Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Waiting for Whales

When life isn't interesting enough, one-way valves stop working. At least that is what usual happens at SASC. On Monday, we came into the office and noticed that the header tank was unusually low. A little investigating revealed that, once again, we were going to have to fight the dreaded water intake pipe. Because we did not have the proper tools we decided to wait till Tuesday to launch our assault.
Arriving at the SASC building early yesterday morning, the weather was beautiful but chilly. Meag and Tam, armed with hammer and screw driver, bravely faced the cold water to open up the valve. We were able to flush the pipe, removing a significant amount of sand and debris, and tried to put all the pieces back together again. After struggling for a while, we decided to call in reinforcements and requested the aid of Meag's husband, Mike. Of course, it only took the aquaculture specialist a few tries before he had everything lined up correctly. Thrilled with our success, we were soon listening to the lullaby of running water in our tanks.
The remainder of my day was quite busy thoroughly cleaning all the tanks, packaging squid into "serving sizes", and showing visitors around the lab. Because the schools here in SA are currently on one of their holidays and it is getting close to time for seeing whales, we have been receiving more visitors. One of my favorite moments is when I lead the kids over to the touch tank and show them our little babies. They light up with excitement and all start asking questions at the same time! It is always amazing to see how passionate children are about the marine environment. To them, it is a place of mystery and endless adventure. And they eagerly absorb all the information you can give them.
Even the adults are amazed when they come into our lab and see the sharks in our tanks. Many people do not realize that a significant number of shark species are less than a meter in length. And, of the more than 400 shark species, only a handful have ever been involved in a shark incident with a human. Humans kill more than 70,000 sharks every year for their fins. Approximately 10 people die, worldwide, every year because they venture into an environment that is not their own and encounter a wild animal with natural instincts.

On a happy note... the whales are coming! :) At least that is what Meag and Tam keep telling me. Every day, I see more people on the sidewalk above the Old Harbour looking out at the bay in eager anticipation. This morning driving to work, Tam and I glimpsed a whale coming up for a breath. I hope to soon be sitting on the rocks, enjoying my lunch, and watching lots of whales in the bay.

I greatly enjoyed my weekend as I was invited to tour one of the local aquaculture farms. There are several farms here in Hermanus that raise abalone and supply to markets as far away as China and Japan. Abalone steaks are considered a status symbol in many Asian countries and have become an important part of the local economy here in South Africa. It was very interesting to walk around, see all the different aspects of the farm and how the facility operates, and think of how some of the same principles could be applied to the fish farm where I work back home. It is always great fun to visit with other researchers and learn what issues they are addressing and how they are overcoming those obstacles. Marine aquaculture is a growing industry that contributes more to the economy than most people realize. I am excited about becoming involved, even if only in a small way.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Growing Family

Yesterday was a very exciting day for us here at SASC! When we first arrived at the office, Tamzyn noticed that one of the sharks had come out of his egg casing - we have a handsome baby boy Pajama Shark! Throughout the rest of the day, the surprises continued as we saw another cute boy arrive (a Puffadder Shyshark) and then a beautiful little girl (another Puffadder)! All these new members of the SASC family may eat us out of house and home! haha
These little kids are adorable:
Big boy Pajama Shark

Girl Puffadder Shyshark

Little sis and big brother

Boy Puffadder Shyshark

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Fun in the Sun

By the end of yesterday, I had a permanent smile on my face! After lunch, the weather was beautiful and the sea calm so I headed down to the waters edge to see if I could catch some sharks. My very advanced and highly technical equipment consisted of one mesh bag (similar to what you would buy oranges in), one rock (to weigh the bag down), a handful of self-sacrificing squid, and one large bin for transport. Once the bait was in the water it was only a few minutes before I was attracting marine life. The first to show up was a Hag Fish, followed by a variety of small fish.
Fifteen minutes go past and all of a sudden I'm staring down at a lovely Shyshark! I was so excited I almost fell in head first!  Within the next two hours I caught - by hand - five new sharks for our tanks. It was extremely fun, laying on my stomach on the rocks, face inches from the beautiful blue-green water, arm wet to the shoulder trying to grab at a stubborn little shyshark who wasn't listening to my gentle coaxing of: "There's a nice warm tank for you. We'll give you free squid. ... GET OVER HERE SO I CAN GRAB YOU!!!"
After I caught the stubborn little guy (he couldn't resist my charm), I was determined to catch one more shark so we would have five animals total. The only issue is that the tide was changing and the water level was slowly starting to rise, threatening my semi-dry perch on the rocks. But I held out until I saw the largest shark thus far! I could tell he was a different species right away because of the way his snout formed more of a point than the Shysharks I had previously caught. I immediately gave myself a pep talk that went something like: "He's really not THAT big! And besides, if he does pull you into the water - he wont eat you... Hopefully."
As soon as I had a grasp on his back he started to fight and I had to rush to get him into the bin before I lost my grip. The nice thing about sharks is they have denticles instead of scales, making their skin feel like sandpaper, so its not difficult to hold on to them. But Leopard sharks don't take kindly to being rudely forced from their beautiful home in the ocean and he fought to make sure I understood his displeasure. Never the less, he was soon swimming with friends and being fed lots of tasty squid.
I also spied my first glimpse of a whale AND saw a large pod of dolphins swimming past the harbour! Did I mention this is the coolest summer ever?

Love at first sight - shark #1!!!

