Shark tagging expedition

During the first two days we have successfully tagged and released 9 sevengill sharks. Their size ranged from 1.6 to 1.9m. Then on the third day we sailed up to Saldanha Bay, a sheltered and protected lagoon where we found large female sevengill sharks, the biggest one of which was 2.5m long! In total we managed to tag 15 sevengills, all of them were released safely and swam away unharmed. The expedition has totally exceeded our expectations and we couldn’t have asked for better conditions and luck.

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All of the sharks swam away unharmed, but will now contribute vital data to conservation. Photo: Dimitry Sharomov

 

We all got to experience what it takes to handle a shark. Your own safety comes first, but safety of the shark is a close second. These sharks are quite strong and powerful, and can inflict painful bites if handled inappropriately. Everything went smoothly however and nobody got hurt.

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Releasing the largest sevengill female (2.5m) Photo: Dimitry Sharomov

The tagging procedure:

Shark’s health is always monitored and a constant flow of sea water over its gills is kept. A small incision is made in its abdomen and an acoustic tag is placed internally, the surgery is finished by putting on a few stitches and covering the incision with antibacterial gel. Then a small fin clip for genetic studies is cut. All the necessary measurements are taken. Samples of blood and muscle biopsy are collected. These will help with analysis of hormones and stable isotopes. Finally, a PIT tag is placed under its skin. This microchip is similar to what you put on your pets to identify them. In future, in case of recapturing the same shark, this tag will instantly inform the researchers that the shark already has an acoustic tag inserted.

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Here I am taking a small muscle biopsy for analysis of stable isotopes. Photo: Dimitry Sharomov. 

The shark is now ready to be released back into the water and we all watch as it swims away.

Well done team!

Thanks to the Shark Spotters, Dr Alison Kock, Two Oceans Aquarium and Mike Horn for this incredible opportunity.

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Visit to the Shark Spotters

It is 5 a.m. and I am up. There is food to prepare, bathrooms to clean and deck to scrub. We all share the duties though and each day we do something different.

The plan is to leave the boat early and head off to Fish Hoek.

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town

Cape Town Marina, V&A Waterfront

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town. False Bay.

Sarah Titley from Shark Spotters explaining how the shark exclusion barrier at Fish Hoek works

Fish Hoek used to be regarded as one of the most dangerous beaches in the world. Some serious shark attacks caused fear among the local community. But since 2004 an NGO that uses pro-active methods of minimising the shark-human conflicts operates in the area.

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town. False Bay.

A shark spotter’s observation point above the Muizenberg beach

Shark Spotters have a trained and dedicated team and keep a constant lookout on some of the local beaches. They use a series of huts in the mountains to look out for sharks that pose a potential threat. If such a shark is swimming towards a beach they will evacuate everyone. Up until now they have recorded 2020 sightings of great whites, but evacuated the beach only half of the times.

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town. False Bay.

Inside the Shark Spotters office, Muizenberg beach

Shark project in South Africa in Cape Town. False Bay.

A white shark can  often mistakenly take a surfer for a seal

 

What is so great about the Shark Spotters?

I think that the simplicity and the effectiveness of their approach. Many countries invest huge amount of money testing complicated technologies that often do not work at all. And it turns out that simple and relatively cheap can be very effective.

What is  Shark Spotter equipped with?

Polarised sunglasses with a yellow filter, binoculars, an in depth knowledge and a lot of patience. The spotters are also thoroughly trained in first aid response.

What is special about the shark barrier they deploy?

Each day, early in the morning, the Shark Spotters set up a shark exclusion barrier at Fish Hoek beach. It is different from the traditional shark nets and is much more environmentally friendly. It is a unique system that proved to be very effective and at the same time kind to the wildlife. It is the only such system in the world that is set up and removed on a daily basis. This means that in the daytime, when beach goers visit Fish Hoek, they have a safe area to swim, completely isolated from the rest of the bay. In the evening Shark Spotters take the barrier away. This minimises the risk of entanglement of animals during the night, when nobody monitors the beach.

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Pole to Pole Shark Project, South Africa

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I am very pleased that magazine Poznaj Swiat has offered its media patronage for my trip to South Africa for the Shark Project, the first socio-environmental project of the Pole to Pole expedition. Aboard Mike Horn’s Mercedes Benz sponsored sailing vessel PANGAEA we will be tagging sevengill sharks and contributing to the research on these poorly understood animals. Together with a team of dedicated shark biologists from Sharkspotters we will insert acoustic tags that will help reveal migration patterns of these sharks. Read more on http://www.mikehorn.com/shark-study/

Z radością informuję, że magazyn Poznaj Świat objął moją wyprawę do RPA patronatem medialnym. Na ich stronie i w magazynie będziecie mogli przeczytać o moich wrażeniach z pracy z rekinami.

