The first two weeks of the season have flown by ! A lot is planned this year, starting with the Festival de la Baleine, a series of events bridging the gap between the end of the humpback whale season and the start of the whale shark season. Its great to be finally back in Nosy Be with the team, and back in the water! I’ve been feeling a bit emotional recognising sharks from last year, some of them still with the same temperament, like Clasperfin who is always so relaxed, and Michel who is still shy. Its strangely reassuring to meet again, regardless of whatever has happened in the world over the last year.
The whale sharks are here, with consistent sightings over the last 10 days adding up to a total of 13 different sharks, including regulars like Alphonse and Michel (seen for the first time yesterday !) and newbies like Hydra and Henri. Research Assistant Vincent, from Florida International University, has arrived last Saturday, and already is taking perfect ID pictures while setting up a new green turtle project at Sakatia Island. In the coming months we will attempt to photo-identify every single whale shark we encounter, take skin samples and initiate a socio-economic survey investigating the importance of whale sharks in the region.
I have also been busy giving training sessions about the Code of Conduct, in both Nosy Be and Nosy Komba. These sessions are free and aimed at local operators, in order to minimise impacts on whale shark behaviour and reduce the incidence of injuries, as more than 40% of individuals bear scars in Nosy Be. Together with our local partner Mada Megafauna, we also hope to increase customer satisfaction, as it has been shown in previous studies that longer whale shark interactions are key to customer satisfaction. In case the animal is bothered it will display avoidance behaviours, like banking; when the shark shows its back to the swimmer in a ‘defense’ reaction, then most probably disappear.
During my presentations I tried to see it from the operators perspective and showcase why respectful interactions with whale sharks will be a good thing for Nosy Be, and trigger more regulated tourism. A total of 45 people showed up, from beach boys to business owners, and my presentation was warmly received. Most importantly, the results are already noticeable out on the water, with only one boat at a time with one shark, in order to allow longer interactions to take place and hence not disturb the shark.
The Madagascar Whale Shark Project also represented Mada Megafauna at the Forum de la Recherche organised by the CNRO in Nosy Be, gathering researchers from all over Madagascar studying applied marine conservation. I presented our poster to the Minister for Research and Teaching, who now knows about whale sharks in Madagascar ! Mada Megafauna also has received funding to provide marine conservation training to school teachers in order to facilitate outreach about marine megafauna in Nosy Be. As a result we provided a training session accompanied by a day trip to spot marine megafauna, it was a great success !
We are now going out everyday together with Vincent, and have provided training to the guides working at Baleines Rand’eau to gather as much data as possible. We even have had help from some keen clients wanting to help with collecting photo-IDs ! From next week onwards we will be starting our volunteer programme, widening our data collection efforts, with our first visitor arriving on the 4th October ! You can still join us in November, more information on here.
I would like to thank all the donors who made this season financially possible :
Lush, IdeaWild, Aqua-Firma, the Marine Megafauna Foundation, Florida International University, Baleines Rand’eau, The Regional Office of Tourism in Nosy Be and the CNRO.
And all my friends, family, colleagues and team, for their support, assistance and patience!