2017 & Beyond

Marvels of the Revillagigedo Archipelago

Marvels of the Revillagigedo Archipelago

The Watermen Project is five years old !

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IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
Islander Charters, Inc.
Nautilus Explorer

Bimini ’15

Project type: Shark tagging expedition
Date: February 12-19, 2015
Location: Bimini, Bahamas
Project target: To place acoustic tags on great hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna mokarran) to monitor their migratory pattern. To speak with government officials of the Caribbean states to create more marine sanctuaries for sharks and rays
Lead Scientist: Dr. Tristan Guttridge
Tagging team: William Winram, assisted by Laurent Egli
Organizer: THE WATERMEN PROJECT & The Pew Charitable Trust

The Pew Charitable Trusts invited IUCN Ocean Ambassador William WInram to be a guest alongside former President of Costa Rica José Maria Figueres, Sir Richard Branson as well as Dr. Edd Brooks of the Cape Eleuthera Institute.

The Pew Charitable Trusts intention was to inspire the invited government officials of the Caribbean states to follow in the same footsteps as the Bahamas and BVI, and pledge to create marine protected areas and more specifically, sanctuaries for sharks and rays. A real challenge when you consider that with its more than 700 islands, the Caribbean is governed by 13 sovereign states and 17 dependent territories. A geopolitical puzzle, a giant maze of legislation, a sea of countries.

The Caribbeans

The Caribbeans

Shark dive and shark tagging

Beyond a conference, The Pew Charitable Trusts felt it was important government officials see what shark conservation is about and why it’s important, in situ. And so after Dr. Edd Brooks talk over lunch, the government delegations were invited for an up close and personal look at sharks.
We started the day’s dive with the Caribbean reef sharks – there were about 18 of them. After the reef sharks we headed for the Great Hammerhead sharks dive. Almost everyone, although already a bit cold, got in the water to see the great hammerhead shark. We waited some time for everyone to have a look and then William tagged her and sent her on her way with a brand new acoustic tag.

Tagging Great Hammerhead sharks - Photo Laurent Egli

Tagging Great Hammerhead sharks – Photo Laurent Egli

Caribbean round table

Over breakfast that morning, Sir Richard Branson hosted a meeting during which he explained to the delegates the commercial value of sharks alive rather than dead along with the obvious health and vitality that they maintain for ocean ecosystems – basically everyone agreed that without sharks our oceans will not remain healthy and viable.

During the discussions, the importance of sharks was well recognized as was the importance of a healthy ocean. William Winram was asked to share his thoughts and he touched on the fact that in many marine protected areas (MPAs) the fee for entry is not on a level comparable with the enormous beauty and rarity of the park. Moreover, when you realize that most marine protected areas do not have sufficient funding to allow proper patrolling of their waters and protection for the area it becomes clear that there needs to be a higher cost of entry so that tourists can continue to enjoy these amazing underwater worlds.
Indeed, from what we have learned in speaking to many tourists over the years in different MPAs most would happily pay more knowing that they were contributing to their protection.

It was interesting to hear about the evolution of the Bahamas Shark Sanctuary and how the Bahamian Trust, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Bahamian Government and the Bahamian people helped to make this a reality.

The Pew Charitable Trust event statewomen and statemen, guests and speakers

The Pew Charitable Trust event statewomen and statemen, guests and speakers

Acknowledgements

The Watermen Team was pleased to have met all of the delegates, particularly Dr. the Honourable Kedrick Pickering who is Deputy Premier and Minister of Natural Resources and Labour of the Government of the British Virgin Islands, Dr. Edd Brooks, President José María Figueres and Sir Richard Branson. Dr. Edd Brooks is such an amazing inspiration for creating and running the Cape Eleuthera Institute, José María is an eloquent speaker and an extremely intelligent gentleman in the truest sense of the word. I also briefly spoke with Richard Branson about shark tagging and he was truly one of the most humble and genuine people we have met… a true pleasure.

In conclusion

The Watermen Project team is often invited to speak in land-locked cities about the importance of ocean conservation, about the intricate relationship we have with the sea, whether we live by it or in the mountains far away from it. It regulates our weather, it provides our water, all our run-offs however remote on earth, end up in the ocean.

