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.

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