The morning dives took us close to some of the recognised important bird areas, islands where thousands of boobies, terns and frigates nest. As our boat approached the dive site we were bombarded by noddy terns and boobies. The birds would dive at the boat and only veer off at the last second; it was like a scene from the Alfred Hitchcock classic! One rather bullish booby actually struck John whilst he was kitting up. A yelp was followed by the inevitable splosh as John fell over the side of the boat, legs and arms flailing everywhere. Everyone roared with laughter whilst the bird decided to land on the bow of the boat as if to assert its dominance further.
After completing all the dives and dodging the aerial bombardment we returned to the main boat for a spot of lunch and an afternoon of shark fishing (the scientific kind). This was my first time tagging sharks so I was glad to be alongside the experienced Stanford guys who have tagged hundreds of sharks in the Pacific. After a quick discussion on strategy, the captain positioned our boat right in the middle of the main channel into the lagoon. We set a short line of 5 hooks out the back of the boat and also dropped down some tempting lures on a rod and line. We could see sharks investigating the bait from the aft deck; it was only a matter of time before one went in for a taste. Whilst we were all looking at the shark line, the line whizzed off one of the rods. “Shark on!” Moments later, after circling around the bait a few times and feigning a couple of lunges, one also plucked up the courage and took the line bait. “Shark on!” We had two!
The first shark was brought on board, measured, sexed, species identified, V16 acoustic tag fitted and DNA taken, all within an efficient 5 minutes in order to minimise stress to the shark. Despite being less than 4ft in length, this little Silvertip was still strong enough to warrant three guys piling on when it decided to thrash. The shark was released and swam back into the blue. The second 4ft silvertip was quickly brought on board, processed and released, again, all within the blink of an eye. We were a well-oiled machine.
The next shark to be seduced by our bait was big enough to deploy one of Taylor’s new camera tags. These are larger than all our other tags and therefore cannot be deployed on small sharks as it would impede their hydrodynamics too much. Making doubly sure that the camera was rolling, Taylor attached the tag and released the shark. He had programmed it to detach after 6 hours so we had an anxious wait ahead of us before we could go out searching for it with the VHF antenna. Another 4 sharks were tagged that day giving us a total of 7. Not bad going but we would need to step it up in subsequent sessions.
As the second dive team returned from their dives, we relocated the boat back within the bay where we would be sheltered from the worst of the weather. I was led to believe that I was heading to sun, sea, and sharks. Although we had the sharks and the sea all around us, there hasn’t been much sun the last few days. Winds up to 30 knots have been crashing into the boat and rain has been lashing making trips to and from the main boat on the tender rather trying. Yet, we are in Chagos, and therefore we all do it with a smile on our face!
During a short break in the rain, a few of us headed to shore to investigate the island Ile de Coin. As soon as we hit the shore, we were met with the faint hum of mosquitos all around us. Undeterred, we proceeded into the heart of the island. The ground was covered in coconuts and hermit crabs which made for unstable footing. As we progressed further, we came across remnants of the islands past life. Buildings that were once the hub for coconut oil production were now merely ruins having succumbed to time decay and bombardment from coconut grenades above. It was starting to feel like we were extras in a scene from LOST. By this point I was being eaten alive and therefore headed back to the safety of the tender.
It was around now that we expected Taylor’s tag to pop off so we set off, VHF antenna in hand, to find it. Despite being joined by some spinner dolphins, the mission was unsuccessful; the tag was nowhere to be seen. We scoured the horizon until we ran out of light and returned back to the main boat. Taylor made one last attempt to get a signal from the top deck but to no avail. Reluctantly we gave up the search and went inside to have dinner. Perhaps we would have more luck tomorrow.
Having completed all the sites around Peros Banhos, the following morning we relocated to Salomon atoll to the east. In previous expeditions researchers had spotted large mako and tiger sharks there making it the perfect location to target some of the larger pelagic sharks. I went out with the dive team in the afternoon and dropped in to some of the best dive sites I have ever seen. There was so much fish activity, up to 12 inquisitive silvertip sharks circled ominously around us whilst manta rays casually cruised past. Towards the end of the dive we were also joined by a 1.8m dogtooth tuna, a true monster of the reef. As we ascended the sharks continued to follow us for a while before getting bored and dropping back down to the reef to continue their afternoon patrols. Unfortunately the sea was too rough to fish for sharks on the outside of the lagoon so we again had to shelter inside. Hopefully the weather eases tomorrow so we can tag some giants.
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