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Więcej informacji znajdziecie tutaj.

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Expedition aims to uncover sevengill shark mysteries

Leaving in just 6 hours! Stay tuned and follow this amazing expedition.

Shark Devocean

The coastal cowsharks of South Africa are about to receive dedicated research that aims to shed light on their enigmatic ecology. 

Guest blogger: Zofia Drapella

broadnose-sevengill-shark-portrait The broadnose sevengill shark is a member of the cowshark family, Hexanchiformes.

I am currently on my way to the shark capital of the world – South Africa’s Western Cape – to swim among some of the ocean’s largest predators. The Shark Project, the first of several socio-environmental projects that form part of Mike Horn’s Pole to Pole 360 expedition, aims to raise the profile of the human threat against sharks, and show that sharks themselves are more misunderstood than malevolent. With a group of dedicated divers from around the world, we will assist with pioneering shark research and attempt to banish the “maneater” myth.

pole-to-pole-360 With the support of Mercedes Benz, Mike Horn introduces an expedition worthy of the 21st century. Pole to Pole 360 will…

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shark tales #1: who is the real victim?

In less than a month Shruthi and I will join Mike Horn aboard S/Y PANGAEA for a Shark Project. We are hoping to break the stereotypes associated with the bad image sharks get in our media and make you believe they are truly incredible animals. Here is an excellent blog post written by Shruthi about how media tend to value sensationalism over facts. And the facts and statistics show you that sharks are not the mindless killing machines many people perceive them to be.

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“why on earth would you swim with sharks?”

“do you have life insurance?”

“you’re nuts!”

“how on earth can you let your daughter do such a thing?”

Sharks after all are pretty dangerous creatures. From their multiple rows of sharp teeth, agile bodies that slice through the water to their extraordinary sense of smell – especially of blood! The latest Hollywood movie, ‘The Shallows’ seems to have captured these attributes pretty well. It follows the story of a stranded surfer, trying to survive a great white attack, and fortunately murdering the shark in the final moments before it attacks her. Phew.

We’ve all heard the stories. A shark attack story rarely misses our headlines and a quick google of ‘shark films’ shows us a great variety of horrors and thrillers to help us better experience and understand the terror these creatures bring about. 

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Maybe it is a good thing after…

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World Turtle Day!

So apparently it is world turtle day today and I couldn’t resist to write a short post about marine turtles. They hold a very special place in my heart. One time when I had a chance to witness the turtles nesting and tiny juveniles hatching I couldn’t contain my emotions and simply burst into tears, amazed by the beauty of our planet.

There are seven species of sea turtles and six of those are threatened or endangered.

The threats to the turtles include:   bycatch (accidental capture and entanglement in fishing gear) the loss of nesting and feeding sites to coastal development, poaching, and pollution including plastic.

DSC_0116.JPGThe Watamu Turtle Watch is not obly a rehabilitation centre, but also a community hub and a place that helps  educates the public. Outreach and education are crucial in conservation.

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At a turtle rehabilitation centre it is crucial to take regular measurements of the turtles to see whether their weight is correct. 

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I still cannot help but look at the dangling gear, we were freshly qualified, but still, it is so embarassing! But instead of photoshoping in out, let’s understand why divers should never have anthing dangling, otherwise it can easily destroy the delicate elements of the coral reef. 

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This was definitely the biggest and heaviest turtle.

 

ascention turtleAt Ascension Island in the middle of the Atlantic I had the opportunity to witness green turtles nesting. Together with a marine biologist Daniel Moore, we went to the Long Beach and saw over 30 female turtles emerge from the water that night to lay eggs. We were equipped in red headlamps, which do not disturb the turtles. Once the female find its preferred spot (it cannot have any trash of light pollution) it digs a hole and starts laying eggs. It then enters a trans and you can even take flash photography, since the turtles won’t be disturbed at that stage (though I still only took two photos).

 

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This was easily one of the most memorable nights of my life. 

There are many incredibly dedicated and hard working people who want to protect sea turtles.

Some of those I had a chance to meet and if you want to learn more, here are the links to the projects they set up:

http://www.watamuturtles.com

http://www.cairnsturtlerehab.org.au/

http://www.ascension-island.gov.ac/government/conservation/our-species/marine-turtles/

 

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The journey to the deepest part of the ocean

Making the nearly 11-kilometer descent to the deepest place on Earth, exploring the ocean floor, conducting scientific experiments, collecting samples, and returning safely to the surface requires a very sophisticated craft. It needs to be capable of withstanding tremendous pressures, if it is to explore the place less understood than the farthest reaches of space.

