In the last few months we have been busy working on many things, and are excited for what is looking to be our biggest season yet ! Here is an update from the last few months.
News from the field
After a busy few months prepping for the season, the time has come ! While officially the season starts on September 15th, the whale sharks, however, seem to be back already ahead of schedule. Michel, Alphonse, Zazou and Tine have already been spotted ! We have known these sharks since the project’s inception in 2015 so we are thrilled to see them back and in good health. We believe their early arrival is due to the warmer water temperatures currently being recorded at this time of the year, which must influence food availability hence whale shark presence.
All private schools are now on holiday while Bruno is still busy teaching at Madirokely public school. As the school of Les Abeilles finished the initial pilot education programme we lauched in collaboration with MADA Megafauna, Bruno and the kids chose to write a song about a subject that matters to them as their end performance. A catchy song, and a great message: ditch single-use plastic, if you haven’t done it yet ! Now called “The Guardians of the Oceans”, the education programme has inspired local singing contests, as well as school projects from other schools ! We are very proud of their progress.
Regarding the upcoming season, we are excited to start using a new stereo-video system to record precise length measurements, what we refer to as whale shark size. We are expecting many new volunteers too !
We are also launching a new Ambassador program to train select staff members from local operators on whale shark conservation. Each operator who attends the training session on September 6th will be awarded an ‘ambassador’ status, with the aim that these ambassadors can then raise awareness about whale sharks to other staff members and clients. Get in touch if you want to join, as the spots are limited. We will also be continuing to collect socio-economic data from tourists. Finally, we will also be visiting the second hotspot where whale sharks are known to aggregate, off Antetikireja, a remote area located 200 km north-west of Nosy Be, thanks to support from Natural World Safaris.
The Fifth International Whale Shark Conference
Every three years, whale shark scientists from around the world gather to share new findings, theories and stories. Following from the Fourth International Whale Shark Conference, held in Qatar in 2016, that project founder Stella Diamant and project co-supervisor Dr. Simon Pierce had attended back when the project was in a pilot phase, both attended this year’s conference in June, held at the spectacular Ningaloo Reef World Heritage Site, and one of the oldest whale shark study sites.
It was amazing! A whirlwind of emotions, new facts and great chats. Stella presented our ongoing work on photo-identification and population ecology on the first day of the conference, as well as our collaborative work with Dr. Andrew Brierley from St. Andrews University on prey type and distribution following the use of echosounders back in December 2018. It was a huge privilege for Stella to finally tell the scientific community in person that we have, to this day, identified 323 whale sharks, and to meet again with fellow whale shark scientists, especially the MMF gang (see picture). Some new exciting collaborations have emerged from the conference ! According to Stella “the best part of the conference, for me, was to realise how passionate and involved the whale shark community is, to both better understand the species but also to continue to better protect the species, through collaborations and fruitful exchanges.” A great motivation for sure!
From this year onwards, you can also request a private trip with project founder Stella Diamant. On this trip you will learn more about our research, get to know whale sharks by their names, as well as get personalised photos.
You can also join our partner operator Baleines Rand’eau and Safari Baleine for a day trip out on the water and meet our volunteers who also will be on the boat. Either way, book ASAP as dates are filling up!
We are also a registered foundation since a few months, and rely on donations to ensure the project keeps running. Any help is much appreciated ! Finally, you may have noticed our new look, thanks to designer extraordinaire Romain Cariou. We hope you like it!
More soon !