I spent October and November 2012 in Mossel Bay, South Africa, in an internship program with Oceans Research. Oceans, founded in 2008 by Ryan Johnson and Enrico Gennari, works on a wide variety of marine-related research projects in South Africa as well as outreach education programs with local schools. As a research intern with Oceans, I helped with the various studies being conducted. This included tag-and-release efforts with the small benthic shark species in the bay, monitoring cetacean populations and habitat use, and shark dissections.
Oceans also operates a small research aquarium and the interns are responsible for feeding, cleaning, and general aquarium husbandry for the sharks and fish. Of course, what drew all of the interns, including myself, to Mossel Bay in the first place is the research which Oceans does on the population of Great White Sharks in the bay. As such, the most highly anticipated job assignment was always chum trips. The goal of chum trips is to collect data that will allow us to identify individual sharks in the future. We recorded light and dark colorations on the dorsal fin, any scars or amputations, the size and gender, and photographed the dorsal fin. Using a combination of the verbal description and a visual comparison of the photographs, it is possible to track precisely when and where each shark was spotted. Altogether, this data is helping to build a more comprehensive view of the shark populations in the bay, the possible risks they are facing, and will hopefully point towards ways these animals can be preserved.