Check out some of the footage from 2014 on our summer basking shark & wildlife tours. It includes amazing drone footage captured by our crew Luke Saddler. It features some of species we seek during our summer tours such as seals, minke whales, common dolphin, sunfish (mola mola)and of course our observation, study and interaction with basking sharks. You can see more at www.baskingsharkscotland.co.uk
Been a bit tardy with updating this blog for a while but I’ve got quite a lot of news to post, so will try and put a few updates from the last year.
So firstly! Amazing news from New Zealand, I was chosen to the be recipient of the coveted Wyland Award.
This is amazing piece of art, and the award is officially given to people on the following basis;
‘This award is primarily aimed at recognising those individuals or a group of individuals that have unselfishly contributed huge amounts of their personal time for the benefit of all divers and the marine environment for no real personal financial gain or glory. They are the unsung heroes, doing what they feel will make a difference for the better, for this planet we call home.’
There is an amazing list of people who have received the award previously and I was completely humbled to receive it in such esteemed company. However it was also nice to be noted for some of work achieved in New Zealand, ranging from the archaeological mapping programme on the S.S. Taupo in the Bay of Plenty, along with resurrecting the Oceanz Dive Conference & Exhibition, to running clean up dives down in the Tauranga harbour to responding to the container vessel Rena grounding. In addition I have been involved with the New Zealand Underwater Association for a few years on the executive board and one year as Present.
I’ve shared a few links below for information some of the history and successes. There is a lot of people who have helped and been involved over the years so many thanks to them as we couldn’t have done what we have without you guys!
SS Taupo Project – http://www.shanewasik.com/#/sstaupo-project/4566112867
Oceanz Dive Conference & Exhibition 2011 – http://www.nzherald.co.nz/bay-of-plenty-times/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503343&objectid=11046207
Tauranga Harbour Clean Ups – http://www.sunlive.co.nz/news/11637-harbour-gets-underwater-cleanup.html and http://www.sunlive.co.nz/news/11718-in-octopuses-garden.html
NZUA – http://nzu.org.nz
Over the summer months, the second biggest fish in the world comes to Scotland in abundance! The gentle giant Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) can grow over 10m long and weight several tonnes but only feeds on tiny plankton. As they swim along the surface of the water scooping up the plankton they are easy to spot and follow predictable swimming patterns, making them one of natures amazing spectacles. For those in the UK, why fly all the way abroad when you can have this kind of experience on your doorstep.
The inner hebrides is one of the best places in the world to see the sharks as they have the highest numbers and most consistent sightings with some reports staing sightings of up to 94 in one day. Basking Shark Scotland (www.baskingsharkscotland.co.uk ) run specific trips from Oban on the west coast of Scotland to see the sharks. They cater for everyones tastes ranging from those people who simply want to watch from the boat to in water swimming encounters. The sharks start arriving from the migration to the sub tropics around May and leave around September, with June, July and August being the peak months. For those who want to swim kit hire is also available. The sharks are protected in Scotland after they numbers declined due to harpoon fishing. SInce 1994 they have been protected and as such Basking Shark Scotland follow a code of conduct to ensure the sharks are not impacted by tourism activities.
The trips range from one day, two and three dive exploratory trips around the amazing islands. There are even island based trips to the likes of Coll. The water is amazingly clear around these islands, with a lack of people, the richness of marine life is very evident. The beaches are also amazing with white sands against the backdrop of deep blue water.
Sightseeing tours round the islands are also organised, visiting amazing places to snorkel and swim in remote coves. Historical tours to the likes of Iona abbey and even to the corryvreckan whirlpool and whisky tours to Islay.
Along with the sharks, the inner hebrides is rich in marine life with many cetaceans being spotted in summer such as minke whales, dolphins, porpoises, otters, seals and sea eagles. So in addition to the sharks and scenery there is always plenty to look at!
Diving is also organised and can be organised on the many wrecks around the islands or made man structures such as piers which act as artificial reefs. The reefs are also amazing, fed by the rich waters, the rock surfaces covered in soft corals and awash with colour.
Situated 1000km north-east of the Bay of Plenty In New Zealand, this archipelago of remote sub-tropical islands are the jewel in NZ’s marine crown. Lying on the Kermadec trench, part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the islands are just a few of the undersea volcanoes that have reached the surface. The area is highly active and there are reports of water and colour disturbances at the surface along with miles of pumice rock floating in the middle of the ocean (http://www.stuff.co.nz/science/7455060/25-000-sq-km-sea-of-pumice-floats-off-New-Zealand).
