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Responsible (and awesome!) shark tourism

Kate Cameron has volunteered with us twice already, as has her Dad, Craig and her friend Kristie.  Kate’s enthusiasm is contagious and her happy laugh and kind demeanour are missed by us all.  She is a true example of an ambassador for the marine environment!  Her blog follows:

“Every year an insane number of sharks are killed by people. Although some sharks are caught by fishermen within the law and used appropriately, the majority of shark deaths are from shark finning, fisherman’s bycatch, slaughtered out of fear or sport or otherwise by people regardless of laws. Shark finning is common in Asian countries (specifically China) due to the social status of the dish, shark fin soup. During the process of shark finning, sharks are caught, their fins are removed and the rest of the body is discarded. Bycatch occurs when Fishermen are fishing for sustainable fish and sharks and other unwanted marine life are caught in nets or traps. Although fishermen probably do not want these animals, they are usually dead before the nets are even hauled up.

Beeeeeeeooootiful Blue <3

Subsequently, after the movie Jaws and many other films following it, fear set into humans that sharks are terrifying and brutal people-eaters. This is not the case but unfortunately people were spurred to go out and kill sharks, drastically damaging the ecosystem. Additionally, ecotourism has become wildly popular. Although it is great to get up close and personal with sharks (speaking from experience) it is important to consider who you are doing your ecotours with. There are laws in place for both your safety and the shark’s safety. These laws will include if companies are allowed to feed or bait the sharks, chumming restrictions, cage restrictions, shark handling and among many other important diving factors. Researching your ecotourism company before going out with them to make sure they are known for following rules and regulations will ensure that your trip is as enjoyable as possible while keeping the sharks as safe and without disrupting the environment. Ecotourism companies who do not follow the laws risk endangering the shark, by physically hurting the animal or changing feeding patterns etc. Remember, the goal of shark dives is to see the grace in these animals rather than harm them.

Blue Shark Video Clip

I have just returned from South Africa where I spent my second summer volunteering with Marine Dynamics and Dyer Island Cruises through the International Marine Volunteers (IMV). This program has given me the opportunity to dive and research White Sharks as well as the Blues, Makos and a Bronze Whaler in addition to penguins, Cape fur seals and a variety of whale and dolphin species. The company has several on staff marine biologists that provide presentations on the marine life in the area as well as accompany ecotourism trips to answer questions. I have learned so much about the marine ecosystem in the program; I was even able to help dissect a 4.1 meter Great White Shark! What more could I ask for?

Kate in her element

Well, after helping out with ecotourism trips, IMV supports various social activities among the volunteers including visiting local restaurants and other establishments in order to cultivate lasting relationships. If you are looking for more than just one or two days of diving with sharks and are wanting to learn more about the Great White Shark, perhaps you should consider volunteering with IMV too!

IMV, where lifelong friends are made…Amy, Kate and Kristie

If you only want to go see the sharks but are unsure or need help finding a reliable ecotourism company, check out sustainablesharksiving.com, a website that is designed to help! Sustainablesharkdiving.com is devoted to finding shark ecotourism companies based on educational, in-water safety, animal treatment, environmental sustainability, and conservation ethic objectives. This site takes into consideration professional and tourist reviews (so after your dive, go on and review the company!). The website is easy to navigate, search different ecotourism companies by type of shark, by company, or by country you want to dive in. For example you could search “Great White Sharks,” “Marine Dynamics” or “South Africa.” Additionally, if you do not know what the shark diving and ecotourism laws are in the country you are planning to dive in the website explains rules and regulations in countries that have shark ecotourism.

Sharks do a major part in keeping the ecosystem healthy in every ocean (and some rivers). Let’s do our best to protect these magnificent creatures.”

Kate Cameron

IMV Alumnus

Dissection day!

Shark dissection time!  As the day progressed so did the excitement of the volunteers, constant questions of “Can’t wait, when we going to start?” become the order of the day. As we start the setup of all the dissection and measuring equipment, I could see all eyes firmly focused on the defrosted male vaalhaai, or soupfin shark, that was wrapped in black plastic bags.

