Whale sharks: the quest continues

© Tara Expeditions Foundation

8 August 2016

Halfway through this special week around Malpelo Island – trying to locate and tag whale sharks – the team is as motivated as ever. Though we’ve seen no sign of the island’s giants, everyone still has hope.

Since Tara’s arrival in the Malpelo Wildlife Sanctuary, there’s been a sense of excitement aboard. Each morning at 7 o’clock, breakfast is quickly gobbled down and everybody goes to the work area on the rear deck. The 2 teams – 3 divers for coral sampling coral, 3 divers searching for whale sharks – constantly cross paths on deck, filling scuba tanks or checking underwater cameras. The 2 dinghies carry passengers to diving spots with evocative names such as Acuario, one of the sites teeming with marine life including hammer sharks and colorful fish.

 

 Plongeurs MalpeloThe whale shark team preparing to dive – © Foundation Tara Expeditions

 

The team tagging whale sharks, led by Sandra Bessudo (founder of the Malpelo Foundation) uses poles to collect a small piece of skin for DNA analysis, as well as underwater rifles especially adapted for shooting a tiny GPS device just below the dorsal fin of the giant sharks. 2 sailors in charge of safety follow the divers in the dinghy, scanning the surface for bubbles indicating their presence. In case of problems, we must react quickly, especially since the rotating teams perform up to 4 dives a day.

 

PAT Tag-1Tane Taylor Sinclair (marine biologist, KAUST) attaches the GPS device on a modified harpoon – © Yann Chavance / Tara Expeditions Foundation

 

“The more time we spend in the water, the greater the chance of seeing whale sharks”, says Sandra Bessudo. “These are not static animals. They move all the time, so we have to stay underwater and just wait for the chance to see one pass by.” For the director of the Malpelo Foundation, who has already tagged 12 whale sharks in recent months, we must keep believing. “This is the right time of year. Whale sharks begin arriving in Malpelo in May and leave again in October or November, so they are certainly here. Now it’s just a matter of luck. We can never be sure of succeeding, but we have to continue.” Everyone here hopes our enthusiasm will soon be rewarded.

Yann Chavance

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