2019: Our biggest season comes to an end

January 11, 2020

This year, again, was rather unusual. Unlike last year when they arrived in October, this season whale sharks started showing up in August already. This shift is probably due to warming sea surface temperatures, meaning the food source whale sharks feed on is available earlier than usual. In line with the premature start of the season, so was the arrival of the rainy season. We even had a cyclone alert in the first week of December, thankfully Nosy Be was spared at the last moment.

Yet like every December, the season comes to an end, bringing its share of bittersweet emotions. Here are our season highlights from an action-packed four months…

More friendly sharks

Through this year’s season we collected data on 395 encounters with whale sharks !

From the data so far, we can already say that this year, for the first time, equal numbers of known and ‘new’ sharks were recorded. This means that we are slowly getting to know the regular sharks, more so this year than the previous ones. We might have met most of Nosy Be’s whale sharks, or it might just be an odd year with a high rate of returning sharks ? Either way it’s been great to see so many returning sharks, such as Michel, Alphonse, Zazou…and even some surprises, like Ulysses, who we had only seen that one day in 2016 when we tagged him.

In collaboration with Dr. Jesse Cochran, we started testing a new stereo-video system, a tool designed to measure whale shark length more accurately and follow growth through the years. We continued our socio-economic research with Dr. Jackie Ziegler, by collecting data from visiting tourists through the season, in order to better quantify the economic importance of whale sharks in the region.

All of these results are now being analysed! We also will be collating the last four years of data into one publication in 2020 on population trends.

Our first expedition

In November, for the first time, we visited another whale shark feeding site, identified through our tagging study back in 2016. Thanks to Natural World Safaris clients, we could charter the dreamy research vessel Antsiva, which enabled us to finally reach this remote area by the sea.

Sadly, despite our efforts no whale sharks were sighted during our surveys. It appears timing wasn’t on our side, and at the time whale sharks were not in the area. it could be that we simply didn’t see them while surveying, as we had limited time on-site and bad weather through our trip. Nevertheless, it was very useful to finally see what the area looks like, and we are planning to return out there with Antsiva next year, possibly using different study methods.

Raising awareness

We have been busy raising awareness through the season, through our weekly presentations, the education programme and our training workshops with operators.

Our joint education program with MADA Megafauna, “Les Gardiens de l’Océan”  is still growing strong, with our educator Bruno now working with 6 institutions, including the local public school from Madirokely where we are based. The Saturday activities are still very popular.

This year we also extended our training scheme with boat operators. I was thrilled to participate to the first training session led by the Ministry of Tourism and local NGO Cetamada, which was a real success. We are expecting the code of conduct for whale shark encounters to become official law soon. The legal process takes time but we remain hopeful.

Thank you !

This year’s progress was possible thanks to the outstanding contributions of many special individuals.

A big part of our data was collected by our amazing team of volunteers, thank you Blaise, Agathe, Mélina, Romain, Magali, Marcel, Marie Amelie, Simona, Laura, Guillaume, Amir, Valérie, Flore, Matthieu, Vincent, Cédric, Ingrid and Robin. Thank you for joining us !

An immense thank you to our local operator Les Baleines Rand’eau for taking us out at sea, as well as to Safari Baleine, who hosted volunteers for the second year in a row.

Thanks to our partners, the Marine Megafauna Foundation and MADA Megafauna for their continued support. Thanks to travel companies Aqua-Firma, Mora Travel and Natural World Safaris, to our private donors, Tamana Hostel, Cétamada, MyMitoo, Natura Yoga, In Sharks We Trust, the Vocatio Foundation and the Ocean Giants Trust for their support this season.

Finally, I’d like to thank the following people for their in-kind contributions through the season: Vincent Bourdin, Mariana Perez, Chris Hoare, Jean Loncle, Jesse Cochran, Jackie Ziegler, Clare Prebble, Emilie Dumont-Dayot, Noëlla Wai, Jacques Vieira, Sylvia Trélanche, Anne and Nicolas Tisné, Quinten Lunt, Sabrina Weiss. And thank you to all our whale shark adopters !

Until next time for the season results, in the meantime follow our updates on social media for what’s next !