Megaptera & The Marine Conservation Society, Seychelles
Whale Shark Programme
Welcome to the Djibouti Expedition....................................................... 3
Introduction to Megaptera and MCSS........................................ 3
The study area ~ Djibouti ........................................................................ 4
A brief introduction to the whale shark ................................................. 5
2009 programme aims and activities ..................................................... 7
Overall programme aims ........................................................... 7
Boat based monitoring activities ................................................ 7
Tagging and photo ID (I3S) ........................................................ 8
Genetic sampling ....................................................................... 8
Environmental monitoring .......................................................... 8
Your role on the expedition .................................................................... 8
Boat based monitoring activities- Recorder ............................... 8
In-water activities - Photography................................................ 9
In-water activities - Sexing the shark ......................................... 9
In-water activities - Observations............................................. 10
Other in-water / boat activities ................................................. 11
Data recording and entry ........................................................ 11
Contacts and profiles ............................................................................ 13
The boat M/V Deli................................................................................... 15
Useful info .............................................................................................. 16
What to bring.......................................................................................... 18
Welcome to the Djibouti expedition
In just a few weeks you will joining us in Djibouti on the second expedition organized by
Megaptera and the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles (MCSS) to conduct research
into the whale shark population off Djibouti.
By signing up to help on this expedition you’ll be contributing in a major way to the data we
collect which in turn is used to update both local and international conservation measures
for whale sharks. Compared with many other animals little is known about the life of the
whale shark, their breeding, birthing and distributions and migratory habits are all still
mysteries and your involvement in this project could help to solve some of the questions
scientists have long been posing.
This booklet is a brief introduction to what you’ve let yourself in for with information on the
MCSS and Megaptera, the programme we will be running and what your role will entail. It
will also prove to be a good guide to some the activities you will be participating in and as
such it is highly recommended that you print a copy of the booklet and bring it with you as
Introduction to Megaptera and MCSS
Megaptera is a non-governmental organisation which was originally created in Mayotte in
1998, dedicated to the observation and protection of marine mammals of the Indian
Ocean. It was the discovery of the richness, and simultaneously, the lack of knowledge
about Cetacean populations in the Indian Ocean, that led to Megaptera 's foundation, with
the key aims - to seek, educate and work towards the conservation of cetaceans.
Since its creation, Megaptera has developed a variety of study programmes and worked
for the conservation of marine mammals in Mayotte, Madagascar, and in the Comoros. All
the programmes are staffed by eco-volunteers and Megaptera encourages the public to
participate in their activities. When Michel Vely (founder member and the President of
Megaptera) moved to Djibouti he found not whales but a substantial number of whale
sharks and so he contacted David Rowat of MCSS about monitoring methods. A small
monitoring programme was initiated and the whale sharks of Djibouti were formally on the
map! A library of photographs and videos have been compiled since 2003 largely with the
support of Megaptera member Daniel Jouannet, organiser of the 2009 expedition, and
with the cooperation and assistance of Bruno Pardigon of Dolphin Tours, a local company
specialising in marine eco-tourism and live-aboard charters.
For further information please look at our website www.megaptera.org .
The Marine Conservation Society, Seychelles (MCSS) is a Non-Governmental
Organisation based in the Seychelles that was registered in 1997 and incorporates the
Shark Research Institute, Seychelles (SRIS). The MCSS was formed by a group of local
marine experts to meet the lack of capacity in Seychelles and to address matters of marine
biodiversity conservation and sustainable use. MCSS remains to this day, the only
Seychelles based Non-Governmental Organisation dedicated exclusively to the
conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity.
In 2000, the MCSS successfully obtained funding from the Global Environment Facility for
a three year project focused primarily on the management of coral reefs, whale sharks and
marine turtles following the severe bleaching event of 1998. MCSS is largely comprised
of volunteer members who work for the Society free of charge; additionally we employ
experts on short term contracts for specific activities. The whale shark monitoring
programme is run by the Society Chairman, Dr. David Rowat, who initiated the project in
Currently, MCSS have several programmes running on marine turtle monitoring, tracking
and conservation; a cetacean monitoring programme; and environmental moorings
programme as well as the whale shark programme. For further information please look at
our website www.mcss.sc .
