters, behavioral and environmental data.
Once back at the volunteer house we up-load all the photos to the computer and then to the ECOCEAN Global Whale Shark database to identify as many of these aggregated sharks as possible and log our sightings of them. Many thanks Dr Simon Pierce, Science Coordinator, and Jason Holmberg, Director, at the ECOCEAN Global Whale Shark Database for last month awarding All Out Africa the very first institutional login to record our Whale Shark encounters, match them to pre-existing sharks and allocate new individuals. This is another big step forwards in our quest to aid evaluation of the population and monitor the movements of this globally vulnerable species.