Before we could start with the actual cutting open of the shark, we needed to do external measurements. This is a lengthy process but as I explained to the volunteers that this is a very important part of the scientific process.  The volunteers quickly jumped at the opportunity and listened carefully to the instructions given. I gave one as the volunteers, Jaime, the opportunity to lead with the measuring, since he had a degree in marine biology and this could really help him to gain some hands-on experience. I explained the basics of measurements and guidelines, and then very quickly they started to taking accurate measurements of the shark with my supervision.

External morphometrics

External morphometrics

Finally when we were done with the 3-page external measurements, it was time to cut open the 17.5kg shark. To add to the atmosphere the perfect sunny spring day turned into ominous cloudy windy weather, it’s almost if Mother Nature knew how to set the scene. As I started making the first cut, I noticed some of the volunteer’s faces pulled in all different directions as the dead shark smell  filled their nostrils, especially when squeezing out the stomach contents to weigh. As the chorus of “ewwh’s” and “ahh’s” rained down, the fascination and interest remained as no-one moved an inch.

We opened up the shark, removing the liver, stomach, intestine and reproductive organs, all for internal measurements. The longer the dissection went on the more questions of genuine interest followed, ” How does the shark stay afloat?” was one of the volunteer questions. So sharks do not have a swim bladder like other fish for buoyancy but instead they have a liver filled with oil called squaline. I happily showed them by cutting a piece of liver and throwing it into a bucket of water, and as predicted it floated! It’s these types of practical demonstrations that have the biggest impact and can only be shown to people at an educational dissection.

After the organs from the body cavity were removed, I went on to show them the brain, eyes and heart, at this stage they were amazed how tiny the heart was in comparison to the body, and where it was located, in the upper throat section, “Talking about heart in your throat stuff” was one of the comments that had the group laughing. After all was cut open and measured, we then took some genetic samples and fin clips to finish off the dissection.

The group were all smiling and showed genuine interest throughout the dissection, for some this was first time they had ever been a part of a dissection, let alone a shark dissection! The group left with a newfound respect for these amazing ocean predators, and a comment by one of the volunteers to end of the day saying: ”This was one awesome experience, that I’ll probably never forget”!

Ettiene Roets (IMV Coordinator)

A tribute to International Marine Volunteer alumna, Elly Warren.

It’s a sombre time in the International Marine Volunteers’ Center as we process the news that sweet, beautiful, vivacious Elly Warren has passed away.

Elly was just crazy about the sharks, simply head-over-heels in love with Trevor-the-dog and a wonderfully crazy, happy, smart and loving young woman.  She was easy-going, fitted in wherever she went, full of positive energy and a very open-minded individual.  We are privileged at IMV to have met her and to spend so many happy moments with her.  Elly was one of the most beautiful people I have ever met!

The planet has been robbed of an amazing ocean advocate… passionate, helpful, hard-working and enthusiastic – a young woman so rich in potential that my heart breaks to think that we won’t have the opportunity to watch her career progress and hear her happy laughter filling the IMV Center!

To Elly’s family and friends – we are so sorry for your loss!  From all of us at IMV, here’s wishing you peace in this tremendously difficult time <3

Elly and Trevor

Marie (IMV Administrator): When I think of Elly I remember a beautiful girl, barefoot and always smiling, sitting on the office floor and chatting away.  She told me about all the places she has visited before, all her plans for the rest of the year, and her love for animals.  I still found it quite interesting that such a young girl seemed to have her whole life sorted and knew exactly what she wanted to do.  Just as she was busy telling me about her pets back home our big volunteer dog, Trevor, came strolling into the office and just fell on her lap!  She hugged and kissed him, as if they have been friends for year, and this is when I took the photo that was on our Facebook page. 