The study area ~ Djibouti
Djibouti is situated in the north
east of Africa between
Ethiopia and Somalia, as
shown the map to the left.
The Gulf of Tadjoura, (latitude
11° 40’N, longitude 43° 00’E)
at the southern entrance to
the Red Sea, is an inlet of the
Indian Ocean caused by the
fault line of the northerly end
of the East African Rift Valley
that transects Djibouti,
Ethiopia and Kenya.
The area is geologically and
volcanically active as
evidenced in 1978 by the
eruption of the Ardoukoba
volcano. The seabed shelves
steeply from the coast of the
Gulf dropping to 100 m depth
around two km offshore and to around 450 m depth in the centre of the Gulf of Tadjoura.
Reports from local ecotourism operators suggested that whale sharks occur during the
months of October to February in the Arta Bay area, on the southern coast of the western
end of the Gulf of Tadjoura some 33 km from Djibouti city. The area is subject to strong
daily anabatic winds caused by intense thermal convection over the arid desert areas
inland; temperatures in nearby Lac Assal reputedly reach 50° C (Anon 2005). This thermal
convection progressively increases wind speeds during the day, drawing in cool air from
the Indian Ocean in the east, with the effect that sea surface conditions become
increasingly choppy in the afternoon and there is a general circulation of water movement
from east to west along the coast.
In 2006, Megaptera organized a first whale shark research expedition to Djibouti with the
collaboration and participation of MCSS as well as several other researchers. That
expedition characterized an unusual aggregation of small juvenile whale sharks: 23 whale
sharks were identified over five days in the Arta Bay region. Most of the sharks found were
males of less than four metres in length. Individuals were identified using photographs of
distinctive scars and spot and stripe patterns on the sides of the animals. During the
expedition one shark was tagged with a satellite tag which tracked its movements for nine
days until the tag detached; this track indicated that besides Arta there were others areas
on the north side of the Gulf of Tadjoura that were also frequented by the shark.
A Brief Introduction to the Whale Shark
The information below gives you a brief insight into the ecology of whale sharks, as well as
threats and conservation measures currently in place.
Species: Rhincodon typus (whale shark)
The species was first described and named in 1928 by Dr Andrew Smith from a 4.6 metre
specimen harpooned in Table Bay, South Africa. The animal was preserved and sent to
the Museé National D'Histoire Naturelle (Natural History Museum), Paris, where it can still
be viewed today.
Whale sharks are the world’s largest living shark and largest living fish; the largest
recorded whale shark measured 18m and weighed 34 tons. According to studies, whale
sharks have the potential to grow up to 20m in length and to live for nearly 150 years.
Whale sharks are characterised by their prominent patterns of spots and stripes over a
dark body, they have three prominent ridges running along each side of their bodies and a
wide flattened head with a huge mouth, up to 1.4m wide, at the front of their head.
Whale sharks are found circumglobally usually between 30°N and 30°S of the equator in
all tropical and warm temperate seas. Whale sharks are seen in shallow coastal waters,
deep ocean waters and are known to make long trans-oceanic migrations.
Little is know about this subject since whale sharks have not been witnessed mating or
birthing; however, it is known that whale sharks are ovoviviparus, eggs develop and hatch
in the uterus, with females carrying up to 300 fertilised eggs at different stages of
development. Whale sharks are not sexually mature until they are approximately 8m in
length, around 20-25 years of age. It is thought whale sharks are born at around 60 cm in
length and grow rapidly (around 1m per year) until they reach around 3-4m in length after
this growth slows to around 20 cm per year.
The whale sharks are filter feeders and their diet is comprised predominantly of
zooplankton. Ecologically they fill a similar niche to the baleen whales, who also feed on
similar prey, this fact, coupled with their great size, has prompted their common name
‘whale shark’. It is thought that various environmental cues trigger whale shark feeding
aggregations such as the land crab spawning at Christmas Island, Snapper spawning in
Belize and tropical krill at Ningaloo, Western Australia.
As the largest fish in the sea whale sharks have few natural predators once they have
reached their adult size, although there are reports of adult whale sharks having been
attacked by great white sharks and orcas. The biggest threat to whale sharks however are
humans. Not only do boat collisions poses a significant threat due to the fact that whale
sharks spend a large proportion of their time swimming near the surface of the sea, but
whale sharks have been targeted in South East Asian fisheries since the late 1980’s.
