Tag Archives: great white sharks

Tracking a Great White Shark

Tracking a Great White Shark
by Halle Gray Carlson, International Marine Volunteer

A few of us from the International Marine Volunteer team were recently given the opportunity to join the Dyer Island Conservation Trust team on Lwazi to tag and track a Great White Shark! We launched early in the morning and began looking for a good shark to tag. After about an hour at sea a large male was tagged as it calmly swam past the boat. Once the tag was on, the tracking portion of the trip began.

Gray and Henrik attracting the shark                    [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

The great white shark swimming serenely by             [Photo credit: Halle Gray Carson]

To track a shark using acoustic tags, you stick a hydrophone (underwater microphone) in the water and listen for a “ping” sound from a connected transmitter. If you are close to the shark, the ping is loud and very clear. However, if the shark begins to swim away, it’s harder to hear the ping.

Alison tracking and Gray in charge of data recording                  [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

Alison Towner, the biologist on board, let us all take a turn at using the hydrophone to track our shark (which was later named Brian, after one of my co-volunteers). I was kind of nervous to try it at first because I didn’t want to be the one to lose the shark, but Alison was super helpful and told us exactly what to do. Basically, you want to point the hydrophone in the direction of the shark while following the sound of the pings. Every 60 seconds, another person records GPS coordinates, water temperature and depth of the animal.

Henrik and Brian using the hydrophone and collecting data

Over the course of 2 hours, we found that Brian made a tour of the shallows and stopped at a couple of cage diving boats. It was cool to be able to see what a great white shark does during a typical day, and hopefully we’ll get to go out on Lwazi again soon so that we can see what he’s up to now!

Further Comment by Alison Towner, Dyer Island Conservation Trust marine biologist:

This aspect of white shark research for me in the most fascinating. Many may find active tracking tedious as it involves extensive hours at sea, essentially puttering around after a ping…however ultimately that ping represents an acoustic signal on one of the oceans top predators. It never gets old homing in on our shark and then tracking its movements. It is almost as if we are in the mind of the shark as it goes about its daily thing which is fascinating to me. Whether the shark we track is foraging for a seal for breakfast at Dyer Island or cruising the beautiful stretch of beach inshore near Kleinbaai, we are literally entering the sharks’ world every time we track. Each individual has its own personality and hunting behaviour. That sort of research experience really allows you to get an understanding of this species and beats any day stuck behind a computer crunching numbers!

Alison training Gray on how to use the tracking equipment              [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

I particularly enjoy it when the volunteers, after training with me, start to get confident on the tracking machine. Every time we take new volunteers out there, at first they are a little nervous of losing the shark but after some hours we are able to teach them how to ‘listen’ to where the shark is. It involves real team work, co-ordination and focus. While one person takes data another watches the time and scribes data. At the end of a track, with hours of data having been collected, heading back into the sunset while leaving the shark to carry on in its world, I often turn and look at the vols faces. I don’t need to say a thing, their expressions are of sheer accomplishment and satisfaction – because we just spend hours in the natural daily life of the great white shark and what an exclusive privilege that is!

Tagging a Great White Shark!

One of the most rewarding things for us at International Marine Volunteers is when volunteers come back to join us, time and again.  Brian Whyte, from Ontario, is one such returning volunteer, he first joined us last year for 2 weeks and booked again this year for three weeks with us, extending by another week once he got here!

Working in the culinary trade back home in his normal daily life, Brian is actually qualified with an Hons in Biology.  When he joins us here in South Africa he helps wherever and whenever he can with boat operations, data collection and ecotourism activities.  He is a senior volunteer, happily taking on added responsibility, and assists by giving boat briefings and taking care of some communication and security. He is one of the most helpful, capable and affable volunteers we have ever had!

Brian was lucky enough to be invited to join one of our tagging trips recently and he had the following to say about it:

The other day at International Marine Volunteers I was fortunate enough to be one of four volunteers to go on our research vessel, Lwazi, on a shark tagging trip. Lwazi is a small vessel, roughly 8 meters long, with low gunnels. While this makes tagging easier, it also means that the boat is very weather dependent. Large swells and strong winds don’t make skipping Lwazi easy, which meant it was beautiful day on the water when we launched!

Brian and one of co-volunteers chumming to attract a great white shark for tagging                            [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

The other volunteers and I were joined by skipper Dickie Chivell and marine biologist and Ph.D candidate Alison Towner, who is researching the relationship of cage diving and great white shark behaviour in the area. After heading out of the harbour for about 15 minutes, we anchored and began chumming the water to attract a shark to tag. Tagging proved to be a somewhat tricky process as there are a few things to take into account when placing the tag.

The shark needs to be very close to the boat when tagging to ensure proper placement. While a correctly placed tag won’t do any harm to the shark, if the tag were to be misapplied the shark could be injured. Also, the tags are an expensive piece of equipment and if not deployed properly it could mean they would fall off the shark and are lost. Taking this into account, skipper Dickie held the tagging pole over the side of the boat waiting for a shark to get close, while us volunteers shark-spotted and continued chumming.

Dickie Chivell successfully placing a tag into the shark      [Photo credit: Harry Stone]

After some anxious close passes, patience paid off when a 3.8 meter male with a sickle-shaped dorsal fin appeared. He approached the back of the boat and swam to the port side, right underneath the tagging pole. One quick motion and a split second later – the shark was tagged perfectly and was ready to be tracked!

I have volunteered for nearly two months with Marine Dynamics and the tagging and tracking trip was far and away one of my favourite days! It was an amazing time being on the research boat, collecting scientific data that will be used to help uncover some of the mysteries of the great white shark. Being able to contribute to this important conservation project was an experience that I won’t soon forget.

We are really looking forward to having Brian join the IMV team again – there are just a handful of volunteers of his calibre, so it’s no wonder the research team named the tagged shark after him!  Here’s wishing both Brians happy, safe travels, wherever they may go 🙂

Watch this space for part 2 of the tagging excursion…

Meredith Thornton (IMV Manager)

Marine Volunteering: Reaping the Rewards

At International Marine Volunteers (IMV) we have been fortunate enough to spend several months over the last couple of years living and working alongside Angus Ellsmore.  His enthusiasm, energy, dedication and willingness to assist wherever he can, are infectious.  He is a prime example of how spending long periods volunteering and proving your mettle reap in the rewards.  Angus is responsible and hard-working and he quickly became a senior volunteer, even helping with security, training and giving presentations to his newly-arrived teammates.  We suggest spending a minimum of a month with the programme, but highly recommend joining us for several months in order to gain the best possible experience.  As with all aspects of life – the more you put in the, the more you are likely to get out!

Angus shared with us some of his experiences and feelings from his time at IMV:

My name is Angus Ellsmore, I’m from a town called Picton in the state of New South Wales, Australia. I first did the International Marine Volunteer programme in the months of September, October and November, 2015 and then came back in June, July, August 2016 because I loved it so much! I wanted to do this programme because I was always fascinated about the great white shark and I wanted to see one up close in real life. I loved everything about the programme, working on the beautiful Western Cape of South Africa with the Marine Big 5 and making friends all around the world that I still catch up with today. When I came to Marine Dynamics, I learnt so much more about the great white shark!  The marine biologists and all the staff were amazing with how much knowledge they have about the great white shark and most importantly how we need to protect them as they play a major role within the ecosystem for other life in the ocean.

The experiences I had working with the marine volunteer programme are something that will stay with me forever. Not many people in the world could say they get up in the morning to dive with great white sharks or see southern right whales migrating up the coastline, it is truly breathtaking! I was truly thankful when I got to work on the research boat with the wonderful marine biologists to do acoustic tagging of great white sharks and I even worked with film crews from Discovery Channel that were filming Shark Week. These opportunities were offered to me because I was there for several months.

Some of my favourite moments in Gansbaai, South Africa were when I was lucky enough to see orcas passing Dyer Island and when I was working on the boat with Discovery Channel we decided to do to a breaching tour as it was late afternoon and prime condition for a good breaching of a great white to happen, we set up the seal decoy and our positions on the boats with our cameras, I was so excited when the shark breached with the sunset and Danger Point lighthouse in the background, it was just so majestic to see. Diving with great white sharks is something I’ll always love, my favourite day was when I dived with my friend Ben from USA and the visibility was crystal clear that we could see the bottom of the ocean and the sharks swimming on the sea floor and then they would come up to the surface and swim peacefully right in front of us, it was a fantastic experience. Last but not least, the friendships forged with people from the company from South Africa and the volunteers who joined us from all around the world.

Doing the International Marine Volunteer programme has been the best experience of my life! To anyone out there around the world that is interested in travelling, loves sharks or any marine life and wants to have the time of their life, then I highly recommend this programme with Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises and the Dyer Island Conservation Trust because “Life is adventure to be lived, not a problem to be solved”.

 Meredith Thornton, IMV Manager

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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International Marine Volunteers’ first father-daughter team has a blast with great white sharks!

We were very excited when Craig and Kate Cameron signed up for 5 weeks as volunteers with International Marine Volunteers, assisting Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises, the Dyer Island Conservation Trust and the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary.  They were our first father-daughter team and they had a wonderful experience together!

Kate said, “I am very excited to be involved with Marine Dynamics as a volunteer. It has been a dream of mine for a while to spend some time learning more about white sharks in South Africa. It was even more incredible to be able to spend time here with my father for Father’s Day. He was very excited to come and see the sharks and the whales. There is truly no better way to spend my time off than with my dad living a dream with International Marine Volunteers!”

Besides for the time helping and educating tourists and cage-diving aboard the amazing vessel, Slashfin, Kate also teamed up with some of the Dyer Island Conservation Trust staff on a couple of occasions to assist with their environmental education programme.  Kate lent her own special brand of energy and way of interacting with the young learners and they just loved her to bits!  This truly is a talent of hers 🙂

Whilst here they also volunteered at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary, Birkenhead Animal Rescue Center, participated in beach clean-ups, made fishing line bins and visited the penguin colony at Stony Point to name but a few of the many activities.

Craig and Kate Cameron

Craig told us that, “For at least three years, my daughter Kate said that she’d like to go to South Africa to see the breaching Great White Sharks.  We started planning the trip for a week or two until we found the volunteer program with Marine Dynamics…I couldn’t ask for a better memory than to spend this amazing time here with her.  I’m thoroughly enjoying the water, the volunteers and of course the sharks.  Kate is even more thrilled with the sharks and her new friends in the group of volunteers.”

 

Craig was a wonderful team member – he was just so comfortable in his own space and a real pleasure to be around. He put all the youngsters to shame by staying fit and running regularly to Danger Point lighthouse and back! Whales have a special place in his heart and he thoroughly enjoyed spending time aboard Dream Catcher, our whale watching and eco-tour vessel.

It was lots of fun and a real privilege to have both Craig and Kate at IMV, and we are looking forward to having them return again soon!

This just goes to show that volunteering is not only for young adults having a vacation or gap year, but for people of all ages – it is a really healthy, fun-filled family activity too!  We even have someone joining us who is in their 70’s a little later this year…volunteering is for everyone – you just have to be flexible, easy-going and ready for adventure!

Keen to join us too?  Just drop us a line at volunteers@sharkwatchsa.com and we will send you all the information that you need.

Meredith Thornton

IMV Manager

Breaching Trip

Getting up this morning was no problem for the volunteers. They boarded Slashfin at 07:15 with smiles on their faces. Who wouldn’t smile if you were going on a breaching trip, I mean what is better than “flying” sharks. Leaving the harbour the volunteers got to see a proper South African sunrise, and I think it’s safe to say that the African sky is beyond compare.

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Approaching Geyser Rock we threw our decoy line into the water and slowly started towing the decoy behind Slashfin. We patiently waited for our first shark, when all of a sudden a Great White flew up into the sky. This was the perfect way of showing the volunteers how strong and fast these sharks are. We headed back towards the harbour with volunteers still in awe. Just a perfect start to shark filled day.

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