Lying at 29° south, Raoul Island which is the most prominent landmass sits between the north island of New Zealand and Tonga. Geographically isolated, the islands have both an important terrestrial and aquatic ecosystem. The islands have had marine reserve status since 1990 which protects the waters up to 12nm from land. However some believe that this is not enough and that the entire island group should have protection due to the unique and relatively un-studied deep water environment. There is commercial interest in deep sea mining which given the under study of the environment, should not be allowed to happen. The islands have also been recently studied for their population of whales and in particular the Humpback Whales which migrate back and forward to the Antarctic. On one day of the study they spotted 119 individuals – unbelievable!
For divers the Kermadec’s are a dream underwater experience however outside of New Zealand the island are unheard of. Their location serves to be both a hindrance and saving grace. Too far to have large scale effects from human impact but makes tourist trips to see the wonders of the reserve very difficult. The other problem is that there are no doctors, dentists or hospitals this far out. There are very few helicopters that can travel this far and if a medivac is required, two twin engined aircraft need to travel in tandem, stopping at fuel dumps on isolated rocks along the way! This is serious expedition territory! Notwithstanding their isolation in an emergency sense, their distance also means that specific vessels capable of carrying enough stores, fuel and water can make the journey. When a chance came up to visit on a 70m icebreaker class vessel I jumped at the chance as this could be a once in a lifetime trip.
Two days after departing Tauranga and good sea conditions,the first of the island group comes into sight, L’Esperance Rock. A jagged dramatic island, a spec in the middle of the ocean sticking up only 70m from sea level. Very few people have dived here due to zero protection and its exposed position to anything but flat calm seas. For those who have, tantalising stories of grey nurse sharks and the island acting as a fish attractant only fuel the frustration of getting so near but so far. Those who manage to explore underwater here should consider themselves extremely lucky. A couple of laps around the island and we were again heading north towards the other islands of Curtis, Cheeseman and Macauley, then onto Raoul Island itself. We occasionally were escorted by the tropical booby flying round the bridge and dolphins riding our bow wave. Steaming overnight we covered the remaining 140 miles past the other islands to wake up at Raoul Island the next morning.
The water colour at Raoul Island is truly exquisite, a deep tropical blue which added to the anticipation of exploring the reefs here. The island is primitive looking, rocky shore and cliffs topped with dense vegetation, almost Jurassic Park like. Only a small Department of Conservation (DOC) outpost stands on the top of the cliffs along with a few buildings, remnants from the occupation of the island by the Bell family which left around 1901. The occupation of the islands by humans had originally been Polynesians, who used the island when transiting between the Pacific Islands and New Zealand. The islands were also used by Whalers in the 18th and 19th centuries before the islands were named by the French explorer D’Entrecasteaux and subsequently annexed by the New Zealand government.
Most of the diving on this trip was around the Meyer Islets off the north-east corner of Raoul which served as a good sheltered location in which to dive from inflatables from the mother-ship. These islands were covered in thousands of birds of which the noise emanating was incredible. The reef structure started off on a reef top plateau with distinct cracks, crevices and caves, the topography being sculpted by the exposed location. The visibility was at least 25m here and the seascapes were breathtaking.
The marine life is highly unusual being that it is a melting pot of both tropical and sub tropical species. For example the 2-spot demoiselle were noted in abundance next to tropical lionfish. Galapagos sharks were also noted to be abundant, being seen on every dive and sometimes up to 10 or 20 in numbers. This was very encouraging and the sign of a healthy ecosystem being able to support a large population of predators. The other unique aspect of the island is they serve as one of the last populations of black spotted grouper in New Zealand. In fact these fish are listed as near threatened on the IUCN list. Thankfully the population here thrives from no-fishing and isolation from man. We found individuals at many locations and one extremely large individual seemed to like hanging about in a particular crevice. With a distinct abrasion to its mouth, it could have been the infamous ‘white-lip’ which is known to divers as being particularly friendly. We spent a while with this individual and it was very relaxed encounter enabling us to get some excellent images. Although at the end, he perhaps made his thoughts known by having a large poo on top of us as we swam away. It’s amazing how much can actually come out on one fish and I did detect a slight satisfaction in his eye!!!!
Another incredible aspect of the marine life here was the presence of large schools of maomao. Near the northern end of the Meyer Islets where there was a little more current masses of fish enveloped the divers creating a magical experience. Unfortunately this site was only found near the end of the trip but it was certainly the most popular out of all the dives managed by the members of the expedition.
It was a privilege to be able to experience these islands and as we left we felt that there was infinite possibilities for exploration here. Unfortunately due to a major injury, a fatality and strong weather our expedition only managed 5 dives, which was hugely disappointing. However their location, abundant marine life and undiscovered wrecks are what draws expedition divers here. If you get the chance take it! As said by National Geographic, the Kermadec Island are one of the last pristine ecosystems on the planet!