The 2009 Whale Shark Programme Aims & Activities
In organising this collaborative expedition we have a number of aims:
Overall Programme Aims
o Characterise the ecology of the whale shark population around Djibouti to improve
knowledge of population and increase conservation status
o Identify sharks to define population demographics and local scale movements
o Track sharks using various tracking devices to ascertain long range movements
o Characterise behaviour exhibited and correlate to environmental data (temperature,
plankton, tide etc)
o Report findings locally and regionally
o Liaise with local, regional and international authorities to develop appropriate world-
wide conservation measures
o Increase public awareness about whale sharks
Boat-Based Monitoring Activities
These will be the main-stay of the research expedition. We will be conducting our activities
from the two skiffs of the Deli, these are open boats with no shade so please bring
appropriate sun protection! There will be a monitoring team on each boat that will be run
by a team leader for each session. Once boarded the boats will move off to the area
where the sharks are usually found to conduct the in-water element of the research. On
board each boat there will be a recorder responsible for effectively capturing and
transcribing all the information collected as well as a maximum of three swimming/spotting
teams. Swim teams will generally comprise two people.
The recorder will be communicating with all the teams and recording all the information the
swimmers can give them about the sharks in the water.
The swimming teams need to capture as much data as possible whilst in the water with
regards to the sharks.... they will be looking to collect information on the size, sex,
behaviour and any associated fauna with the sharks as well as recording the encounters
photographically, taking ID pictures and using laser photography.
Boat based monitoring activities will be conducted of Deli’s two fibreglass skiffs; underwater photography is the key
method used for identification of the sharks.
Tagging and Photo ID (I3S)
Subject to the needs of the programme for this season, during the in-water encounters
certain specific identification tasks need to be completed. The regular requirement is for
the photo ID images to be captured of the left and right sides of each shark as mentioned
above. These are then digitally fingerprinted using the image matching software, I3S (also
known as IRIS), to identify the sharks. Use of the I3S programme will be explained to you
onboard, but by photographing the sharks we create a database of photos which are
processed to create a ‘virtual tag’ or fingerprint for each shark which we cross reference
with other fingerprints in our database to establish whether or not sharks have been seen
Also, we may be tagging sharks; tagging is normally done by Dr. David Rowat. In past
seasons we have regularly marker tagged sharks but this has now largely been
superseded by the use of I3S image matching for photo IDs; as such any tagging that does
occur will likely be of either satellite relayed tags or possibly of data-logging tags. You will
be fully briefed on any such deployments prior to the start of the session and team
members will be assigned individual tasks with respect to these activities.
As a part of the global programme to try to identify the regional populations of whale
sharks, we will be taking skin biopsies using a modified ‘Hawaiian sling’; this will be carried
out by one of the team leaders and team members will be assigned individual tasks with
respect to this. We will also be collecting parasitic copepods that are occasionally found on
the mouths of whale sharks; this will be done by Katie Brooks, one of the team leaders
who has experience at capturing these small shrimps.
During the expedition there will be a fairly extensive environmental monitoring programme
being implemented for which we will require your support and assistance. On each trip the
goal is to capture a Conductivity-Temperature-Depth (CTD) profile across the area where
the sharks are being seen as well as performing a plankton tow along the same transect.
Both of these activities will be described in depth and team members will be assigned
Your role on the Whale Shark Expedition
So as an eco-volunteer how do you fit in to all this? Volunteer participation is essential to
the successful running of the whale shark expedition and you can be assured that you will
be making a huge contribution.
There are a number of tasks we will be asking you to partipate in across all aspects of the
inwater data gathering to helping us accurately transcribe the data. A brief outline of each
on the roles and activities is given below:
Boat Based Monitoring Activities- Recorder
As the recorder on the boat your role will comprise of the following:
o Noting details on each and every encounter such as start and finish times,
locations, number of swimmers in the water, shark behaviour etc.
o Noting the details given to you about the in-water encounters from the swimming
teams, this will include shark size, sex, behaviours, scars, whether or not photos
have been taken and whether a biopsy sample was taken.
