Smooth tagging on calm seas

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30/10/12 - Mohammed Qol - written by Steven Kessel

Was a late night last night, with the crew arriving, unpacking supplies, eating dinner and several meetings taking place. But Time and tide wait for no man so we were up at sunrise to head out on the water for manta tagging. The plan stood that Nige, Claudio and I would head out with Isa and Mohammed Ali to tag mantas. Ben, Joey, Cam and Sparky heading out to collect samples with Mohammed Younis. Graham stayed back at camp to prep all the monitors, that had arrived with the new team members, for their imminent deployment (we need some monitors down asap to detect all these mantas we have been tagging with acoustic transmitters.

The wind had really died down since yesterday and the sea was almost flat calm. This was great as it meant we would be able to see the mantas from a mile away. We heading straight to the money spot but alas there was not a manta as far as the eye could see. It was not good, Isa explained to Claudio that the current had stopped and this causes the mantas to leave. We had given ourselves a target of six to tag today and this was looking unlikely. We went inside of Mesharifa as we could see a slick on the surface of the water and the day before another slick had several groups of mantas associated with it. As we approached the slick I saw one to the north. As we approached it we realized it was a small one and we needed some small ones to get a good size variations in our study group. Unfortunately it did not want anything to do with us and every time we approached it would dive (like Suarez). So we decided to move on and look for more.

It was so calm we saw a group far in the distance, we approached and Isa got one on the first try. It was a small one too, the smallest we have tagged so far. Shortly after we had another and all of a sudden our target on six for the day was looking feasible. But then, as if someone had flicked a switch, they all disappeared. We drove around for 30 mins looking but could not find any. Then Isa saw another in the distance, as we approached we saw another, and another, until we had counted five in total, again associated with a slick. We thought we would get at least one for sure, but we were wrong. They were all very boat shy, this was becoming a common theme. Either they were all ones we had attempted to tag before or since it was so calm the noise of the boat was more obvious than before. It was disconcerting as we still had 10 tags to deploy and time is running out for this section of the research trip.

We drove around to all the ‘hot spots’ for the next two hours and could not find any. Isa then wanted to head back south but we wanted to check one of the reefs to the north where we had seen a lot in 2007. There was also a big slick running north and this was always a good sign. We saw them again from very far away on the near flat seas. There were seven of them swimming up and down right on the edge of the slick like an ocean motorway. This was a good sign. Over the next five hours we managed to tag four more of varying sizes, it was a great haul and we did manage to reach our days quota. Our Sudanese partners worked very hard with us to get the job done and we are at present very satisfied with our progress. Today we also double tagged (acoustic and satellite) a manta for our first time and she was a big one, > 360 cm wingspan.

The other crew had a very productive day collecting samples and return to camp also very satisfied. Tomorrow we have three crews in the field, one tagging mantas, one deploying the monitor Graham prepared and one continuing the fish genetic collections.

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