I never knew it was possible for one single experience to define your life until now.
I have only had the pleasure of being an Oceans intern for a week now but this week has been so unbelievable that every time I try to explain it to anyone, nothing can even do it justice. From helping out at the aquarium to going out chumming for white sharks, I have learned more and experienced more in this last week than I ever thought was possible. Everything that I have done here so far has completely touched my heart in ways that are indescribable.
Even the most mundane tasks like cleaning out the turtle area gives me the greatest pleasure because I know what I am doing is making a difference. The aquarium is such a quaint and wonderful place to be. The personal atmosphere allows me to talk with interested visitors and witness their curiosity first hand. Because of the wonderful mentors and leaders of Oceans and the aquarium, I am able to answer their questions with great confidence. As we are feeding the sharks, you get to spend time with the graceful creatures where they are most comfortable and just watch in awe as they dominate their own world. Then there is doing Tonic on the small sharks. Nothing has ever made me feel so alive in my life than taking these powerful, beautiful creatures and holding them as they are completely relaxed. By grabbing the sharks and flipping them upside down, the sharks become immobilized for a brief period. This can be used for reproductive reasons mostly in sharks and humans can use it to better study the sharks. Handling each shark was so unforgettable. Each sharks seemed to have its own personality, from really chill to super active and feisty, that made me fall in love with them even more. Not only do the smaller sharks have unique personalities, but the bigger, better known ones do as well.
The first time I looked into the eyes of a great white shark here in Mossel Bay, I knew I made the right decision in what I want to study throughout my life and on coming to intern at Oceans. It is by far the most ingrained memory I will ever have in my mind. As we came across more and more of these graceful giants, I realized that they also all have personalities that make them stand out in your mind. Some are playful and will stay around for hours going for the bait line, and others will curiously come to the boat for just an once-over and then go on their way. Each time another shark came to the boat, my heart skipped a beat. Every job on the boat is a treat. Even chumming, which is as wonderful as it sounds, is rewarding. Throwing fish juice and guts overboard may not sound enjoyable to some, but as soon as the sharks arrive, you know that they are there just because of your efforts. The pay-offs are more obvious when it comes to data and photography of shark identification. The idea of being able to take observations of sharks and their dorsal fins to identify and track sharks is simplistic yet so imaginative at the same time. When everyone comes together at one time on the boat for the common goal of studying and understanding the beautiful predators that populate the area, it is truly a heartwarming occurrence. The simple observations we make can help understand the underwater world that we know so little about.
Other projects that we interns get the pleasure of working on include seal dolphin survey. Just sitting and observing the awe-inspiring animals is treat enough without even considering what scientific advances you are helping with. We all enjoy sitting on the beach, a boat, a harbor, or anywhere else and watching how animals naturally act. So doing so with the purpose of understanding them and their behaviors more not only feed your curiosity but also your sense of well-being. The main purpose of the surveys is to monitor their behaviors while in the harbor but a fortunate side affect is putting a smile on your face. Thinking about the activities I have participated in during the last week seems so very surreal to me.
One such activity was helping to transport a dead ragged-toothed shark off the beach. While my whole body felt heavy with grief when I saw it at first was overwhelming but I knew that we had to help. The shark had been caught by a fisherman, released and washed up on shore shortly afterwards. To see the impact that humans are having on these animals first hand is rather unnerving. I felt that I already was inspired to help these creatures before helping with the washed up shark, but somehow, that experience brought up a stronger passion that I didn’t even know existed. It’s as if that fisherman brought up the desire to help in any way possible as it brought up the ragged-toothed shark from the deep. What better place to have these feelings than at Oceans.
I have never felt like people have understood me or my passions for marine life as much as I did when I came to Oceans. The people are so very helpful and informative in every possible aspect imaginable. Not only are they nice to have around while doing research, but also just to hang around with in our spare time. When people with similar desires to help something come together, it becomes impossible for them not to enjoy each other’s company. I am definitely going to miss each and every person I have met here while interning and will hopefully continue these relationships built on common goals and wishes for years and years to come.
Needless to say, my experience here with Oceans Research has been one of inspiration. Like adding wood to a fire, my admiration of the ocean and all its creatures, especially sharks, has grown tremendously. I have not had one bad experience while in Mossel Bay and have experienced more than I ever thought I would. I came into this internship with high aspirations, and every single one of them has been blown away and replaced with experiences that would be impossible to get anywhere else. If in the future, anyone asks me what is the one experience that has made my life more magnificent, without hesitation, I would say interning for Oceans Research.