2017 & Beyond

Marvels of the Revillagigedo Archipelago

Marvels of the Revillagigedo Archipelago

The Watermen Project is five years old !

In the next few months we will be operating a complete metamorphosis, starting with our website which needs a complete refit ! In the meantime, to keep updated, please visit our social media pages, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as well as our latest videos on our YouTube account.

If you would like to receive more information, you are welcome to drop us a line.

Partners:
IUCN
Deepblu Inc.
The Terra Mar Project
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Islander Charters, Inc.
Nautilus Explorer

Partnering with TerraMar

photo_TWP_TM_IUCN

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean. – R. Satoro

In the beginning we were only some freedivers and a few scientists in the middle of the open ocean, searching for sharks. Now, we are by no means a huge organization, but we have strong and experienced expedition team, and work with scientists around the world. At the essence of it all? Teamwork.

You probably know of bigger organizations. Some focus on working with politicians, others focus on educating children, as for us we focus on field work. Although we have different approaches and tasks, sometimes we find common ways to have an impact.

Therefore we have partnered up with The TerraMar Project to share our expedition experiences with a larger audience! We all have Twitter, Facebook and nowadays read hundreds of posts everyday. If you are after ocean news and articles with real foundation and engaging topics, make sure you go to http://theterramarproject.org/ and read the The Daily Catch for which we will hopefully contribute in the future.

Photo by Fred Buyle shows William Winram freediving with a Great White Shark at Guadalupe Island during a scientific tagging expedition.

Partners:
IUCN
The Terra Mar Project
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Islander Charters, Inc.
— with Lukas Müller, Yannis Peter Papastamatiou, Mauricio Hoyos Padilla.

Bimini ’14

Project type: Shark tagging expedition
Date: January, February and March 2014
Location: Bimini, Bahamas
Project target: To place acoustic and satellite tags on great hammerhead sharks seasonally present in Bimini, take biopsy samples of great hammerhead and bullsharks.
Lead scientist: Dr. Tristan Guttridge
Tagging team: William Winram & Fred Buyle, assisted by Lukas Mueller
Participants: fourteen from age 9 to 50

In the months of January, February and March our team embarked on their first land based expedition to the crystal clear waters of Bimini, Bahamas. This was a collaboration between the Bimini Biological Field Station – Shark lab, Save Our Seas Foundation and The Watermen Project.

We tagged Great Hammerhead Sharks and took muscle samples of both Great Hammerheads and Bull Sharks. In total we placed 17 acoustic tags and 2 Pop-Up Satellite Tags. We took 2 biopsy samples of Great Hammerheads and 7 of Bull Sharks. The study of Dr. Tristan Guttridge and his colleagues aims at finding out whether the Great Hammerheads only migrate around the islands of Bimini or set out for a longer migratory route once they disappear in March/April . The PSAT tags are programed to be released soon, fingers crossed they transmit the data and provide us with the first insights.

Despite our sampling and tagging efforts we try to engage young individuals and people from the general public in the research process. This time around our team was joined by 8 participants over the course of our expeditions. Amongst the participants were Zaki (11), Malik (15), Andrei (9) and Sasha (13). They got to witness shark research first-hand and learn all about the local shark species. When coming along with our Technical Team to tag and sample sharks at sea they joined in the water and experienced Great Hammerheads, Carribean Reef Sharks and Nurse Sharks in their natural habitat. As well they learned all about our tagging approach from the different kinds of tags to breathhold diving and how acoustic receivers are used to pick up the sharks signal. They listened to talks given by scientists from Bimini Field Station and learned how science can help protect these species that are so valuable to the ocean’s health.

Below you can see some of the encounters our young Watermen had with the majestic Great Hammerheads of Bimini. (photos courtesy of Fred Buyle, William Winram and 60 Pound Bullet Photography)

We are looking forward to continuing further scientific research projects offering our skills to place tags and sample sharks non-invasively, efficiently and cost effectively. The data of the ongoing studies will be summed up in a final report on our site, as well we will keep you updated on any publications resulting from our collaboration with Bimini Shark Lab. Thanks to anybody who participated in the expedition and therefore helped fund the research. As well we’d like to thank Katy & Grant from Neal Watson’s Bimini Scuba Center for cooperating with us at the tagging site and supporting the research.