It is pir hope that Caribbean governments which are seabound by their geographic nature lead the way and protect what must be protected. The pledging for the future of the ocean starts now.

Guadalupe ’14

Project type: Shark tagging expedition
Date: October-November 2014
Location: Guadalupe Island, Mexico
Project target: To place acoustic tags on great white sharks and take biopsy samples of great white sharks.
Lead scientists: Dr. Mauricio Hoyos, Dr. Yannis Papastamatiou
Tagging team: William Winram & Fred Buyle, assisted by Lukas Mueller
Supportive team: Ismaehl (el Capitan), Edgar Becerril
Collaboration: Islander Charters, IUCN

*** Please Note that any diving without a cage at Guadalupe Island is only legal with special government and biosphere permits for scientific field work. This applies as well for setting foot on the island. Our team was granted all permits for their scientific work during the expedition. ***

From left to right: William Winram, Lukas Mueller, Fred Buyle

From left to right: William Winram, Lukas Mueller, Fred Buyle

Isla Guadalupe: 29°1′51″N, 118°16′48″W

The sight of Guadalupe Island at sunrise is priceless. The volcanic ridges and cliffs give the impression to hover over the Islander as the boat anchored a few hundred meters offshore.

A view on Guadalupe Island, from the vessel The Islander - photo Lukas Mueller

A view on Guadalupe Island, from the vessel The Islander

A rock, in the middle of the Pacific

Guadalupe: A rock in the middle of the Pacific

A home away from home

In previous years we waited for sharks to approach the boat, started observing their behavior before getting in the water and beginning to place tags. This time around we packed our gear, loaded everything on Dr. Mauricio Hoyos’ boat and following some warm handshakes landed at the rocky beach of the north east cove and set up camp. Ahead laid 4 weeks of living and working on and around the island of white sharks – Isla de Guadalupe.

Base camp: an old fishing house

Base camp: an old fishing house

Skylight...

Skylight…

The old fishing house that Dr. Hoyos cleaned and improved over the years served as our base camp and provided shelter for gear and equipment. Camp life included no running water or electricity. Our diet consisted of hot tea, dry food, some apples and lemons throughout our stay – all cooked on a propane stove. Sometimes this was complemented by dinners on some of the cage diving boats that visited the bay.

Sharks and El Niño

In the beginning phase, working conditions in the water were very poor. The visibility was just over 10 meters with lots of particles in the water. In addition water temperature was a lot warmer than usual and caused sharks to stay deep. Once they arrived at the surface, most of them circled the boat a couple of times and disappeared again. The reason for these difficult conditions is the El Nino event that has been affecting many ecosystems along the Californian coast this year. Adapting to the poor conditions our freedivers had to stay very close to Dr. Hoyos’ boat and constantly look for sharks to not miss an opportunity to tag one.

The initial water conditions were more difficult than usually, with fewer sharks near the surface and a poor visibility

Fred Buyle placing an acoustic tag on a great white shark during the initial phase of the expedition when conditions were more difficult than usually, with fewer sharks near the surface and poor visibility

Since the sharks were shy and conditions difficult our Watermen spent lots of time in the boat waiting for something to happen.

Since the sharks were shy and conditions difficult our Watermen spent lots of time in the boat waiting for something to happen.

More that meets the eye

But at a productive ecosystem like Guadalupe there is always something to see and explore. Amongst other things we got to see blue whales cruising through the bay, huge yellow fin tuna jumping in a feeding frenzy and dolphins keeping our sharks away from the boat. Guadalupe is probably the best place in the world to observe the elusive beaked whale. We got to see them on a daily basis in pods of 5-6 animals. Dr. Hoyos has had the chance of seeing them underwater and documented white shark bite marks on them. From our top water observations this season we can clearly say that Guadalupe isn’t just about the white sharks. This was further proven to us when we explored the coastline in order to find sharks that were searching for prey in the shallower waters around the island. It was an impressive sight to fin through the water, right under the volcanic cliffs, constantly keeping a look out for white sharks. Of course we had our tagging gun, biopsy gun, camera, and tags with us in case we encountered a good candidate for an acoustic tag.