It just so happened that I am wearing my super awesome SASC shirt!!

The large shark here is a Leopard, the little guy is a Puffadder Shyshark

More Puffadder Shysharks

Monday, June 20, 2011

Father's Day

            Fortunately we live in an age with the technology to communicate across oceans and as a result I was able to wish my dad an early Father’s Day via video chat on Friday. But yesterday, as I sat on the beach watching the beautiful, green, rolling waves of Walker Bay in the fading sun light – I remembered that my dad is the one who first encouraged me to look into becoming a marine biologist. Some of my favorite summer memories are the ones of going down to the Gulf of Mexico with my family. I remember waking up early, packing all the fishing gear into the pickup, mom fixing a basket full of sandwiches and chips, and trying to find a bottle of sun block that wasn’t passed the expiration date. Not only did we skillfully avoid having any smelly fish to clean when we came home but, more importantly, we always learned something new about the coastal area and gained a new appreciation of the importance of the ecosystem found there. All thanks to my dad's love and knowledge of the natural landscape.
I’ve been to the coast of Oregon, North Carolina, and now South Africa. But as spectacular as these beaches are, each in their own beautiful way, I will always love the sand of Crystal Beach. It was a special moment to me, sitting on the beach with my dad, looking out at the water, and recognizing the passion that would propel my career.
The color of the water, the type of shells, and the way the waves roll all change, but the energy of the ocean stays the same. Just as the miles may be great, the time may be in different zones, but the love between a father and daughter will never fade!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Hard at work in the salty air

On Friday we shut down our input water pump so we could clean out the filter and when we tried to prime the pipe and start the pump again - it wouldn't start. Disaster.
We spent several hours working on the problem Friday (and hauled about 30 5 gallon buckets full of seawater) until we ran out of time and had to go to another World Oceans Day event. We returned on Saturday morning with reinforcements and tried again. The guys braved the cold water to fix the no-return valve at the intake end of the pipe, working for several hours before being able to clear it of debris and reattaching all the pieces.
We returned this am and tried to prime again - to no avail. We have spend most of the day working on it again and are still not able to maintain enough water in the pipe to allow the pump to activate. Ever optimistic, we continue to try new ideas and will prevail! :D (hopefully!)

This is a panoramic view of the Old Harbor. The building in the left of the photo is the SASC office! ;)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Results from my daily walk on the beach:

World Oceans Day - June 8th

This Wednesday, June 8th, the South African Shark Conservancy will be participating in an international celebration of our planets greatest resource: the Ocean. 

We are inviting local schools and kids of all ages to join us in the second annual World Oceans Day Parade which will start at Swallow Park, go up Marine Drive, and end at the Old Harbour Museum. At the museum, the group will be addressed by the major of Hermanus! 

So, Wear Blue- Tell Two and come join us for a day of fun celebrating our passion for our ocean!

The SASC not only participates in the organizing of community events such as the one I describe above, but we also provide tours to those interested in learning more about sharks, the marine environment, and conservancy in general. This morning we hosted a lovely group of school children and here are some of the photos:

Activities to inspire thought.
Busy at work on posters with interesting "ocean facts"
The kids got a chance to touch our friendly Puffadder Shyshark, a species endemic to South Africa.

Tamzyn showing the kids our touch tank - She's holding shark egg casings!

Fascination continued at the touch tank with learning about our sea urchin.

Sunday, June 5, 2011


If you ever drive along the Garden Route in South Africa, you will pass over the Bloukrans Bridge. This is a beautiful bridge which offers a spectacular view of the mountains on one side and a glimpse of the ocean on the other. They also hold the Guinness World Record for the highest bungee jump from a bridge (216m)… :)
All four of the Maxwell kids have gone skydiving and this seemed like the reasonable next step for the three vacationing together in SA. I’m not saying it wasn’t extremely unnerving to be standing on the edge of a bridge with only a little harness and a long rope (how do these “bungee” things work anyhow?) attached to your legs preventing you from meeting a rather sudden stop – but then again, at least the view was somewhat distracting!  I will not even attempt to explain how amazing, outstanding, fantastic, exhilarating it feels to step off into thin air and, for a moment, fly! You’ll have to go do it for yourself. *Wink* Then when you come up to me with that silly look on your face, I won’t have to ask what you thought because I already know. 

Once you have faced something so incredibly terrifying and still managed to go for it in spite of your fear, you gain a little more confidence in what you are capable of withstanding. Kind of makes a good analogy for life, doesn’t it? How many times will you stand on the precipice and have to make a decision; One- give in to the fear and wonder for the rest of your life if you could have made it, or B - push yourself beyond the edge to allow yourself the opportunity to fly. Of course, option III is why they make you sign those safety waivers! Hehehe, just don’t think about that when they count down:   5 – 4 – 3 – 2 - BUNGEE!!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Internship: Day One

Here I am! Sitting in the SASC office, the early morning sun streaming through the open door, and the sound of the waves rushing against the rocks filling my ears with a sweet lullaby... can you tell I'm having fun? heeheehee

So far, I love everything about Hermanus! It is a beautiful place with the mountains coming right down to the shore, rocky cliffs made for perfect pictures, and beautiful beaches. When I'm not busy cleaning fish tanks and playing with sharks, I'm hoping to get some good time in practicing my photography.

Just a short note this morning since we are about to have a meeting and get started with putting me to work :D
but here is a photo from the walk on the beach yesterday afternoon: