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Marine Life & Conservation

First Encounter with Humpback Whales

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Photos by Chris Fallows

I couldn’t believe my ears as I heard my crew mate Owen whisper to the skipper in his quiet South African accent “See there. Humpback whales. Two of them.”  I had always dreamed of seeing a humpback whale. That there might be one whale let alone two made my heart skip a beat as I scanned the horizon and located the mist from their blows in the distance. Was this really happening to me? The afternoon had already been perfect with the sun shining over False Bay, seals dashing across the ocean and a feeding Southern Right whale. This was going to be the icing on the proverbial cake if we could locate the humpback whales at close range.

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In our haste we motored over with all eyes on the horizon; searching, hoping for a glimpse of the whales. Owen and I scampered up the ladder to top deck and saw the tails of two whales rising and dipping into the blue ocean. We had found them and slowly approached them for a closer look. I gripped the railing of the top deck tightly in my excitement and, face into the wind, kept my eye trained on the area where the whales had last been seen. I turned to Owen and he smiled. He turned to me, placed his hand upon my arm and told me earnestly “See here Kat. They are going to breach just now. Watch.” The two whales did just that. At the precise moment Owen finished his sentence, the two magnificent whales breached in perfect synchronicity high into the air and towards our boat. Their white bellies curved in the sunlight, their backs arched and droplets of water fell down and away from their curves as they moved and twisted through their breach. Their pectoral fins turned whilst they were air-borne and then slowly they hit the water with a loud, deep splash. They sank back into the blue. I was absolutely speechless at what had just occurred. The scene repeated in slow motion in my mind again and again as a grin spread across my face. Owen and I just couldn’t stop laughing at the perfect timing of that breach. How did he know it would happen?! That I will never understand but then he has spent a lifetime on the ocean and knows her better than I do.

We continued to observe the whales closely as they breached together twice more and breached individually right out of the water. It was spectacular and all I could manage to do was squeal in excitement and smile every time. After the whales had finished we slowly followed them across the bay. They lazily swam onwards. With each blow a rainbow formed in the air and carried itself towards us. I calmed down just enough to look at their markings; they were covered in scratches, black and white blotches and more. One of the whales had a completely black tail and the other had a tail with a white underside. This white tail whale kept leaning onto its side and exposing its belly to the other whale, a pectoral fin waving in the air.  I wondered if this was a female being courted by a black tail male. The two whales slowed to a halt and slowly turned belly up and pointed their gigantic tails at one another. Our skipper switched the motors off.

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There was utter silence on our boat and around us as we drifted alone but for the presence of these two ocean giants. The whales slapped their tails heavily onto the water and performed an amorous tail slapping display at one another for a number of minutes. The noise from each slap was like gunfire. It was incredibly loud, echoing across the bay and magnified the complete silence around us. As their display came to an end the white tail whale righted itself and let out a huge, deep sigh. They paired up again and slowly resumed their journey across the bay side by side.

As we drifted apart from the whales I realised just how elegant and graceful these gentle giants were. The afternoon has passed by in a flash and these whales had absolutely captivated us. It is fair to say I didn’t stop smiling all the way home. In fact I am still smiling now as I recall every precious moment that day.

Kathryn has a Masters in Environmental Biology and is a PADI scuba diving instructor. Her passion lies with raising awareness of and conserving the sharks within our oceans and also writing about her experiences under and on the water. She is currently a wildlife guide and crew member for Apex Shark Expeditions in South Africa.

Marine Life & Conservation

Leading UK-based shark conservation charity, the Shark Trust, is delighted to announce tour operator Diverse Travel as a Corporate Patron

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Corporate Patrons provide a valuable boost to the work of The Shark Trust. The Trust team works globally to safeguard the future of sharks, and their close cousins, the skates and rays, engaging with a global network of scientists, policymakers, conservation professionals, businesses and supporters to further shark conservation.

Specialist tour operator Diverse Travel has operated since 2014 and is committed to offering its guests high quality, sustainable scuba diving holidays worldwide. Working together with the Shark Trust will enable both organisations to widen engagement and encourage divers and snorkellers to actively get involved in shark conservation.

Sharks are truly at the heart of every diver and at Diverse Travel, we absolutely share that passion. There is nothing like seeing a shark in the wild – it’s a moment that stays with you forever!” says Holly Bredin, Sales & Marketing Manager, Diverse Travel.

We’re delighted to celebrate our 10th year of business by becoming a Corporate Patron of the Shark Trust. This is an exciting partnership for Diverse and our guests. We will be donating on behalf of every person who books a holiday with us to contribute towards their vital shark conservation initiatives around the world. We will also be working together with the Trust to inspire divers, snorkellers and other travellers to take an active role – at home and abroad – in citizen science projects and other activities.”

Paul Cox, CEO of The Shark Trust, said:

It’s an exciting partnership and we’re thrilled to be working with Diverse Travel to enable more divers and travellers to get involved with sharks and shark conservation. Sharks face considerable conservation challenges but, through collaboration and collective action, we can secure a brighter future for sharks and their ocean home. This new partnership takes us one more valuable step towards that goal.”

For more information about the Shark Trust visit their website here.

For more about Diverse Travel click here.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Shark Trust Asks Divers to help with Shark Sightings this Global Citizen Science Month

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Whether you are stuck for ideas of what to do with the kids or are off on the dive trip of your dreams. You can get involved in Citizen Science Month and help the Shark Trust by providing vital data about sharks are rays both close to home and further afield.

In addition to reporting the sharks and rays you see on your dives, the eggcases you find on the beach, the Shark Trust is looking for some specific data from divers who are asked to report any Oceanic Whitetip and Basking Sharks.

Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

The Shark Trust are looking specifically for Oceanic Whitetip Shark sightings over the coming weeks and months. So, if you are diving anywhere in the world, please report your sightings via the website or app.

Website: https://recording.sharktrust.org/

App: Search The Shark Trust in your app store

The Oceanic Whitetip. Known for their incredibly long dorsal and pectoral fins, this species was once the most abundant oceanic-pelagic species of shark on the planet.

Large and stocky, they are grey or brown above, and white below and famous for their huge rounded first dorsal fin and paddle-like pectoral fins. The fins also highly prized within the shark fin trade. Whilst they are mostly solitary, Oceanic Whitetips do occasionally hunt in groups.

An inquisitive species, they were easy prey for fisheries. Combined with their low reproductive rate, they were inevitably at high risk of population depletion. And declines of up to 99% have been reported in certain sea areas. They are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Redlist (2019).

Conservation efforts to discourage further declines include listing on CITES Appendix II and CMS Appendix I. They’re also the only species prohibited from take by all the Tuna RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organisations). However, these measures do not mean that Oceanic Whitetips are not still caught – whether targeted or as bycatch – in some parts of the world. With populations declining at such a high rate, effective implementation of management measures is essential to ensure that the species can recover.

If you are lucky enough to get an image of an Oceanic Whitetip and you record your sighting on the Shark Trust app or website YOU CAN WIN! All images submitted with sightings, that also give consent to use in conservation messaging, will be in with a chance to win an Oceanic Whitetip T-shirt and mug. The competition will run until the end of “Shark Month” in July – so keep those sightings (and images) coming in.

Basking Sharks

Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) season is upon us, and the Shark Trust is asking everyone to keep an eye out for these majestic giants over the summer months. If you see any, you can record your sighting to the Basking Shark Sightings database.

Each year, these mighty fish return to British waters to feed on plankton. You may see one, (or a few if you’re really lucky) from around April-October. They can be seen feeding at the surface of the water, where they look like they’re basking in the sun. Thus, their name!

Sighting hotspots around the British Isles include southwest England, Isle of Man, north coast of Ireland, and western Scotland. The Sea of the Hebrides is the most prolific sightings area in Scotland, but they have been spotted all around the coast and have even ventured into some of the sea lochs. The Shark Trust has received thousands of sightings since the Basking Shark project began, but more data is needed to truly understand what is going on with population numbers and distribution. You can help by recording your sightings this summer.

Great Eggcase Hunt

The Shark Trust has an Easter Egg Hunt with a difference for you to try. Take part in the Great Eggcase Hunt and get involved with a big citizen science project that helps shark, ray and skate conservation. And it’s an enjoyable activity for all the family.

The Shark Trust also want snorkellers and divers to record their underwater eggcase findings. Underwater records help pinpoint exactly where sharks and skates are laying their eggs and can help link to beach records. Learning the depth and substrate that they lay on also helps better understand the species.

Find out more: https://www.sharktrust.org/great-eggcase-hunt

Whether you are diving, snorkelling or exploring on the beach you can take part in Citizen Science Month and get actively involved in shark and ray conservation. Find out more: www.sharktrust.org

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