Exploring Guadalupe

Exploring Guadalupe

guadalupe-fur-seals

During these explorations we saw turtles on every single dive, big yellowtails, california sea lions, guadalupe fur seals, groupers, lots of reef fish, bat rays and horn sharks. It is such a diverse and productive ecosystem with an incredible scenery. When diving at a ridge to the north of the bay we crossed a 12-meter deep canyon when one of us spotted a 5-meter female Great White Shark cruising in on the bottom from behind us, passing under us and swimming away, with the gigantic caudal fin generating a powerful thrust against the current. It was an amazing sight to see a great white shark swim in between the rocky canyons and pinnacles close to shore and perfectly camouflaged to the sea floor.

So much to see

William Winram scanning the water for a great white shark

After finishing our work in the water and returning to camp we got to enjoy the company of elephant seals and Guadalupe fur seals at the beach. Being based on land and spending as much time on sight was a perfect opportunity for us to observe the pinnipeds’ behavior and their role in the ecosystem of the white sharks. Surprisingly, the most common cause of death in the Guadalupe fur seal population is not white shark predation but falling rocks. At several occasions we heard loud growls howling from hundreds of meters away when huge rocks crash down onto the shoreline or into the water. At first, the little fur seals were scared of us but over the course of the expedition they accepted us at the beach and became so confident as to sniff our feet and bark at us from a couple of feet away.

Eye contact with a local resident, Arctocephalus townsendi

Eye contact with a young local resident, Arctocephalus townsendi, Guadalupe fur seal

Surprise encounters

To engage people that are passionate about the ocean we gave presentations about our work at the cage diving boats that visited the area to show their clients the great white sharks of Guadalupe. Together with Dr. Hoyos who explained key aspects and findings of his research, we showed people that great white sharks can be interacted with and tagged by freedivers without a cage, but that these animals are still big ocean predators and have to be treated as such – with respect.

We are grateful for the many passionate questions and talks after our presentations and how much interest the people we encountered expressed towards ocean conservation and our work. We were extremely lucky to meet Dr. Sylvia Earle and spend an exceptional evening with her, friends and colleagues. It was one of the strangest feelings to ride a small zodiac through the dark waters around the cliffs of Guadalupe back to the camp with the only light being the stars – after having had lots of good company and a nice dinner.

From left to right: William Winram, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Mauricio Hoyos, Fred Buyle, Lukas Mueller

From left to right: William Winram, Dr. Sylvia Earle, Dr. Mauricio Hoyos, Fred Buyle, Lukas Mueller

Exploring Guadalupe Island without fins

Being based on the island also gave our team the rare opportunity to explore the island on foot. We prepared our backpacks and put our shoes on for the first time during our stay to find our path up an old dirt road. It didn’t take us long to understand how treacherous this terrain is. Rocks falling down the steep ridges and remains of vehicles from past accidents definitely left their impression on us. The island was unusually green in comparison to past expeditions. This was due to the many storms and hurricanes in 2014 which caused so much rain that it (in the right light) reminded us of the Azores. Cactus plants were to be found everywhere and penetrated our soles from time to time. When reaching the viewpoint from where you look across the entire bay, the sight was breathtaking. The contrast between the dark blue water, green murky patches in shore and the grey-red-orange walls of the island has something special. We spotted sea lions, elephant seals and beaked whales from up there. Once more, our team got to get a more lateral picture of the ecosystem and the role of the white shark at Guadalupe.

A view of the Pacific ocean from hiking on Guadalupe

A view of the Pacific ocean from hiking on Guadalupe

guadalupe-view

Mission accomplished

Over the course of the expedition conditions improved and even came back to “Guadalupe standards” by the end of the last week. During the last days of the expedition we placed more acoustic tags than in the weeks before because conditions went back to normal with 25-meter visibility, water cooled down and fewer particles. In total our team placed 15 acoustic tags and took 7 biopsy samples. Dr. Hoyos and Dr. Papastamatiou are excited about the outcome of the expedition given the extremely difficult circumstances under which our team operated this year. In addition to the usual acoustic tags we place on white sharks for Dr. Hoyos we placed new acoustic tags that have the potential to uncover interactions between Great White Sharks from Guadalupe and sharks from California.