In 2012 James Cameron, in a sub like no other, conducted a dive to the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench. Unfortunately I was one of the last people to see the sub, prior to its damage in a fire during transportation. I was so incredibly impressed to see the vessel, investigate it and realize how small the sphere where the pilot sits is. I did not want to leave the place and asked the scientists thousands of questions. Here I was, touching something that reminded me of how amazing humanity can be, of how we can use technology, our ingenuity and hard work to explore, learn and act. I felt shivers down my spine. Maybe, one day, a woman will also dive to the deepest part of the ocean, I thought.

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Standing next to the submersible DEEPSEA CHALLENGER

This journey has only once been made prior to Cameron’s dive, by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh. On 23 January 1960, the bathyscaphe Trieste reached the ocean floor in the Challenger Deep (the deepest southern part of the Mariana Trench). This was the first time a vessel, manned or unmanned, had reached the deepest known point of the Earth’s oceans. The two pioneers spent about 20 minutes on the ocean floor, but unfortunately the landing caused stirring up of the sediments and for the entire time the clouds of silt were everything that could be seen from the portholes.

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Marine Education -Giving back to my community

Everyone makes New Year resolutions. I wanted to make an ‘End of the Year resolution’ and actually do it, with the quickly approaching deadline as a motivation. I have set up to visit at least one of all the types of schools in a Polish education system, to talk about the oceans and share with the students some of what I have learned at the University. I managed to visit a pre-school, primary school, a ‘gymnasium’ (secondary school) and a high school. It was an intense, but also a very gratifying experience. I had to adjust the content and plan each lesson individually, to account for different age groups. I borrowed some interesting marine specimens and carried all of them across the city, going from school to school. People did actually look at me funny on the bus when I came in with a massive giant clam shell or something equally weird and heavy.

I went to the British International School in Gdansk and run an art workshop where we created ‘Oceans in Jars’. After a brief talk and an introduction to what marine biology is and why divers are so useful in exploring the oceans, each kid created their own jar by putting sand, stones, shells and sand dollars into it. They made little starfish from clay and stuck them on the inner side of of the glass. Then there were foam fish and even spring onion kelp! Sourcing all the necessary stuff the night before and travelling with 16 large glass jars without a car was a challenge, but it surely was an awesome day.

The lessons in a secondary school and the No 1 High School in Gdansk were  structured more like lectures, but I did once again bring all the shells and corals to show what sort of creatures live on the coral reefs. I also talked about ocean exploration, the deep-seas and the bioluminescence. Everyone asked so many questions that I guess I haven’t bored them to death. If I inspired at least one person to read more about the oceans, go out and explore and perhaps even consider a career of a marine scientist – it surely has been a huge success.

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Teaching Marine Biology in a primary school in Gdansk, Poland.

Today I had two lessons in a primary school with children aged 10-12. The first one was about coral reefs and the second one about exploration of the deep sea. I brought a compass with me and let the children decide where we go first. They had a choice of what we talked about and I was happy to let them decide where the lesson goes. They were indeed very interested and asked many questions.

I managed to borrow several beautiful specimens of shells and corals and show them to the children. Although we live by the Baltic sea, the kids have little knowledge of what wonders lie beneath the waves of the world’s oceans. Maybe one kid has seen a coral reef before, that’s all!

We embarked on a journey of imagination that took us far across the seas and into the deepest parts of the ocean. We learned about different ecosystems, from tropical reefs to polar regions and even hydrothermal vents in the deep-sea.

*No pics of children, since I had no time to ask their parents for permission. Believe me, they were there🙂

I genuinely love doing this and enjoy sharing my knowledge about oceans with the next generation. Hopefully my passion will infect some of them and they will care for the oceans as much as I do!

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Summer Schools at the National Oceanography Centre

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These past few weeks have been very intense. I like living life intensely, even if it is at a cost of sleep. I have been involved with three Summer Schools at the National Oceanography Centre UK once again. For the first school we had 30 young (15-16 years old) girls and we wanted to inspire them to pursue STEM related higher education. Basically it was about having more females going for careers in engineering, technology and science.

The second Summer School was run by the EDT (Engineering development Trust) and offered a Headstart course for future university applicants. Our job as Science Staff was to demonstrate to and teach 60 teenagers about marine biology and oceanography. We got out on the R/V Callista and did some sampling in the local river Itchen Estuary and the Solent. We looked at the benthic and plankton communities and investigated with use of microscopes.

The third Summer School was sponsored by the BG and involved 120 young adults. We as the Science Staff were once again demonstrating, giving tours and lectures on both the research vessel and on the shore. I had a great time talking about the deep sea and bioluminescence, about applications of marine biology in biomedical science and giving tours around the aquarium. The students seemed to enjoy the schools as well and at the end of each one they presented their findings to an audience of peers, parents and teachers.

This is a very rewarding job and it makes me happy to hear that I have inspired a few teenagers to pursue ocean-related careers.

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summer schools staff

sfaff barAnd the final staff photo. We have survived the marathon of long days at work and what is more – we all enjoyed it!

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