“Of all mankind’s impacts on nature, perhaps none is more pervasive than the systematic elimination of large animals.”
That’s what Brandon Keim wrote recently in Wired. His point is simple. Extinction of animals is inevitable; in fact, many of those who lived 20,000 years ago are gone now, and others are nearly gone: like the rinoceros and South China tiger.
But recent research has shown that when and if the world’s big animals are gone, the world will be profoundly affected. The facts are the same whether you study a coral reef where fishing has eliminated large fish, or study lakes where researchers have experimented with removing all the largemouth bass from a certain area. When the big animals were gone from those places and others, the ecosystems became instable. It seems that large animals keep things balanced in nature, and if we lose them it the world will be different place. Nature will “go on,” scientists agree. But it will be vastly different from what we know. If we lose the big animals, the Earth we live on now will not be a place we would recognize.
Amos gave a presentation about ocean conservation as part of the well-known TEDx talks. His passion for the Ocean Giants is clear, and the value of talks like this are in education – the more people come to appreciate a planet that includes big animals, the more likely we will have an Earth that our children will be able to inhabit.
An update on the Sardine Run. In the overall scheme of things – this year was an “off year” for seeing the classic Sardine run – and by that I mean a big bait ball of sardines attacked by hundreds of Common dolphins, sharks and also Brutus whales. Sardines need cold water, between 15 – 17 C or 59F – 64F, and this year the water temperature ranged from 19C – 21C or 69F – 72F – a bit warmer than they prefer!
There were a few reports of people seeing smaller bait balls, but even those were not necessarily sardines, but probably Red Eye – another type of small fish that frequents these waters close to shore. Other teams out on the water saw Red Eye consumed by birds and dolphins, but not sharks or whales.
My two weeks here were pure adventure, all search but no encounters, and only with the Red Eye. Everyone had a good time, simply because the local operator, Ivan from Extraordinary Expeditions, and I did our level best to get our people to sea everyday. We covered a great distance, really about 80 to 100 miles per day, on 8 meter Zodiacs, with plenty of extra fuel and with a helicopter with us almost every day.
We did have few amazing in-water encounters with migrating Humpback whales, and rare encounters with the Mola Mola…here are the images.
For this adventure, we had plans to operate the first live-on-board dive boat. However the vessel had a major mechanical failure that could not be fixed in time. Therefore we offered our people a land-based operation, and a refund on the difference between the two styles of operation and a chance to join us next year. All eight guests on the first departure joined me on the first trip and six of them are returning next year. On the second departure eight guests decided to stay put or made other travel arrangements and we are refunding them the full trip price.
It’s been a very quiet year for the Sardine Run. Though some sardines have been seen, there’s been nothing of the magnitude and epic scale you’ve perhaps seen on National Geographic or BBC, and nothing like what I saw here in the early years of 2000.
My guests and I have ten more days here along the wild coast of South Africa. We have moved south to Port Edward with the hope that the last of the Run or the shoal is still to come through and we will intercept and engage the shoal together with the classic predators…the Gannets, common dolphins, sharks and the Brutus whales. We will see! For now, here are four images that summarize our wait, and show the high morale everyone has kept up for the past week.
I am on a scouting mission, diving with crocodiles in Botswana, and it is amazing! We have been seeing crocs every day four to five times a day, anywhere from seven feet long and up to 12 feet long.
Today we had an incredible experience. John and Daniel were diving in the river with our guide Brad. They were settling down from diving against the current and were just looking at one croc, taking a few images. The croc started moving slowly and then turned around between Daniel and Brad. Then it went literally over John, crushing on top of him, pressing him to the river bottom, and walking all over him. Then it continued on its own merry way!
So much for the public perception about crocodiles! (The Okavango crocs have an bad reputation along the river, with some people claiming that they terrorize animals and humans along the banks and in boats. But, as you an see from the picture, we are coming away with a very different view of these river crocs.) We have learned so much from Brad and his wife Andy – the ACE team! They have five years experience diving with these amazing and misunderstood animals. Exploring this river with Brad and Andy shows me that once again how knowledge and experience can overcome all fears and old perceptions.
This trip is a great new chapter in my life’s work – to dive side-by-side safely with all water giants. Over the course of this scouting trip I am thinking of you and how I will use my experiences to create the ultimate croc adventure. I am fascinated by this region. The Okavango River drops from its headwaters in Angola down the wide flat delta in Botswana and crosses Namibia’s Caprivi Strip to finish its 1,100 kilometer journey to the Kalahari Desert. Yes, you read that right, the Okavango doesn’t flow into the sea. Its fresh water flows into the Kalahari, fanning out during flood season to form the largest inland delta in sub-Saharan Africa.
Two researchers funded by the Rufford Small Grants Foundation recently took part in an Okavango crocodile research project. They studied the crocodile’s underwater eyesight and their work came up with fascinating results. It’s clear that these creatures have adapted well to their environment and they are very much aware when we are in the water.