William tagging a great white shark

William tagging a great white shark

When conditions improved the white sharks became more confident and moreover arrived at the surface again to check us out. Dr. Hoyos believes that the sharks at Guadalupe stay below the thermocline most of the time. The warm water of this year’s season pushed the thermocline deeper and therefore we were seeing sharks much less frequently at the surface. When in the water with the amazing predators in order to tag them, sometimes sharks that are already tagged come back right after or a couple of days later. This is a great opportunity to capture photos for identification purposes and the respectful interactions professional freedivers can have with great white sharks.

Taking pictures of these beautiful predators to identify their unique patterns

Taking pictures of these beautiful predators to identify their unique patterns

Some of the females that were quite confident this season and displayed their presence in the water towards our Watermen were: Emma, Giana and Faye – according to the white shark photo ID book of Guadalupe

Looking ahead

We are already looking forward to our 2015 expedition to find out what data our tagging efforts produced and to continue supporting White Shark research in the pacific.

Make sure to follow our team and sign up for expeditions!

The team: (from left to right) William, Yannis, Mauricio, Ismaehl, Fred and Lukas

The team: (from left to right) William, Yannis, Mauricio, Ismaehl, Fred and Lukas

Twitter:
@watermenproject
@williamwinram
@fredbuyle
@lukaswaterman

Facebook:
The Watermen Project
William Winram
Fred Buyle
Lukas Muller

Sign up for expeditions here.

Vamizi ’14

Project type: Shark tagging expedition
Date: September 2014
Location: Vamizi Island, Mozambique
Project target: To place acoustic tags on grey reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) to monitor the residency period of the grey reef shark aggregation at Neptune’s Arm dive site.
Collaborative Scientist: (in alphabetical order) Tess Hempson (South Africa, marine biologist and PhD candidate at James Cook University), Dr. Nigel Hussey (Canada, shark specialist University of Windsor), Isabel Marques da Silva (Portugal, marine biologist and PhD candidate at Universidade de Aveiro, Portugal), Dr. David Obura (Kenya, IUCN Coral Specialist Group), Yannis Papastamatiou (UK, research fellow at St Andrews University), Melinda Rekdahl (Australia, Postdoctoral researcher Wildlife Conservation Society),
Tagging team: William Winram, assisted by Angelos Metaxa
Organizer: IUCN & THE WATERMEN PROJECT

A birdseye view of Vamizi Island, Mozambique

A birdseye view of Vamizi Island, Mozambique

The purpose of this expedition was to support “one of the ongoing research projects at Vamizi’s Marine Conservation and Research Centre which focuses on a population of Grey Reef Sharks that not only have very special characteristics, but have an extremely important role in maintaining the ecosystem where they are found” (source: http://www.vamizi.com/blog/post/tagging-grey-reef-sharks).

Grey reef sharks of Vamizi

Grey reef sharks of Vamizi

It is a large collaborative efforts between scientists and conservationists who work with different marine species to study Vamizi’s unique ecosystem.

Oil extracting industrial interest nearby makes it paramount to study the Vamizi ecosystem and get a baseline understanding before the gas exploration evolves too much further.

Drilling for fossil fuel energy

Drilling for fossil fuel energy

For The Watermen Project’s founder, William Winram, it was the first time he saw sharks which were distinguly afraid of spearguns. It was a couple of days later that he found out that a nearby tribe is known to have hunted them with spearguns…

Tagging the sharks proved to be a particularly challenging experience because Neptune’s Arm diving spot has major currents most of the time, and when it abates, the sharks leave.

Nonetheless, it was an extraordinary experience, the reef is intact, it is (sadly) one of the few left in the world. William had amazing experiences with humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) as well as a particularly friendly a turtle belonging to the critically endangered species of Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata).