Great hammer shark with an acoustic tag passing by receiver - photo Fred Buyle

Great hammer shark with an acoustic tag passing by receiver – photo Fred Buyle

This photo shows the most important components of acoustic tagging & tracking in shark research. The acoustic tag & the acoustic receiver. The tag emits an acoustic signal in a set time interval which can be picked up by the acoustic receiver once the sharks is within a range of 500m. Every couple of months the researchers download the data from the receivers that are located around the study hotspots to see when the sharks were in what locations.

Fred Buyle tagging a great hammerhead shark - photo William Winram

Fred Buyle tagging a great hammerhead shark – photo William Winram

Fred Buyle tagging a Great Hammerhead during freediving. Although it looks easy this approach takes long experience and excellent freediving & spearfishing skills. The animal needs to be approached so it is not scared away or is irritated by the divers movement. Only if the animal is totally relaxed and our divers have enough time to place the shot at a perfect angle like this, they fire the gun placing the tag right below the dorsal fin.

Placement of the tag in thick muscle tissue at the base of the dorsal fin - photo Fred Buyle

Placement of the tag in thick muscle tissue at the base of the dorsal fin – photo Fred Buyle

The muscle tissue is very thick in this area and the dart of the tag penetrates that tissue a couple of centimeters deep. Most sharks swim off, but return shortly after being tagged, sometimes within minutes. Some don’t return for a couple of days. Eventually the dart & tag are grown out of the tissue.

11-year old Zaki about to do his first shark dive - photo Lukas Mueller

11-year old Zaki about to do his first shark dive – photo Lukas Mueller

Zaki only 5min before his first dive with Reef Sharks. The look on his face says it all.

Bryan Keller at the shark lab showing the ropes to Zaki for lemon shark research - photo Lukas Mueller

Bryan Keller at the shark lab showing the ropes to Zaki for lemon shark research – photo Lukas Mueller

Shark Scientist Bryant from the Bimini Shark Lab showing Zaki & Malik how to handle a Lemon Shark for various scientific measurements.

Zaki in the company of his dad and a great hammerhead shark - photo William Winram

Zaki in the company of his dad and a great hammerhead shark – photo William Winram

Zaki diving with his father Samir. This family will surely spread the word about shark research & conservation and help to protect these animals as shark advocates.

Webinar with CWF

Project type: Webinar
Date: January 15, 2014 – 1:15-1:45pm (EST)
Location: Bimini, Bahamas
Project target: To engage young students in a discussion about freediving and sharks.
Team: William Winram and webinar host Dr Sean Brilliant, CWF Marine Programs Manager
Participants to webinar: grade 4-6 students from north America.

On January 15, 2014, while on location of the recent shark tagging expedition, THE WATERMEN PROJECT founder and team member William Winram will be engaging his favourite crowd on the subject of freediving and sharks.

From the CWF website:
Educators and students are invited to join the Canadian Wildlife Federation for a wild webinar featuring Canadian free diver William Winram live from Bimini area of the Bahamas where tagging of Hammerhead sharks is underway. Winram is a world record-holding free diver and shark researcher! He will explain how shark tagging is done and discuss the valuable information that tagging provides.

This webinar is also a great opportunity for students to learn more about sharks that live in Canadian waters, many of which are threatened with extinction. Participants will also engage with the CWF Salt Water Cities Kids’ Project and connect with CWF Marine Programs Manager Sean Brillant.

On the agenda:

* Welcome and introduction by webinar host Dr. Sean Brillant, CWF Marine Programs Manager
* Making it real: Canadian Free diver and shark researcher William Winram will speak about his incredible experiences tagging sharks and his adventures as a free diver, as well as about the shark research revealed by his work
* Discussion about Canadian sharks, shark tagging and their conservation
* Q & A session with the students and teachers

The Watermen Project's first websinar - Kindly hosted by the Canadian Wildlife Federation

The Watermen Project’s first webinar – Kindly hosted by the Canadian Wildlife Federation

Geneva Museum of Natural History

Project type: Public speaking
Date: February 2, 2013
Location: Museum of Natural History, Geneva, Switzerland
Project target: show Diving with Sharks, The Watermen Project’s first documentary film
Team: William Winram & Laurent Egli
Participants: general public of 250

The Watermen Project was invited to present its film Diving with Sharks at the 9th edition of the “Month of documentary films” held at the Geneva Museum of Natural History.

Coproduction The Watermen Project & Liquid Prod

Coproduction The Watermen Project & Liquid Prod

This annual event aims at providing educational as well as entertaining films for all ages during the least sunny month of the year in Geneva: February. This year’s theme for participating documentary films was “Water”. Titled H2eau: science and extreme sports, the month-long event showed two dozen films from February 2nd to 27th, on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays over a span of 36 showings.

Dr Mauricio Hoyos explains how he has not been able to place a single tag on scalloped hammerhead sharks, on scuba, in the last 5 years – Photo Laurent Egli

Dr Mauricio Hoyos explains how he has not been able to place a single tag on scalloped hammerhead sharks, on scuba, in the last 5 years – Photo Laurent Egli

Organized in partnership with the department of sports of the City of Geneva and the Museum of Natural History, this edition was officially launched with a special event organized on Saturday February 2nd.
William Winram introduced shark tagging to the audience with The Watermen Project’s first film titled Diving with Sharks, an 18-minute short which documented shark expeditions between 2009 and 2013 in the Mexican Pacific Ocean. In fact, the latest expedition was just finished mid January 2013 leaving only less than three weeks to edit the film for the premiere at the Museum.

Over 250 people turned up for the showing, some of whom could not watch the film because the auditorium had filled beyond its capacity. After the film, William graciously answered questions from the crowd of all ages, in the company of Laurent Egli, the film director and cameraman for the latter images of the documentary. The Q&A session lasted for over an hour.

William during Q&A with film director Laurent Egli - photo Natalja Egli

William during Q&A with film director Laurent Egli – photo Natalja Egli

During the month-long documentary festival, Diving with Sharks was shown along side prestigious films such as Raphaël Blanc’s Arktos: Mike Horn’s inner voyage and Jacques Perrin’s Oceans.

Yasmine’s first shark encounters

By Yasmine Metaxa, 13 years old

Back in October of last year, I, Yasmine Metaxa, was asked if I wanted to participate in a shark tagging expedition trip off the coast of Mexico. The idea was to participate in The Watermen Project which combines research for the preservation of sharks together with education about sharks. I was supposed to participate on the education part and try to pass on the information I have learnt to my school! It was a very amazing experience but also a difficult trip and I will try and share some of these experiences with you.

Yasmine's First Shark Encounters-chat
Chatting with William Winram and my dad on the expedition boat.

Our trip started on the 5th of January of this year where we had to fly for over 24 hours from Geneva to get to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, where the expedition boat would depart from. We arrived in Cabo very tired on the evening of the 5th of January and boarded the boat on the 6th. I had never been on an expedition boat before, so I was surprised to see how simple and basic the boat was. At 30 meters in length it had to accommodate 15 people who were part of the expedition and 8 crewmembers. The boat was relatively old, but fully equipped with diving equipment, a decompression chamber and two inflatable boats to take us around. Most importantly, the boat had the strength to stay at sea for over 7 days without the need for refueling or stopping at an island to get food. It was on arrival on the boat that we started understanding the significance of the trip ahead of us. We were told that once onboard we were not going to set foot on land for the next 7 days and in order to get to our destination we had to cross the Pacific Ocean for a non-stop 24 hour trip! We were headed to the Revillagigedos Islands, which is a group of four volcanic islands in the Pacific ocean. The four islands are San Benedicto, Socorro, Rocca Partida and Clarion. The 3 first islands have a separate time zone to the Clarion island. These islands are uninhabited with the exception of a naval base on the south Socorro island that has a population of 250 people (staff and families). There is also a small naval garrison of 9 men on Clarion Island. These islands are only visited by eco-tourists who are keen to scuba dive and explore the magnificence of the nature there. These islands are sometimes referred to as Mexico’s “little Galapagos’ islands”.
And off we went, our trip felt even longer than what it took and due to the constant rolling of the boat on the large ocean waves, it was very tiring. We felt sea sick for the longer part and we could only cure this by taking special sea sickness pills as well as spending time sleeping!
On the morning of the 7th we finally arrived to San Benedicto a volcanic island that had its latest eruption in 1952 that almost destroyed it! You can see the dried up lava flow from the side of the volcano into the water on a part of the bay that we were told that we would also dive.

Yasmine's First Shark Encounters-island
The Island San Benedicto with it’s volcano and the lava flow.

The expedition was organized by William Winram, a freediving champion, who volunteers his time in support of shark conservation. On the boat we also have Dr. Mauricio Hoyos who is a scientist who has dedicated his professional life to the behavior of sharks. Mauricio is currently working with two species listed as “endangered globally” and of “concern” on the IUCN’s Red list, the hammerhead shark and the great white shark. Mauricio is going to use the data collected from the shark tagging in order to convince the government of Mexico to put in place new laws that will help protect the hammerhead sharks. I discussed with Mauricio the importance of sharks in the oceans and he explained that sharks are important because they regulate the amount and health of other fish species. Sharks are an apex predator and they will often feed on sick, diseased or old animals, which is a way of preventing disease or sickness from spreading. They act like a regulator to the balance of the oceans. Mauricio explained that the loss of sharks will have effects beyond our imagination for our oceans which make up the largest part of our planet. Finally there is still a lot to learn from sharks as it is said that they may have been one of the first animals on earth to develop an immune system and they seem to have a much greater ability than humans to resist cancers and other diseases.
We then got to spend some time understanding how the sharks are tagged. This is a process that is very delicate and not always successful. The person that is tagging must approach the sharks with a spear gun and must place the tag on the shark next to the main fin either to the right or to the left of it.

Yasmine's First Shark Encounters-tag
Acoustic Tag used to study the sharks’ movements.

The spear gun has a camera installed on it that will capture the moment this happens and the diver must note what kind of a shark has been tagged as well as whether it was a male or a female. To make things even more difficult the shark tagging happens while free diving (single breath of air) and not with a scuba tank. This is the only way to approach these animals, quietly and eventually to have a higher success rate. Finally the difficulty is even greater as we are told that this time of the year the sharks are at 30 – 40 meters of depth and there is a very strong current! The good news is that the shark’s skin is very strong and the tagging does not hurt them, but it must feel like a strong pinch just like when we humans have a needle touch us for blood taking.
We ended up spending the next few days swimming in the ocean, monitoring the work of the shark tagging team. We also had the opportunity to do some scuba diving and free dive along with several manta rays dolphins, sea turtles, whales, schools of tuna, and other beautiful exotic fish. The marine life in this region is extraordinary and breath taking. I enjoyed all these underwater activities as well as diving next to the lava flow.

Yasmine's First Shark Encounters-ray
A Giant Manta Ray gently passing by.

Did you know that tiger sharks are second to the great white in numbers of attacks on humans? Well, guess what… I was swimming around the lava flow, turned around, and 3 meters away was a tiger shark! (see picture 3) The closest I ever got to a shark! People ask me when I tell them this experience: were you in a cage? I was NOT! I did not swim away and scream like people would normally do, as a matter of fact, I swam towards it. I know, it was the wrong thing to do since they are still predators but not killing machines. Obviously, it swam away. So I continued swimming. Then, another swimmer with us in the water spotted the same tiger shark again! It was swimming around us! William, who was with us too, told us to get back on the zodiac and head towards the boat. This was because the sun was setting, it was almost 5:00pm, and as the sun low in the horizon it was more difficult to see clearly underwater therefore it would’ve not be safe for us. So we left.

Yasmine's First Shark Encounters-shark
This was a young and curious tiger shark investigating us.

Another aspect of the trip that was also memorable was that we were in a part of the world where communications were very limited. We could use a satellite phone to make calls in case of an emergency or to call home but the calls were limited in time as they were very expensive.
On the 12th of January we had reached the last day of our trip. The team had managed to tag 11 sharks, which was an acceptable amount, although they had initially hoped to tag 20 or more. Given the tough conditions that the team was faced with, they were all very happy with the final results. We spent the rest of the day traveling arrived in Cabo San Luca the next day on the 13th of January. It was weird getting back on steady land and for the next few days I felt like I was still on the boat. I was told that I suffered from land sickness! We took off the next morning and got back to Geneva on the 15th. This was a great experience that I am very happy to be able to share with all of you. I hope that through this article I have conveyed the importance of protecting endangered animals such as sharks that are extremely important for keeping our oceans balanced. As a final note I wanted to let you know that Geneva’s Natural History museum has devoted the whole month of February ’13 on the topic of sharks and water!