Expedition with EOBV TL to Tanzania / report by Heinz Toperczer
After a flight over Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, I was picked up at the airport and taken to the French research ship “Kairos”. On board were 2 scientists from the SRI (shark research institute) from America, John Bantin (English chief reporter from the magazine “Diver”) and 2 reporters from the French. Switzerland. The main task of this expedition was to tag the whale sharks with a tracking device or tag. I was on board as one of the two assistant cameramen.
But since he was absent due to illness, I was allowed to take over his work. We anchored in the strait off Mafia Island. Here some rivers flow into the sea, whose nutrient-rich water is compressed by the natural funnel. Visibility deteriorates to less than 4 meters due to the high plankton content. But the full moon and a short but heavy rain threw a spanner in the works. The plankton was pushed into the depths by the rain and so the whale sharks could not be seen on the surface.
The disappointment in these first 2 days was felt everywhere on board. So we broke off and drove about 500 km further south. The task here was to analyze the resident animal population and to explore new reefs. In order to master longer distances, scooters were available to us, which pulled us through the reef landscape for a good 50 minutes. The scientists also wanted to record the nightlife, so I dived to 30m with a full-face mask and radio, armed with the video camera, to capture as much animal life as possible. On the left and right I was flanked by lighting divers with giant searchlights and a French safety diver hovered constantly above us.
The image from my camera was sent directly to the large screen on deck, where the scientists took notes and gave me instructions on what perspective they needed to determine gender, for example.
We also visited deserted islands where we could observe the nesting sites of seagulls and migratory birds.
The ship sailed almost exclusively at night and the entire team including of the two Americans assigned to a two-hour guard duty.
It was an absolute pleasure for me to stand on the bridge and look out in the warm headwind.
Emergency drills were also conducted in the ship’s decompression chamber.
After 7 days we returned to Mafia and tried our luck again. To support the whale shark sighting, we had an ultralight aircraft at our disposal. And this time we were lucky.
Sometimes we saw up to 3 whale sharks at once. Before marking, it was important to take photos or video recordings of the head in order to be able to recognize them later, because the points of the whale sharks are unique, like a fingerprint. The transmitter or tag was anchored with a harpoon into the 10cm thick skin under the dorsal fin where no organs can be damaged.
The skin is so hard that if the angle of the shot isn’t around 90 degrees, the steel tip buckled and bounced off. A transmitter sticks between one month up to 2 years. The loss is bitter, because after all, one costs around 3800 dollars. This work was only done with ABC equipment to be faster in the water.
It was a great adventure for me and I was able to make a small contribution to the conservation of sharks, which the SRI works to protect worldwide.