Tag Archives: marine biology

Busy times at International Marine Volunteers!

It’s only Wednesday and we have already accomplished and learnt so much in the last three days!

Eight trips on board beautiful Slashfin, seeing lots of copper sharks, or bronze whalers, as they are also known, plus seven trips on Dream Catcher, the whale watching and ecotour vessel that offers an amazing Marine Big 5™ experience…busybusy volunteers helping with every aspect of the operations!

The saddest part of the week so far?

Hearing about a great white shark that had been caught by a fisherman and died.

The most enlightening part of the week so far?

Having the unique opportunity to work alongside the Dyer Island Conservation Trust’s very knowledgeable marine biologists, participating in the measuring, dissection and sampling of this shark.

Quentin inspecting the great white shark during the dissection  [Photo credit: Marié Botha]

The most gross…

Helping to collect a rotting whale skull that has been lying around on a deserted section of coast for months.  Thank goodness for washing machines and fresh clothes in the cupboard!

Jan, Quentin, Kyle and Erik getting down and dirty with a rotten whale head! [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

The most amazing…

Seeing the complete skull and vertebral column of a tiny dolphin calf inside the stomach of the great white shark!  Sad and exciting all at the same time.

The most exciting…

3-4 m viz and bronzies all around, plus 5 southern right whale cow-calf pairs in the bay!

Lovely viz and beautiful bronzies  [Photo credit: Shaun van Tonder]

Besides for the work we also celebrated Chai’s birthday and had a braai (barbeque) outside in the lovely warm summer weather.  Only a month to go until Christmas…our sleepy coastal village is filling up with people on vacation and we can feel the holiday spirit in the air!

Chill time at the end of another busy day…a welcoming braai for the incoming volunteers [Photo credit: Hennie Odendal]

Meredith Thornton, IMV Manager

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)

Primo Visit

International Marine Volunteers – Centro Studi Di Squali
by Karim Mostafa

Being a volunteer with International Marine Volunteers, is not only a great opportunity to be out in the field with marine life, but also an excellent way to be part of marine biological research. The volunteer programme has two sides of it, the one is the tourism aspect where we take different clients from all over the world for a thrilling shark cage diving experience, making it a memorable day and educating them on the misinterpretation of these majestic creatures. The other aspect is the work with the marine biologists with their studies and research in protecting these sharks assisting with their data collection, and even a lucky few with tagging a Great White Shark!
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Additionally, volunteers this week had an exciting opportunity to work directly with the Centro Studi Di Squali (Research Shark Centre) from Italy leaded by Dr. Primo Micarelli, and his team of 20 students. Our International Marine Volunteers, were able to join them on their research trips, with marine Dynamics, and assisted them with their data collection on Great White Sharks. Studying the behaviour and the numbers of Great White Sharks that pass within the area, they saw 45 different great white sharks, 20 fewer than what they saw at the same time last year.
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It was an enriching experience to interact and learn directly from Dr. Primo, appreciating the time to identify each unique marks and scars on these sharks, compared with their previous visits and observing how the wounds had healed and how the sharks were larger in size. This research expedition also gave the opportunity for our marine biologists to add some new sharks onto the Fin Database that allows us to identify the different sharks that we see in the bay.

From International Marine Volunteers, a big thank you to Dr. Primo and his team from Centro Studi Di Squali, for their allowing us to be part of their study and research. We look forward to their return in September!

What a great week to be an International Marine Volunteer with Marine Dynamics!
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