 

Francois (IMV Volunteer Coordinator): I remember the first night Elly came to us as a volunteer and curled up with Trevor on his mattress inside the IMV lounge next to the sliding door going to the braai area. She loved Trevor so very much and called him her boyfriend!   She loved the beach and asked if she could do a beach walk to collect sea urchin shells. I dropped her off at Franskraal and she walked back to Kleinbaai along the coast. She arrived at the Great White House with all these urchin shells and I asked her how is going to get it all back to Australia and with a big smile she said she was going to fill her shoes with them and if possible if I could keep her any Pringles(the crisps) containers so that she can stash some in them too. She loved horse riding and I took her up too Grootbos to go horse riding and we got lost looking for the stables… which we thought was very funny. We eventually found the horse stables and she immediately wandered off to go and greet the other animals that were residing close to the stables. Elly was a very energetic and caring person with a lot of care and admiration for animals. She was the fun girl and every minute spent with her she had us all laughing and entertained with her spontaneous and humorous personality. I’m shocked that this awesome person who became part of our family was taken away from the world when she had so many good things and adventures lined up for her. You are truly going to be missed dear Elly and thank you for giving us the opportunity to get to know you and spend some time with you, laughing and enjoying every day you were around. Rest in peace our dear friend.

Elly Warren and biologistsAlison (Marine Biologist): My sincere condolences go out to Elly’s family at this difficult time. Elly was a character I will always remember, a true free spirit who brought laughter and light to all around her. While I only knew her for a few weeks as she volunteered with us at Marine Dynamics, the two of us bonded immediately over our shared passion for diving and marine life. Any chance Elly got to don a wetsuit and jump in the cage with the white sharks she was there- enthusiastic and ready- even if the water was cold and visibility bad. The crew all warmed to her, and even on the slowest shark days she would keep us entertained with her humour and stories. She was so excited to head to Mozambique and meet the mantas and whale sharks. The last contact I had from Elly was a messenger post gushing with excitement to tell me about how beautiful Mozambique was and how happy she was to be there. Even though her life was taken far too soon, perhaps we can hold some solace in the fact that she was doing something that made her truly happy and she utterly loved. Rest in peace dear Elly, you will be sorely missed by many xxxxxxxx

Meredith Thornton (IMV Manager)

A day in the life of an International Marine Volunteer

Our day starts by waking up nice and early…we grab some coffee and cereal for breakfast or, if we don’t hit the snooze button too many times (!), we rustle up some nice warm bacon and eggs. One of our coordinators arrives, we spend a few minutes chatting and then hop into the minibus and head down to the Great White House, the hub of the tourist and conservation activities.

Here we can do various tasks, like assisting with wiping the boat down in the harbour, or helping at “front-of-house” – meeting and greeting the cage-diving clients. We also pack the individually numbered bags for the clients, containing a wetsuit and booties of the correct size. We assist wherever we can on the boats, with seasick clients, handing out towels to the divers and sometimes even help the marine biologists with data collection and entry.

Karen

For those of us who are truly interested in conservation and spreading the message about sharks and other threatened or vulnerable marine species, we use this opportunity to spend time with ecotourists, telling them all about the research and conservation work that the Fair Trade and Tourism registered companies (Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises, International Marine Volunteers) are doing together with the Dyer Island Trust. If we want we can go on the whale watching or ecotrip vessel and it’s anyone’s guess as to what we might see 🙂 These are very rewarding trips for volunteers who are interested in more than just the shark trips…whales, dolphins, penguins and seals are all very real daily possibilities!

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The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary is just next door to where we live and it is the most amazing thing ever working with penguins! They are endangered and if we stay for a few weeks and volunteer there regularly then our responsibilities grow and we can actually see the birds get fatter, fitter and maybe even be part of the team that gets to release some of them back into the wild – this is the coolest ever opportunity…a really tangible way of knowing that what we are doing is truly making a huge difference to the life of an individual bird! Nothing quite beats seeing a penguin, that you have been helping to rehabilitate, waddling down the beach into the water, suddenly realising it is free to head out into the open sea again!

If there is time before we go to sea, or in the afternoons when we come back, then we participate in various projects, like providing wood to the local community for heating and cooking purposes, or we do beach clean-ups, using a Samil truck to get to really out of the way beaches, which is such a privilege!

