Saturday, November 29, 2008

Taggin Great White sharks is quite an experience!

A PAIR of divers based at RAF Coningsby have been helping tag sharks in waters off Central America.

Plt Off Matthew Skulskyj, an air traffic controller and Cpl Matthew Wood, an aircraft mechanical engineer, are part of the Joint Services Shark Tagging Team (JSSTT), a group of divers who help scientists tag sharks.Their first deployment was to the Coco's Islands in Costa Rica, working with the Shark Research Institute (SRI). The tags are used to research the sharks and help publicise their plight.The Coco's Islands were the setting for the Jurassic Park films so the exercise was named Jurassic Shark.

A second expedition saw Plt Off Skulskyj and Cpl Wood work with a team of 16 military divers tagging great white sharks, whale sharks and scalloped hammerhead sharks around Guadalupe and the Revillagigedo Islands, off the Pacific coast of Mexico.Describing the experience, Plt Off Skulskyj said: "A fin breaks the surface of the water momentarily behind the boat, swiftly disappearing back under the dark blue water around Guadalupe."

You can see a dark shape slowly approaching the side of the small fibreglass boat where large lumps of bait are tied."You start to prepare yourself, checking what now looks to be a woefully inadequate pole spear which resembles a tent pole more than a piece of scientific equipment."You only have one chance and your aim has to be exact; too high and you'll miss, too low and you can potentially injure the very species you're trying to protect."This is it, the shape changes direction and builds up speed, rapidly approaching the bait tied just 3-feet below the thin deck."

It's getting closer, you can see the mouth begin to open showing row upon row of razor sharp triangular teeth, the eyes beginning to roll back."Suddenly it breaches the surface and you're looking down the mouth of a five and half metre Great White Shark."There is no time to think twice, you thrust the spear into the water, catching the shark in exactly the right spot just below the dorsal fin."The shark reacts, flicking its tail into the side of the boat, pushing it violently across the water."The Shark swims back down to the depths; however, it's now trailing a £1000 radio tag that will monitor its movements over the coming year."

* Have you had an exciting encounter with a creature from the deep?

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