This information will all be recorded onto forms called ‘wet’ sheets (waterproof paper) set
up specifically to aid you in the collection of the information we require. The role will also
involve helping out with the collection and storage of samples as they are collected. This
will be explained to you onboard.
In-water Activities- Photography
While most people are searching for the most creative and aesthetically pleasing shots we
need two simple images to determine the identity of the shark. This is one of the most
essential jobs in the water.
Whale sharks have dark grey or brownish skin covered in a pattern of spots and stripes.
These skin patterns are unique to every shark and do not change over time, they can
therefore be used to identify individual sharks. The area of the whale shark just behind the
gill slits is the area we use to identify the individual sharks, as shown in the photo below.
The ideal picture:
o Includes the top and
bottom of the fifth gill slit
and the pectoral fin
o Is taken straight-on; shots
taken slightly ahead or
behind of the shark distort
o Is taken with a regular
lens, fish eye lenses can
cause distortion to the
When we get the pictures back and download them onto the computers, we use a
programme called I3S (or IRIS) to analyse the patterning by plotting the spot patterns to
create a digital ‘fingerprint’. These are then compared with all of the other ‘fingerprints’ in
our database (currently about 400) to see if we have seen the shark previously.
Unfortunately, the left and right sides of an individual shark have different patterning
therefore we need to capture images of BOTH side of the shark otherwise when we
recapture the sharks there is a chance we will be recording it as two sharks.
Between individuals it is essential that we take a ‘separator shot’ so we can be sure which
images belong to which shark. Prior to getting in with a new shark OR if you see a second
shark whilst still in the water, make sure you take a blank shot of the sky, the boat, your
hand... anything which will allow you to easily separate your shots later into different
In-water Activities- Sexing the Shark
In order to determine whether a shark is male or female we need to get underneath and
look! Males and females can be differentiated from one another by looking to see whether
or not there are claspers present. The claspers are found between the pelvic fins. On a
male there is a pair of claspers (which look like a pair of sausages) between the fins while
in females these are not present.
It can be difficult to swim underneath a moving shark so please let us know if you have any
concerns or would like any hints or tips!
In-water Activities- Observations
We also need numerous other pieces of information about the shark so when you hop in
the water try to bear in mind:
o The length of the shark- how big do you estimate the shark to be in metres?
o Scarring- does the shark have any notable scars and are the cause of the scars
o Associated fauna- the sharks often have numerous other species travelling with
them, what is with your shark and how many? (see examples below)
o Behaviour- try to make a mental note of exactly what the shark is doing, is it
feeding, swimming circling, does it respond to the presence of people and boats?
Mottled remoras Remora remora Slender remora Echeneis naucrates
Yellow pilot fish, Gnathanodon speciosus Black banded pilot fish, Naucrates ductor
Other Boat/In-water Activities
In addition to daily activities on the boats there are likely to be a number of ancillary
activities happening during the course of the expedition including:
o Measuring individual sharks, both with tape measures and also with laser pointer
o Helping with tagging with a variety of tags, for both long and short term deployment
o Plankton tows
o CTD profile casts
Details of these various activities will be given onboard.
Data Recording and Entry:
All of the above activities would be of little value without accurate and timely data entry;
essentially this is usually done the evening after the trips while things are still fresh in your
mind and you can remember what a particular squiggle on the data sheet is supposed to
Data entry onboard will include:
o Transcribe the ‘wet’ sheets onto hard-copy data sheets, again specifically designed
to help you capture all the required information- ideally this will be done by the
recorder on board each boat as they are the person most able to remember what
o Download the cameras and separate the images into the corresponding encounter
The team will also be undertaking further activities which we are more than happy to
explain to you and have your help on:
o Identify appropriate images for I3S pattern matching
o Perform any image changes needed, e.g. cropping, contrast or 3-D skewing (with
SPOT!- a software package designed to aid us in getting the most out of our Photo
o Create individual shark ‘Fingerprints’ and run I3S matches
o Update the I3S data spreadsheet
o Filling out the excel spreadsheet with all the details of the encounters
o Loading new chips into the cameras and recharging camera batteries
o Preparing ‘wet’ sheets for the next days activities
o Checking monitoring kits for each boat
Contacts and Profiles
Here’s a quick introduction to the team so you know who we are and what we do; please
feel free to contact us prior to your arrival if you have any questions or queries.
Michel Vely: firstname.lastname@example.org
President of Megaptera, Michel is a veterinarian and a specialist in
marine mammals being a member of the Society for Marine
He set up the first whale shark monitoring programme in Djibouti in
2003 and through Megaptera organized the first whale shark
research expedition to Djibouti in 2006.
Daniel Jouannet: email@example.com
Member of Megaptera and in charge of Megaptera video
productions and Megaptera programmes in Djibouti
Daniel is a keen cameraman and videographer having worked
with Megaptera for many years.
He was instrumental in the implementation of the first whale shark
monitoring programme in Djibouti in 2003 and helped organise the
first whale shark research expedition to Djibouti in 2006. He set up
the present 2008 monitoring mission in Djibouti
Dr. David Rowat: firstname.lastname@example.org
MCSS Chairman and Programme Leader
Having lived and dived in the Seychelles for over 20 years David
established and has been running the Whale Shark Programme
for the last 12 years. David is a well published scientist who has
recently completed his PhD on the whale sharks in Seychelles.
He has been a member of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group since
2003. He is also a PADI Master Instructor and qualified power
Katie Brooks: email@example.com
MCSS Whale Shark Programme Volunteer Co-ordinator and Team
Katie has worked for three seasons on the MCSS whale shark
programme in the Seychelles and has also worked for a season on
the programmes in Exmouth, Western Australia at Ningaloo Reef.
Katie is a divemaster, powerboat operator and tour leader and has
worked and dived around the world in Palau, Australia, Seychelles,
the UK and Thailand.
Luke Riley: firstname.lastname@example.org
Whale Shark Programme Team Leader
Luke has worked for two seasons on the MCSS whale shark
programme in the Seychelles and has also worked for a season
on the Coral Bay whale shark programme, Ningaloo, Western
Australia in 2008.
Luke is a divemaster as well as a powerboat operator and a
yachtmaster. Luke has also worked, sailed and dived in the
Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia as well as
Western Australia, Egypt and the Seychelles.
Bruno Pardigon: email@example.com
Operator of Dolphin Excursions & M/V Deli and Chairman of
the Marine Conservation Society Djibouti.
Bruno has lived in Djibouti for many years and as the operator
of several excursion vessels and diving live-aboards was one
of the first people to ‘discover’ the whale sharks of Djibouti.
With Michel Vely and other like minded individuals he set up
MCSD in 2003 and hosted the first research programme
aboard M/V Deli in 2006.
The Boat- M/V Deli
M/V Deli is a wooden schooner built in Turkey in 2001 from hard wood. She has two
masts, is 26 metres long and has a width of 7 metres. Accommodation is air conditioned
and comprises 6 cabins with double berths and en-suite shower and toilet.
Deli offers a spacious salon, an open air dining area with bar and a shower deck. At the
front of the vessel the deck area is for diving and equipment. She has a MAN 280Hp turbo
dieselengine and a 220v generator, sockets are European style 2 pin format. She has a
water capacity of 8000 litres and a fuel capacity of 4000 litres with a cruising speed of 8
Although traditional in style Deli has full state of the art safety equipment including VHF
radio, GPS and satellite telephone communication.
While this expedition and research programme does not require diving, Deli is fully set up
to support diving activities and occasional ‘fun dives’ will be available.
Emergency Contact Number
In case of emergency while you are in Djibouti please pass on the following information to
DOLPHIN EXCURSIONS P.O. Box 4476 Djibouti Tel/Fax (253) 350 313
Currency and Money
The currency of Djibouti is the Djibouti Franc (DjF); as a Djibouti is not a developed tourist
destination, most places will require payment in local currency. Current exchange rates
1UK£ = 300 DjF
1 USD= 170 DjF
1 EUR= 220 DjF
(correct at November 2008)
Credit cards are only accepted by airlines and the larger hotels.
French and Arabic are the official languages of Djibouti, but many people also speak
English to some degree.
Telephone & Country Dial Codes
The international code for calling into Djibouti is 00 253. To make a phone call from other
countries into the Djibouti first dial 00 253 followed by the number you wish to dial. When
calling within the Djibouti omit the 00 253. There is a good mobile phone network in
Djibouti city with several suppliers offering roaming services… coverage outside of Djibouti
city is almost non-existant.
