Sunday, 28 June 2009

Just when you thought.... had cracked it...

As promised, here is a resume of the last days of our basking shark expedition. Tuesday had seemed like we had really hit upon a good number of sharks, and that the rest of the week would be easy. A long smudge of brown sat between two tides, hugging the coast of the island, suggesting an algal boom and density of plankton, either related or unrelated. Whatever it was, the sharks seemed to love it, and were there in their numbers. However, heading back there the next day (weds) we were surprised and disspointed to learn that both the brown smudge, and the huge protruding dorsal fins patrolling the coast, had moved on, or down, north or south. Whever they were, we could not see them. A frustrating day plodding up and down the sites that normally hold sharks proved fruitless, until we eventually worked our way towards the final site of the day, a long shot, but the calmest looking water in the area. Lo and hehold, two sets of fins could be seen following each other around a small area about the size of a football pitch. This encounter was to yield the best shot of the week to our Trukish guest, Ozkur Gedicoglu who managed to catch a stunning head on, mouth open shot in beautiful clear water.

What happened next however, was to leave us all in a trance like state for the rest of the night, if not the rest of the week. The two sharks left their plankton feast for a while, and circled below us, checking us out, for what seemed like an eternity. They would head up towards us for a closer look, and then drop again to visible range. When they came close, they peered at us with those deep dark eyes, and one can never work out during these rare ocean encounters, who is the more curious, us or them. I'm sure however, we were the more bedazzled, and it was an effort to break from the trance to remember to take some photos.

Given that it was later in the day that we saw these sharks, we thought there may be a reasonable chance that the plankton was rising to the surface later in the day, to make the most of the sunshine, and might not penetrate the colder waters, which maintained a chill 12-13 degress for most of the week. Our plan the next day was to head out at midday and stay out later, making the most of this supposed feed pattern. How wrong could we be....shortly after leaving port, we got a call from the Silurian reseach vessel, that a good number of sharks had been spotted off an adjacent island. We steemed for several hours to get there, and nervously waited for the first sign of a fin, and hoping the plankton hadn't headed out on the outgoing tide, further out to sea, as we were already on our navigational limit.

However, the sharks and plankton were kind to us, and we enjoyed another period of intense activity. Numbers of sharks were patrolling the surface, and all group members enjoyed memorable encounters and fine images. Our next task was to land on this new Island and find accomodation and fuel for the next day, which proved more difficult than we had bargained for. However, downtime during the day was spent catching mackarel, which Pete and Andy managed to barbecue onboard whilst steeming back to a safe anchor. We looked something like a viking funeral pyre in the half light, and kept our fingers crossed that no shorebound birwatchers would send out a mayday call on our behalf. Luckily the only things to find us were an energetic pod of common dolphin which energetically leapt and bounded around our bow, and a fulmar mysteriously swaying about our stern in the almost lenticular sunset cloud; filled with bleeding reds and oranges of the near midnight sun.

Friday, our final day, and the same area yielded sharks almost immediately. We had seen one or two only half an hour out of port, but decided to try for a bigger group. Four large sharks gave us some close action again, before it was time to head home. This was our fourth day out of five that we had seen sharks, and beyond all of our expectations. James, our captain had taken us on a truly unforgettable journey, and gone beyond the call of duty to make sure we found what we were looking for. We all agreed there very few people in the world as dedicated as our new friend James Fairbairns. We our now making plans for a return next year, so if you are reading this and want to join us, please get in touch...the spaces are already filling.

1 comment:

Wolfgang Leander said...

Very nice, moody images!