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We help out with projects of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, like making fishing line bins to place them along the shoreline for fishermen to throw away their line. We regularly help with emptying these bins and this material, along with the garbage we collect on the beaches, is all weighed and categorised for marine debris monitoring projects. We sometimes help with excursions and marine lessons for the children from the Trust’s environmental education club and we collect old shark eggs for identifying and measuring for a research project.

 

At the end of the day we cook dinner in our communal kitchen, or sometimes grab take-away pizzas and watch the sunset from the rocks, or we book as a big group at a nearby restaurant and try out the local cuisine.

We love the feeling that being part of the team at International Marine Volunteers brings every day! It really is like a family and is heart-breaking for us when we have to leave, but most of us say “We came for the sharks but we will come back for the people”… and we do just that, coming back to volunteer at IMV, time and again!

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Sea Safety

Huddle position in group

Huddle position in group

Volunteers are really important to us and we know they take chances out there on the water. So we felt like we needed to give them a little extra “something” to take with them out on the water.

 

Team Building

Team Building

Don a life jacket

Don a life jacket

 

We started by giving them a safety lecture, which was done by Pieter Du Toit and Klara Munnik. This just gave them more information on where to find the safety equipment on the boat and what to do in case of an emergency. Then we headed to the pool, where Klara did the practical with the volunteers in the. The volunteers learnt how to don a life jacket in a minute’s, what to do in case of a fire, what to do in case of “man overboard” and also what to do when they should abandon ship. Thanks for being a great group of volunteers and we take our hats of to the crew of Sharktasia (the name the volunteers gave the vessel they jumped off of) and Matt Davies, you made a great captain. Who knew safety training could be this fun.

 

Sam swimming in huddle position

Sam swimming in huddle position

Huddle position in group

Huddle position in group

Ina staying in the huddle position

Ina staying in the huddle position

 

Entering the New Year

Christmas CampfireMerry Christmas Marine VolunteersMax & YvonneMassive Female at the boatShark & birdVolunteer Blog 23rd Dec – 5th Jan 2014
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year………..

Now back to the adventure!
Just want to say a big thank you to all the volunteers who have been here over the South African holidays. You really do make a difference to the ease at which we can operate. Lots of mentions in the guest book in the last couple of weeks, you have made a difference in someone’s shark experiences that they will remember for the rest of their lives. You should be proud of yourselves! Well Done!
Slashfin has been using more fuel than usual running three trips a day for the past two weeks. We have been very fortunate seeing 5 – 7 sharks a trip. We do have to remember that Great White Sharks really are seasonal visitors to the Gansbaai area and we are very lucky that we have the chance to see them all year around. This time of year all it takes is one shark to be in a playful mood and the day is a success. A couple of characters in the great white shark world who have been gracing us with their presence recently are Riley (3.7m Male, Satellite Tagged) and Little Roundy (2.8m, Male). Riley is really one of the best sharks on show with nice slow passes right in front of the cage almost rubbing his tummy as he goes by. Also a huge stingray did appear during one of the trips and was actually attempting to grab hold of the bait line right in front of the cage. A few trips due to the low tides meant we did have to launch from Gansbaai harbour but it was a welcome pleasure with some calm mornings making the longer running time really pleasant for everyone. Mother nature really has graced us with beautiful dead flat calm mornings over this busy holiday season.

Whale Whisperer has still been running everyday and whales were seen right up till the New Year. We are coming up to the end of the whale season were the Southern Right Whales migrate back to the sub-Antarctic region for feeding. Still we saw mother’s with their calves and in once we saw a Southern Right mother with two calves. We think she may have adopted this second calve; can you imagine feeding two instead of one? Recently even Bryde’s whales have been seen passing through. Huge schools of birds are massing in certain areas, from Cape Cormorants to Giant Petrels and turns have been impressive out on the water. Last but not least Common Bottlenose Dolphins and Humpback Dolphins have also been entertaining the clients, crew and volunteer’s these last couple of weeks, thanks Mother Nature- you are awesome!!

We have had really good numbers of volunteers over the Christmas and New Year. Thanks for spending this special time of the year with us- your new adopted family. Those who have come and gone over the past couple of weeks a big warm thank Amazing animalsyou and we miss you!!!! Francis Reina (spain), Victoria Andersson (Sweden), Alina Pryazhluna (Russia), Tulin Rumeysa (Turkey), Tatyana Kuprienko (Russia), Denise Fry (US), Joel George (Malaysia). Sheila Kehoe (UK) and Billie Ewing (UK) who visited us for a short week, was great to meet you. Last but not least our local girl Dani Emdin (SA) you have made friends with us all and you are more than welcome back anytime you want look forward to a catch up, see you then.
New arrivals this week we had Brian Stebner (US) and Chris McCormack (AUS) and Rachel Fetherston (Aus) welcome aboard.
Hope everyone had a great and Merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year. Let’s see what the New Year brings and what wonderful things will happen both above and below the water as the journey continues…………..
Written by Sam Hansen and Pictures by Max Aubin

Merry Christmas and a Happy New year

Volunteer Blog 16th – 22nd December 2013

The silly season is upon us…..Christmas……..
Again this week the volunteers have been energetic and kept busy all week, they may be due for a holiday when they get home though.
Slashfin has been back and forth at least twice a day picking up to three trips by the end of the week. The upwelling from the Atlantic Ocean has changed the water temperature to a beautiful refreshing 11.5 degrees at times this week. Seeing from 4 – 9 sharks a trip, slow mornings have built up to more active afternoons. Working in the Dam they have been seeing some entertaining sharks. One newly named Tom Cat (3.3-3.4m) because of the marks on his face and also Little Lumpy (3-3.1m) who has been a hit with the clients and crew. Thanks to Dani Emdin for coming up with the cool name for Tom Cat.
Whale Whisperer has still been running everyday with the Southern Right Whales still hanging around. A few times this week up to 3 pairs of Mother’s and calves have been seen in one trip. Near Pearly Beach one morning a few Calves were displaying their aerial skills in a breaching bonanza in the shallows. Most of the whale sightings have been close encounters with these majestical animals of the sea.
On Monday this week seven new volunteers joined our ranks which was a surprise being so close to Christmas. Victoria Andersson (Sweden), Alina Prazhkina (Russia), Joel George (Malaysia, studying in Australia), Rumeysa Tulin (Turkish), Tatyana Kuprienko (Russia), Denise Fry (USA), Francisco Reina (Spain) welcome aboard team. Monday also sadly saw the departure of Kirsten Rusher from Germany who stayed with us for two weeks. We also lost two other Germans on Friday Lucas Marx (3 weeks) and Lukas Kiemer (extended for almost 2 months) it really was sad to see them leave we had to hold back our tears. Lukas with two other volunteers (Ian and Yeppe) ventured up to Durban and enjoyed the incredible shark diving that this great country has to offer. Congratulations to Lukas as well in completing his PADI Rescue ticket while he was there.
Weather wise we have had quite a nice week, most days you could have lied next to the pool and worked on your tan. On Wednesday this week seven volunteers ventured to Betty’s Bay to see Penguins. It was great to see some really passionate volunteers who wanted to help protect what is left of the penguin population. All worked hard cutting down branches and making bundles that would be placed into the enclosure in due time. Thanks for the hard work guys! Alison Towner (Marine Biologist) gave her lecture on Great White Sharks to the new volunteers on Thursday, which all thoroughly enjoyed. Also a shark egg walk was conducted in the morning with success, and cold ice cream afterwards. Friday afternoon we had a nice relaxing couple of hours down on the beach with a soccer ball and some sun screen. Please visit www.dict.org.za for more on the projects we refer to above.
That really winds up the week; it certainly has been a busy one! Look out for next week’s update as the journey continues for our Volunteers.
Shark and bait

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Goodbye Lukas and Lucas from Germany

when volunteers arrive everyone is unsure of how the personalities will come together but we have been very glad that most of the volunteers becomes a part of the family. Goodbye to all the volunteers that left us in December and hope we will see you soon. Here are some pictures of Lukas and Lucas of Germany on their last evening, having a party with the crew. Having a beer or a coupleJonathan and Lukas braaing

