Tag Archives: Marine Dynamics

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

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

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)

Exclusive Shark Cage-Diving Treat for our Volunteers

Every now and again, when the time allows, we are able to fit in a fully exclusive cage-diving trip for our hard-working volunteers.  It is usually very early in the morning, which adds to all the excitement.  Wetsuits, booties and towels were all prepared the night before and the passenger list for the boat was compiled in readiness for the next day.  Early the next morning a group of yawning, sleepy faces all piled into the minibus and headed down to the harbour for a beautiful sunrise and a fun time out on the water!

Our volunteers have coordinators with them from early morning until night-time, so we usually make sure that they all go aboard together.  It is an amazing experience for everyone!  Instead of their usual task of educating and taking care of ecotourism clients, the crew and volunteers get to just relaaaax and fully enjoy the cage-diving experience.  

There is a lot of fun, laughter and joking around, and a really good vibe on board Slashfin, the Marine Dynamics’ vessel.  Our volunteers all get rewarded with some well-deserved time off doing exactly what they are deeply passionate about!

Gray helping one of her teammates out with a nice dry towel


The volunteers said that they found the whole experience really good for bonding with their teammates, coordinators and the boat crew.

Staff and volunteers working together as a team

Volunteers helping to retrieve and stow the anchor away

This time around they were really lucky and got some fantastic great white shark sightings and were able to spend a long time in the cage.  They said that they enjoyed the fact that they knew everyone diving in the cage alongside them, so they felt comfortable and could chat and joke with one another at will.

Ettiene Roets, one of our volunteer coordinators, said that exclusive volunteer dives are “a nice bonding experience for both coordinators and volunteers alike…the exclusives are uniquely fun trips, almost like playing at work”.

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 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 brighten up the local playground on Mandela Day

The 18th of July was Nelson Mandela International Day.  The United Nations General Assembly launched this day in order to recognise Madiba’s birthday and to honour his life and his work as a servant leader.

Those of you who have participated in the International Marine Volunteer programme will know that marine volunteering is not just about assisting on the vessels and helping with the conservation projects that we run, but we also try our best to become involved in community projects wherever we can.  Last year we spent half a day assisting the staff at BARC, our local animal rescue center, so this year we decided to do something for the children of the community.  We partnered with our colleagues at the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, Marine Dynamics, Dyer Island Cruises and the Great White House and headed down to the Masakhane playground.

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The equipment was looking dull and dreary and there was lots of rubbish lying around, so we donned our old clothes and got to work!  We sanded and painted, constructed swings and put up climbing ropes.  Those people who weren’t keen on getting too messy helped by picking up rubbish, and more importantly collecting little bits of broken glass that can harm little feet.

Luckily the weather was very much in our favour – we had hot sun and a moderate breeze to help the paint to dry…so by the time that school came out a lovely surprise was waiting for the children! We will be keeping an eye on the playground and will touch up the paint and tidy things up whenever we can.

To learn more visit: http://www.mandeladay.com/

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

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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Mandela Day

Mandela Day was a day spent with children, the elderly and the less fortunate. A day we just had to take 67 minutes of our time and give back to the world, but the International Marine Volunteers gave an entire day, from collecting clothes to gathering fire wood.

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After having their coffee the volunteers started gathering wood and sorting the clothes they have collected.

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They then headed towards Blompark, to pay the elderly and the kids a visit. To the elderly the volunteers placed blankets on their beds and donated food they collected. For the kids it was socks, hats, clothes, gloves and of course crayons to make life just a little bit more colourful. Then the volunteers loaded a trailer with wood to give the community a way to cook their food and warm their homes.

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This would never have been possible if it wasn’t for the Dyer Island Conservation Trust, Dyer Island Cruises and Marine Dynamics. Together we all made a difference in many lives of the community, by just adding a little bit of colour and warmth.

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