In July, Professor Susan Dippenaar, a parasite expert from the University of Limpopo, paid Dyer Island Conservation Trust another visit here in Kleinbaai. She is a world-leading expert on a group of copepod syphonostomatoids for which elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) act as hosts.
A lab was set-up on site for Prof Dippenaar and her two Masters students and they quickly got to work dissecting specimens of small, endemic sharks, the puffadder shy shark and pyjama catshark as well as soup fin and cow sharks. These sharks are still commercially harvested in the area so it is important for us to learn as much as possible from each animal. The whole body of each shark is scrutinized paying particular attention to gills and noses which were removed and then we watched their painstaking work as they searched for parasites, literally with a fine-toothed comb. The interns and volunteers also had the chance to dissect the rest of the sharks’ bodies and discovered that two individuals were carrying mature eggs, better known as mermaid’s purses. These are now in an aquarium, still healthy and in the process of development.
Prof Dippenaar also took custody of a large batch of parasites which were sampled from great white sharks during the OCEARCH Expedition which visited South Africa in March and April. Needless to say, looking at these creatures under the microscope raised images of science-fiction horror movies.
The staff and students at DICT were then treated to some fascinating, if not scientifically dense, talks from the Masters students. The visit was certainly an eye-opener on the lives of these tiny organisms, and the specialised and delicate work it takes to learn more about them.