Last week when I saw the whaleshark, I mentioned that I didn’t actually get in the water because I was taking plankton samples. I knew that this summer would come with many opportunities to see the largest fish in the sea, so I didn’t feel like this opportunity was waste or lost. Well… it happened. I got to swim with not only one, but THREE WHALESHARKS! I’ve done some pretty cool things in my short lifetime, but this experience was up by the top of coolest experiences. The skipper (boat captain) saw the shark and stopped the boat several meters from the shark, so when jumping in, I couldn’t see the first one right away. But the shark was swimming towards the boat so I waited a bit. All of a sudden, I saw a dark, blurry blob slowly come into focus and then there he was, the largest fish in the sea swimming next to me. This little guy was *only* a few meters long (around 5 or 6) but he took my breath away. To think that these amazing creatures can grow to over twice, sometimes even three times that size is truly incredible.
Our ocean safari with Peri Peri Divers was sort of a last hoo-ra before the three other scientists left Tofo. We all had our own objectives of things to accomplish and see (research-wise) so we had all been pretty split up the last few days, however we all went on the ocean safari in hopes to swim with a whaleshark. The owner and founder of All Out Africa also had come all the way from Swaziland (now changed to eSwatini) to Tofo to meet with us and he was able to join us on our ocean adventure. All in all, we encountered three whalesharks and also a pod of bottlenose and humpback dolphin! However, it’s important to remember that these large megafauna come to this location because of the plankton in the water! Here's a picture of a big fish gliding through the water to suck in the tiny
plankton. You can see some small fish by it's mouth too, but the shark doesn't actually eat them. They are just swimming next to its mouth because the shark is actually sucking in the water and the fish swim by to collect the left overs. This is beneficial for the small fish, but doesn't really have any effect on the whaleshark. I’ve seen so many cool looking planktonic critters in the water column, which is why I’m here to study it! More on my research to come.
For now, I’ll mention a bit about the organization I’m working with. All Out Africa was first founded in Swaziland in the early 2000’s as a volunteer and travel organization centered on ecological conservation. Through collaboration, research in this area began. Over time, the organization expanded to locations in South Africa, Mozambique, and Botswana. Conservation focused research is the goal in these areas but research often requires funding and thus takes time to establish. Through amazing partnerships, LSU currently partners with All Out Africa to take groups of undergraduate students to Swaziland and Mozambique for a field techniques course in wildlife and marine/coastal research respectively. Through this partnership, my master’s research on plankton ecology is the first of its kind to take place in Tofo and will be the kickstart of future research with All Out Africa. I truly feel lucky and grateful to be working with such an amazing group of scientists and organization to complete my research. Every person I have met is excited about enhancing experiences and science. Below is a picture of a group of AOA including the Mozambique staff and volunteers, the founder and director of All Out Africa, and partnering oceanographers. I am so lucky to get to work with all of these fantastic people.