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EXPEDITIONS SUSPENDED
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SCS is a small volunteer run Society which has achieved an enviable record of conservation and research wins. The world today is obsessed with everything needing to be safe. A small adventure group of shark enthusiasts (SCS) simply can't afford the legal, insurance and administrative back-up which would guard against any risks of SCS having to pay out in the event of a claim or a legal action. The cost of our expeditions would have to double or treble!

When I read last year that a BBC film crew had to do a 'risk assessment' before filming a group of Morris dancers it brought home to me just how pathetic the world has become, we all know how dangerous knotted hankies can be! Today's adventurer who wants to be safe must wrap him/her self in cotton wool, go to bed and watch TV.

The directors of the Society are currently studying this problem searching for a way for our expeditions to be able to continue. It is with great regret therefore we have to announce that until this process has been completed, and a way forward found, we will have to suspend expeditions.

To our loyal supporters and past volunteers the message is 'We are not going away, won't lie down, and will find a way at going on, even if it involves all volunteers having to buy shares in cotton wool and avoid Morris dancers'! More to follow.

Azores Shark Research Expedition

The Azores expedition will be re-attempted in July 2013. There was no film made of the hurricane Nadine September 2012 expedition, but above is some raw footage that was taken

Expedition report September 14th – 28th 2012.

Personnel and Acknowledgements

Organisers - Shark Conservation Society.

Expedition leader - Richard Peirce.

Catering, shorebase, first aid - Jacqui Peirce.

Videographer - David Green, Richard Peirce.

Scientific advisor - Data being gathered for Heather McMillan, Aberdeen University.

Volunteer researchers - Erron Burns, John Butland, Emma Dobinson, Crystal Davis, David Green, Ken Neal, Caroline Roberts, Ellie Richards, Mike Sharland (deputy leader), Andy Sweeney.

The Society would like to thank

  • Gary Fell
  • Twin Peaks Diving
  • Dale McDiarmid
  • Jose and Anna Azevedo
  • The volunteers for their patience with hurricane Nadine
  • The ginger cat
  • God for giving us sharks

photo taken by Mike Sharland – copyright SCS

Objectives

The objectives of the expedition were threefold:

  • To catch, (take DNA samples for Heather McMillan at Aberdeen University) and release 50 blue sharks.
  • Return tag 30 of the above.
  • Free diving with blues and makos so that the volunteers could have some fun, film and photograph these amazing sharks.

Preparation and Planning

Gary Fell of Twin Peaks Diving offered to help the Society by providing all the local requirements of shorebase, workboat, chumming materials, and vehicles, etc.

The Society was able to plan work sites based on well known locations where local eco-tourist operators find blue sharks.

Sites/Work Plan

The sites were selected based on local blue shark eco-tourism locations and the expedition was split into two x seven day segments with five volunteers in each segment. The first two days in each segment were set aside for swimming with, filming, and photographing sharks, and the next five days were for catch, DNA sampling, tag and release. Each segment’s targets were DNA samples from 25 sharks with 15 of them tagged.

Boats

The workboat was an eight metre dive boat (RIB) with most of the seats removed to create working space.

The Twin Peaks diving RIB – copyright SCS

Planned Work Days

First segment

Azores Banks – 2 days

Condor Bank – 3 days

North of the west end of Sao Jose – 1 day

East of Ponta da Ilha (Picot) – 1 day

(2 days leisure – 5 days work)

Second segment

The work plan would remain the same but sites would be modified based on results during first segment

Mount Pico, the highest mountain in Portugal - copyright SCS

Daily Report

Saturday September 15th

The five volunteers from the first segment plus Richard, Gary (skipper) and Dale (crew) chummed four and a half hours to the north of Sao Jose at the western end of the island. The material used was bonito and sardine oil and no sharks were seen,this was clearly both a surprise and a disappointment to Gary and Dale who made clear that sharks are usually quick to arrive.

The quantity of chum used was considerably less than what we would normally consider to be a minimum effective amount.

Sunday September 16th

We steamed for one and a half hours to the Azores Bank and chummed for four and a half hours. We were forced to leave due to the increasing sea state, and the steam that had taken us one and a half hours on the way out took five and a half hours on the way back. Again no sharks.

September 17/18/19/20/21/22/23 (7 days)

All cancelled.

We were on the edge of hurricane Nadine which produced conditions that made it impossible to go to sea.

The volunteers accepted with forbearance and fortitude that the arrival of hurricanes was beyond human control and their morale remained high. Thank you volunteers.

Monday September 24th

Our first day back on the water after seven days of forced shore leave! We went to the Condor Bank to the west of Faial Island and chummed using greatly increased quantities of material. The Society bought 10 kgs a day of local mackerel (kavala) and also used the sardine oil and bonito provided by Twin Peaks Diving. For the next three days the chum from the day before was used which added to the volume of material.

We started chumming at 1028 hours and very soon a large blue shark arrived but didn’t stay long as we were also joined by a minke whale who probably hastened the blue shark’s departure. Things were looking up, we had a shark and a whale within an hour of starting our drift!

Tuesday September 25th

The Condor Bank again but this time we only chummed for three and a half hours with no sharks. The records of the other blue shark eco-tourist operators in the Azores indicated a very high success rate so not finding sharks was unusual.

Wednesday September 26th

We worked to the north of Sao Roque in the Sao Jorge channel where there were reports of smooth hammerheads, makos and blue sharks. The Condor Bank was our intended site but once again the weather had intervened. We chummed a total of seven hours including a middle period where we returned to Sao Roque to change skippers but left chum stations at sea Once again no sharks were seen and the eco-tourism operators who were working in other locations also reported no sharks.

Blue shark taken by Erron Burns - copyright SCS

Thursday September 27th

The day our luck really changed. We chummed nearly five hours on the Condor Bank and three blue sharks (1 male, 1 female, and one unsexed) responded to our chumming as did a wonderful 2.4 metre female shortfin mako. All the volunteers were able to swim/free dive with the sharks, and suddenly the many days of frustration evaporated. The mako was a lovely shark which swum around calmly and slowly giving all the divers great interactions and photo opportunities.

Friday September 28th

The last day of the expedition so we went back to yesterday’s location which had proved successful. Two blues and a smaller mako came to the party. We had started chumming at 1202 hours and by 1415 hours everyone had been in the water with the sharks two or three times and a happy crew was ready to return to shore!

Mako shark, photo taken by Caroline Roberts – copyright SCS

Results

Seven days at sea had been lost and the volunteers on the first segment hadn’t even seen a shark. The first two days of the second segment were also lost to hurricane Nadine so the decision was made to abandon any attempt to catch, DNA sample, tag and release sharks. The volunteers had to be the priority so the aim became just to see and enjoy any sharks we could find.

N.B. It is planned to revisit the Azores in July 2013 to carry out the research work that was not able to be done.

Conclusions

There was no work done, so there is little to conclude. However it is interesting that no operators were finding sharks for a few days before the hurricane, and then again for a few days afterwards.

One theory is that the sharks sensed the coming storm and hung out at depth to avoid the surface turbulence. Sensible sharks, and there is anecdotal and some scientific evidence for other species which supports this theory.

Like coiled springs waiting for action - copyright SCS

Blue shark photo taken by Erron Burns - copyright SCS

Hurricane Nadine comes ashore - copyright SCS

Heading home, Mount Pico as our marker - copyright SCS

Like coiled springs, waiting for a BBQ - copyright SCS

Blue shark photo taken by Erron Burns - copyright SCS

Mako shark taken by Caroline Roberts - copyright SCS

The shore base for the expedition - copyright SCS

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