Vamizi Hawksbill Turtle

Vamizi Hawksbill Turtle

The encounters were filmed for the purpose of the making of the film Cradle of Coral a joint project with producers Mattias Klum Tierra Grande & Maryanne Culpepper.

“The environment is all that we have. If we don’t have the environment, we don’t have the life support system that sustains us. I think Vamizi is a baton of hope” – Dr. David Obura

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

Happy New Year

Project type: Expedition
Dates: January 4-10, 2014
Location: Bimini, Bahamas
Base: Land
Project target: placing acoustic tags on Great Hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna mokarran)
Lead scientist: Dr. Tristan Guttridge
Tagging team: William Winram, Andrea Zuccari safety diver
Participants: eight from age 5 to 51
Sea life: abundant

Dr Tristan Guttridge observing his favourite subject, the Great hammerhead shark - photo William Winram

Dr Tristan Guttridge observing his favourite subject, the Great hammerhead shark – photo William Winram

This is the first tagging expedition of the year !

It’s also the first land-based expedition since the beginning of THE WATERMEN PROJECT which is a good thing because most of the participants were affected by the massive snow storm which has paralyzed many airports on the East coast of the USA.

Field updates will be posted on our facebook page.

New Video on Great White Shark Tagging

In 2012, the team of The Watermen Project embarked on an expedition to Isla de Guadalupe, Mexico. For shark scientist Dr. Mauricio Hoyos, William Winram and Fred Buyle placed 11 acoustic tags on Great White Sharks in order to further study their migratory behavior.

The goal of these studies is to understand long-term movements of Carcharodon carcharias to propose science-based conservation and management plans.

If you would like to share this video, please share the link from our facebook page.

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!

Revillagigedo Archipelago ’13

Project type: Expedition
Dates: January 6-13, 2013
Location: San Benedicto, the Revillagigedo Archipelago, Mexico
Base: Liveaboard
Project target: placing acoustic tags on Scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini)
Lead scientist: Dr. Edgar Mauricio Hoyos Padilla
Tagging team: William Winram, Philippe Beauchamp safety diver, Lukas Mueller scientific assistant
Participants: twelve from age 13 to 52
Sea life: abundant

San Benedicto, third largest island of the Revillagigedo Archipelago, 386 km southwest of Cabo San Lucas

San Benedicto, third largest island of the Revillagigedo Archipelago, 386 km southwest of Cabo San Lucas

The main challenge of this tagging expedition was the fact that the scalloped hammerhead sharks stayed deep within the water column. The team dove to an area of the reef serving as a cleaning station for the sharks, but the area was battered by heavy currents. As a consequence tags were placed at depths of 22 to 40 meters.

Scalloped hammerhead shark about to get tagged – photo William Winram

Scalloped hammerhead shark about to get tagged – photo William Winram

The youngest participant Yasmine had several encounters that re-enforced the value of this concept of The Watermen Project. At 13 years of age she saw a 4.5-meter tiger shark up close, Galapagos sharks, silver tip sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks and she swam with a giant manta ray… as well as seeing scores of dolphins, hearing humpback whales singing and watching as they would swim by the boat etc… not bad for 13-year old!

As a young marine biology student, Lukas not only shared in many of these encounters but also worked hard, logging data, keeping track of tags and getting in the water to watch the tagging. He left with a real idea of what this kind of work is like and what it entails for both the scientist and those of us that help in the research. He left the expedition even more inspired and passionate about the sea and sharks.

The other members of the expedition also who shared in the encounters with the different species of marine life as well as the evening talks on the boat given by Dr. Mauricio Hoyos about sharks, his research and the particulars of the island we were anchoring near. Many thanks to them as their coming together to support sharks conservation is what made this expedition possible.

Waiting at 25 meters for hammerhead sharks - photo Laurent Egli

waiting at 25 meters for hammerhead sharks – photo Laurent Egli

It took about 300 dives over the course of six days to place ten tags. Dr. Hoyos having had no luck placing tags over the past five years prior to this expedition, this number is sufficient to give him the first chance to have good data about the scalloped hammerhead sharks and their behaviour.