Tag Archives: volunteering

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

Kayleigh’s Story

The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary

Nearly a year ago to the day, I arrived in Gansbaai South Africa. For the next 5 weeks I was going to be helping out on the Great White Shark cage diving vessel, SlashFin, with Marine Dynamics and International Marine Volunteers. I didn’t know at the time that for the first time ever, the Great White Sharks would disappear for a prolonged period of time and that I would actually end up spending my time at the African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary.

APSS as it is known takes in sick/injured birds and abandoned chicks and helps rehabilitate them back into the wild. (African Penguins are endangered and experts do believe that if nothing is done, they will be extinct in the wild by 2030.) It’s also a really important place to me and helping out there is what started a new found love for penguins and birds, it also made me realise that working with birds is what I wanted to do with my life. A day at APSS would involve cleaning, cutting fish tails and fillets, laundry and feeding. When I returned back to England I continued to volunteer with birds at Birdworld in Farnham, yet really wanted to get more hands on experience back in South Africa… I left my job and returned. Yet this time I wanted to give back to the place that taught me so much, APSS.


I decided I was going to raise money for APSS. I let my work friends decide how I would go about doing this. They decided that I would get blown of the side of a mountain, yes paragliding – I can honestly say now that I will never do this again! The most terrifying part was when the guy told me that if I needed to run to gain air then I would have to run off the side of the mountain! The incline that you are on is enough to terrify anyone that has a fear of heights, no matter how small. All in the name of fundraising.

My target was £300 and as the days and months rolled by the total kept creeping up. I actually managed to triple my target and raise £940!!! Again I would like to thank every single person that donated, plus family and friends. Without their kindness it wouldn’t have been possible! I didn’t do anything really, it was down to everyone else. I was able to give back to the place that changed everything for me and I will be forever grateful.

This is me back in action in Kleinbaai, Gansbaai at a recent penguin release – for more information regarding penguin rehabilitation and conservation visit the Dyer Island Conservation Trust website.

Kayleigh Hawkins
International Marine Volunteer

 

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)

Marine Volunteering is not just about the sea!

Our volunteers recently had the opportunity to help the Tortoise Sanctuary in Gansbaai. This is a non-profit rescue centre and our volunteers worked hard to make sure that all tortoises big and small, will be safe in their new enclosure. They built a new fence for them and once everything was ready they relocated the tortoises and it seems as if they are very happy in their new home!

The sanctuary aims to protect all species of tortoises. They offer permanent sanctuary to abandoned tortoises for the remainder of their lives. Tortoises are one of the oldest reptile species, they even survived the mighty dinosaur era! Just like so many other species, these little guys are also being threatened by human activity. They lose their habitat when we build new roads and other infrastructure, destroy ecosystems for mining and so the list goes on and on. Many tortoises die on our roads, and the illegal animal trade plays a huge role. Tortoises can get very old. The reason they have survived for so long is that they are well-adapted and can eat almost any plants, even poisonous ones. This is how they survive, even in water restricted areas. Tortoises do not have teeth, and they swallow whatever piece of plant they can bite off whole. These funny little creatures, who carry their homes on their backs, are so important for the ecosystem… they eat seeds, flowers, roots and leaves of all sorts of plants, depositing seeds elsewhere in a nice ball of dung, thus helping with seed dispersal and doing their bit to make sure that the different plant species do not end up on the endangered list too.

tortoises

According to the law in our country, no tortoises may be kept as pets, you are not allowed to sell them, and they are also not supposed to be imported or exported. The only time this are allowed is if you have a special permit from your nature conservation department. Next time you see one of these special little guys crossing the road…don’t just feel sorry for it and drive past, stop briefly to pick it up (but don’t lift it more than 20 cm off the ground) and put it on the side of the road where it was heading to in the first place, and wave it goodbye!

Marié Botha and Helena Schoonwinkel (IMV & Tortoise Sanctuary)

 

 

 

Winter is here

The busy season for IMV is here and we are starting it off with 18 volunteers. What more could you ask for? Winter brings bigger sharks, better visibility, some no sea days and great volunteers. Even with the no sea days we are still keeping these guys busy.

14-DSC_1632 03-DSC_1222 Our community projects are on a roll and improving each day, lectures are being held, just to give them that little extra knowledge and some days when they just want to take it easy, wine tasting and some games at the lodge is always great.

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The volunteers have been very lucky lately, going on their very own Exclusive trips, with Marine Dynamics Shark cage diving. Still a couple cold months ahead, but we are looking forward to spending it with these amazing people.

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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