Internet access in Djibouti is limited and there is no access aboard M/V Deli. There are a
few internet cafes in Djibouti city but access to these will be limited.
The largest hospital is Hôpital Générale Peltier, the general hospital in Djibouti City, which
has 610 beds and which provides primary and secondary care. There are several other
smaller hospitals and private clinics in Djibouti City.
Immigration & Visas
When flying into Djibouti you will be issued with a visa on arrival at the airport; for visits of
less than 10 days there is a fee of US$30 (subject to exchange rates) for visits longer than
10 days the charge is slightly more. You should make sure you are traveling on a passport
with at least three blank pages and for six months beyond date of departure required. To
assist in the process please forward the following information to the expedition organizers:
Full name as on passport;
Passport number and date of expiry
Flight numbers and dates
Home residential address
Visas usually take less than 30 minutes to organize at the airport and will be taken care of
by Dolphin Excursions.
There are a number of operators who fly in to Djibouti these include:
Air France : Paris Djibouti direct www.flightmapping.com/Africa/Djibouti/Djibouti/
Ethiopian Airways: Addis Abba direct to Djibouti www.cheapflights.co.uk/flights/Djibouti/
Kenya Airways: Nairobi direct to Djibouti
KLM via Amsterdam
Yemeni airlines from Salah
Dallo airlines from Dubai
When booking your flights you may want to double check to see if they give allowances for
scuba diving to give you a better baggage allowance.
Seychelles is UTC/GMT +3 hours
Djibouti uses standard European 2 pin plugs, 220 volts. If you are coming from the UK
your appliances are perfectly OK to use in Djibouti. If coming from elsewhere you may
need an adaptor.
What to Bring
With an average temperature of 27°C during January the Djibouti climate is tropical with
humidity around the 75% mark so you will need to bring clothing and items suited to these
conditions. The wind speeds increase in the afternoons and evenings can become a bit
chilly; we would recommend a long sleeve sweat shirt or fleece for evenings aboard Deli.
Below is a list of suggested items you might want to consider when you’re packing, it is not
however exhaustive. The most important thing to mention in this section is that it is
difficult to buy many things in Djibouti and imported goods can be expensive, also
you will have little opportunity to buy items as you will be aboard the boat. You will
need to bring with you cosmetics, personal toiletries, sunscreen, insect repellant,
batteries, medicines, first aid and clothes for your time out here.
o Swimwear (at least 2-3 sets)
o T Shirts
o Board Shorts/Quick Dry Shorts
o Long pair of trousers (incase of bugs and mosquitos or going out-
o Jumper/Sweater (although it doesn’t get cold very often, but can definitely be chilly
in the evenings)
o Flip flops
o A Pair of trainers/closed shoes (there are some really interesting hikes over the lava
fields and around Lake Assal.
o Rain jacket
For Whale Sharking:
A full set of snorkel gear-
o Fins (long free-diving fins are handy but not a necessity)
o Waterproof watch
o Full light wetsuit, skin suit or rash vest (we will probably encounter jellyfish during
the expedition and you need to made sure you have adequate protection against
o Underwater camera if you have one
Other Useful Stuff:
o Memory Stick
o Small day rucksack
o Sunscreen at least SPF 15 although we recommend SPF 30.
o Mosquito Repellant
o Other tolietries (shampoo, conditioner etc.)
o Pocket Knife
o Camera and charger/spare batteries with additional memory cards
o Spare batteries for other appliances (they can be expensive and difficult to get hold
o Ample supply of personal medications and painkillers (there are no local
pharmacies near to the expedition area)
o Personal 1st Aid kit- make sure you include waterproof tape, dressings, good
antiseptic cream and a generic anti-biotic.
o Sea Sickness tablets (if you get sea sick or think you might especially getting used
to being on the boats)
o Money in foreign exchange cash- Euros and US Dollars are most useful.
o Any Dive Cards/Certifcations if you want to get in the occasional dive
o A roll of Duck-tape
o I-Pod/ Personal Music and portable speakers
o Any other luxuries you can’t live without- good chocolate, good coffee etc.
Insurance- please check your insurance to make sure you are covered to dive if you plan
to do so during this trip.