Summer Volunteers

Max helping out before getting in the cage

Max helping out before getting in the cage

Volunteer Blog 9th – 15th December

A week before Christmas……..as a volunteer
As we are finding ourselves another week closer to Christmas the team has had a very adventurous and fun filled week.
Slashfin has been running mostly two trips a day seeing from 5 – 10 sharks each time. One of the satellite tagged sharks Mooreen (about 4.6m in length) has been gracing us with her presence occasionally, she is impressive with the lower half of her tail missing hasn’t slowed her down at all. Whale Whisper has been running one trip a day as we are nearing the end of the whale season. Still seeing Southern Wright Whales and a couple of times this week the Marine Big 5 have been seen in just a couple of hours. Bottlenose and Humpback dolphins have been seen quite regularly, hopefully this continues into the New Year.
An old familiar face greeted us on Monday, Daniel Poulsen from Denmark graced us with his presence returning after first arriving in late August. It seems to be coming more of a trend volunteers returning, must be the Gansbaai hook that is set. Unfortunately a man that everyone now misses Mike Johansson did leave us on Monday after a month’s journey with us. Pinni Schesinger from Israel arrived on Tuesday for a week’s stay with us taking the total number to 11. This then dropped to 10 on Saturday when Christina Schrotzhammer left after being involved with the program for three weeks.
The weather has been nice this week, still waiting for the real summer to kick in but most of us at some stage this week did get burnt. The boats did run everyday but we did manage to find some spare time. On Wednesday we ventured down to Betty’s Bay to see the Penguins. Seven volunteers helped out within the enclosure moving and placing branches to help build new nests and protection for the poor little guys. All the Penguins are now in their 21 day malting stage so there are feathers everywhere at the moment. Penguins from other colonies are all hanging out at Betty’s Bay during this stage so the numbers there at the moment have increased a lot. A Shark Egg walk this week at Frankskraal we found about 30 washed up eggs, mainly Dark Shy Shark. Yvonne was a natural shark egg hunter finding egg after egg which made Dani very very unhappy, but all had a good time. We were lucky enough on Friday to go snorkelling at a secret little spot at De Kelders. Good visibility and conditions meant we were able to find a few small shy sharks hiding among the kelp. The water temperature being around 14 degrees means the wetsuits came in really handy. On Saturday a few of us in the afternoon ventured on a small hike at Danger Point where there weren’t too many beach goers so that the exploring could begin.
It has been a fun and exciting week and everyone is still smiling at the end of it, now bring on next week and let the journey continue.

Dani also getting ready for the dive

Dani also getting ready for the dive

Brave souls

Brave souls

What an amazing animal

What an amazing animal

Dan showing off his muscles to the penguins

Dan showing off his muscles to the penguins

What a signt

What a sight

New volunteer house

Birkenhead HouseWe have just moved into our pride and joy of facilities, The Birkenhead Lodge. This lodge is equipped with 4 chalets that house between 4 and 6 persons per chalet, with own bathroom, kitchen and living areas as well as daily living essentials. The main house will be occupied with volunteer coordinators and a full time janitor so all the needs of the grounds are met. There is also a very spacious living area in the main hall with a pool table as some entertainment and a cash bar, communal indoor braai and kitchen area that can be used. The facility has a big and safe swimming pool and garden. Walking to the office is easy, quick and safe and will only take between 10 and 15min (1.2km). We also have a volunteer bus that is equipped with all the safety permits and regulations and is used daily for the volunteers needs.

Key things about the lodge

– Expect to share
– Fully furnished
– Satellite TV
– a whole lot of channels
– DVD player
– Wireless internet (remember to bring laptop or phones)
– Emergency numbers are in the house
– Sheets are provided and washed regularly
– Maintenance kept weekly
– Heating in the rooms and living area
– 3 Bicycles for personal use
– Keep your personal belongings safe (we have a safe at the office should you need)
– The water is safe to drink

Birkenhead house

Birkenhead House