The additional interest to divers in the undiscovered WW1 Wairuna wreck site. The steamer was heading from Auckland to San Fransico in June 1917 with a general cargo estimated to be worth over £1.25million when she was sighted and stopped by the German raider SMS Wolf. The Wolf’s seaplane was launched and dropped warning bombs narrowly missing the funnel. With the raider in gun range the captain of the Wairuna decided that escape was futile and avoided loss of life by surrendering his ship. The Germans transferred the Wairuna’s cargo and then sunk the ship using a combination of bombs and gunfire. The wreck drifting significantly in the time it took for her to sink.
Although there would only a hulk left of the 2500t ship, the profuse marine life in the area would mean that the wreck site would be an incredible dive. However with deep water out of diving range nearby and the isolation of Raoul’s location, it would take a lot of money and effort to find this wreck with a high chance that it could not be dived. However when it is ever easy when finding wrecks!! There have been rumours of the wreck being dived in popular diving books but there is no available proof as to the truth!
Underwater and topside images of the expedition to the Kermadec Islands can be found here http://shanewasik.photoshelter.com/gallery/Kermadec-Islands/G0000ORywoNPMMYU/ – contact me for image licensing, articles, prints or information on the islands.
Look out for articles this month in Dive Pacific / Dive New Zealand magazine, available at all good newsagents. www.divenewzealand.co.nz
My articles are on diving at French Pass Wharf at the top of the Marlborough Sounds, with Danny Boulton of Adventure Sea Safari’s http://www.seasafaris.co.nz and on the S.S. Taupo project from the Bay of Plenty in New Zealand. More info on the Taupo project here http://www.shanewasik.com/#/sstaupo-project/4566112867
The Swedish Club, Insurers of the CV Rena have released underwater footage of the stern section of the wreck filmed by Oceanz Diving Ltd divers in November.
Please bear with the quality of what has been distributed, this is low-res and has been further edited.
The news/media are reporting this on the following links….
You can find more information on the Rena project here – http://www.renaproject.co.nz/
The indigenous Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris grampia), nicknamed the ‘Highland Tiger’ is highly endangered. It is thought that there are less than 100 ‘pure’ wildcat’s left in the wild’s of Scotland, with an ever increasing number of hybrids diluting the population’s gene pool. The wildcat is one of Scotland’s and Britain’s most endangered species….being the last large wild predator in this land – the last of the free….
On first glance the wildcat looks alike with a domestic tabby, however on closer look there are huge differences. The wildcat is around 50% larger than a domestic cat, with a muscular appearance, razor sharp claws and a fearsome attitude. The fact that they are so elusive and have endured long running human impact is testament to their resilience.
The Highland Tiger has unfortunately suffered from persecution for 100’s of years and in most recent times from the vast sporting estates in Scotland, gamekeepers being paid handsomely for every wildcat kill. The cats served as the estates natural competition for their rich customers quarry of game birds. Thankfully by 1988 they were protected by law however the killing still continued/continues on estates in Scotland……is this still happening…who knows??
The cat is not just an important predator but is also woven into Scottish history and has vast cultural significance. Their influence on our ancestors can be traced back as far of the Picts, the first people of Scotland, who stood against the Romans invaders and follows through into more recent history as the centre of highland clan crests and mottos.
Despite being a highly important species, both in the natural world and the cultural heritage of Scotland, there has been little conservation work until relatively recently. Unfortunately both our people and the government have failed this animal for many years and now the population is at crisis point.
Part of the work of the Scottish Wildcat Association is setting up a wildcat haven, where the pure wildcat population can be protected. This work involves educating landowners on the issues, informing residents of the problems with interbreeding with domestics and trapping hybrid wildcats, then neutering and releasing them. Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) as the responsible government body is undertaking studies along with the funded Highland Tiger project. The problem being is that very little is actually known about the population so this animal needs robust scientific study in order to gain some definitive answers.
In order to assist the association and raise funds to help in a number of these areas, interested photographers and artists are collaborating to help raise funds. I have donated a number of images to assist with the artists in creating line drawing, paintings or other artworks that can be sold to raise money for wildcat conservation. Karie-Ann Cooper, Sam Fenner and Gordon Corrins are the current artists using my images for their artwork – I look forward to their results.
This is just at the beginning stages but you are able to find the gallery and more information on the artwork here http://www.phillarsen.plus.com/wildcat/Wildcat_Gallery/Welcome.html
You can also find more information here;
Scottish Wildcat Association – http://www.scottishwildcats.co.uk/
Highland Tiger Project – http://www.highlandtiger.com/
Lots of people support causes of saving animals worldwide that gain donations due to clever marketing, however we don’t take care of our own. Interestingly, how much do people pay to visit the large cat’s of Africa or India, when we have our own tiger? Our last predator, the last of free, the Highland Tiger……