A Day In The Life Of A Mafia Island Whale Shark Volunteer

A Day In The Life Of A Mafia Island Whale Shark Volunteer

Posted by Michael Starbuck on Aug 25, 2015

This time last year we introduced you to the gentle giants of the sea, the Whale Shark, in a blog post all about them. With International Whale Shark Day taking place on the 30th August, this year we are going to tell you all about a day in the life of a whale shark volunteer over on Mafia Island! Mafia Island is a small area of land just off the coast of Tanzania, and you will struggle to find a more serene and picturesque setting anywhere in the world. Having the chance to work with Whale Sharks on this island paradise is an incredible experience, so here’s what is in store in a typical day for a volunteer on the project!

Volunteers on the trip get thrown in at the deep end (not literally thankfully!) as mornings on Mafia Island start around 5.30am. Sunrise may still be 15 minutes away, but you’ll be up and ready to go, stocking up on a breakfast of fresh fruit, baked goods and plenty of coffee to make up for the early start!

At 6am the working day begins. The sailing dhows that are used for the Whale Shark excursions have to be loaded up with the equipment for the day, as it’s crucial they are stocked with the tools needed to complete the research work. These include the flotation devices, GoPro’s, briefing cards and the first aid kits, so there is a lot of work to be done even this early in the morning!

By 7am the coffee you had earlier should have well and truly kicked in and you will be raring to go and find the Whale Sharks. After a quick briefing on the do’s and don'ts of Whale Shark research, and a chance to get kitted out for the day ahead, you will head off to the boats and start the day proper.

The average Whale Shark research trip lasts around five hours, so from 7.30 until 12.30 you will have the chance to see the world’s biggest fish in its natural habitat. You will be on the hunt for a collection of plankton, which is an indicator that the Whale Sharks are in the area feeding. Once you have located the school, you will spend a few hours with them conducting invaluable research. Due to the unique spot patterns on their backs, this is being used as a new, less intrusive way of monitoring the animals when compared to tagging them. This means that your photography skills better be top notch so you can identify who is who beneath the waves when you are taking the pictures! You will also have the chance to film their behaviour and interactions with the other volunteers, as you can all get an incredible first-hand experience of the fish in the ocean. After a few hours of hard work, you will have the chance to relax on the (roughly) 45-minute dhow ride back home to Magemani, cup of tea in hand.

As soon as you arrive back it is time to log the data you have just gathered out at sea. The information you and your group collect from the Whale Sharks is crucial for scientists trying to better understand the Whale Sharks, and for future volunteers on the trip.

After all of your efforts in the morning, you will probably be pleased to hear that it is now time for a break. From 1pm to around 3pm you can relax and enjoy some lunch, before resting your legs in preparation for the afternoon’s activities.

On weekday afternoons it is time for some community work. You will be helping out at one of three projects, either; visiting a local school to help with English language tutoring, taking part in library duty at a primary school, or swimming lessons and English conversations at the Magemani camp. These community projects are a chance to give something back to the local community, and even learn a few things yourself in the process!

You will return back to the base at around 6pm and have the chance to have a refreshing shower before tucking into a delicious dinner. Chances are that after such a hard day’s work out in the sun and on the sea you will be looking forward to your bed! Most people are safely tucked up in their beds by 9pm thanks to the hectic schedule tiring them out, but on Sunday, when there are only morning activities, there is more time for rest and play! Until then, your best bet will be to rest up in preparation for another busy day tomorrow!

We hope this has given you some idea of the amazing activities you will get up to if you go on the Mafia Island Whale Shark Project, but if you have any other questions then please feel free to ask about this amazing experience!


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