As I sit in what I can only describe as Maldivian blues, I look back on my newly developed photos of my second trip as if it were another dream. It was only during the final leg of my journey to the Island of Dhigurah that I felt like I was back in the Maldives. My arrival was of course late, something that actually comes very naturally to me, but, I quickly learnt that time on the island has a lot more freedom. My first re-introduction to the Maldives whale shark research programme was immediate with the lovely Alex, where I learnt more about the programme, the culture and the do’s and don’ts as a MWSRP representative. I then met my fellow volunteers, including the lovely Lisa and got a wonderful refresher presentation about whale sharks from Iru. Feeling very well prepared and ready for my first day, I caught up with some much needed sleep and thought about what was to come for the rest of my two weeks on the island. I knew I had missed being with the whale sharks and having been before, I knew I was going to have an amazing time. However, if you can believe it, I still managed to completely underestimate my 2 weeks of volunteering.
My first day got off to a great start, not only meeting the director of the programme Rich (as luck would have it both he and Jim who looked after me during my first trip were both out), but also having 3 whale shark encounters! Getting back into the water with these majestic creatures was incredible, but try as I might, for the life of me I could not understand the incredible skill of everyone else on the dhoni, with their shark tuned eyes! I promise I did try; I just couldn’t stop spotting rocks (seems things haven’t changed much in the last 3 years). I did however, manage to spot false killer whales, dolphins and what I am now telling people was a blue whale. A statement that may or may not be true. I won’t get into the ins and outs of fun dhoni life as I would probably say it best to try out yourself, as its needless to say that the excitement of being on the lookout, coming up with fish dances and feeling like you’re on a film set are all worth it even in stormy weather. When you’re waking up early and getting straight up, it can only mean that you’re absolutely loving what you’re doing, right? By the end of my experience, I managed to meet so many sharks, one of which was a resident female called Faaza. She was an absolute pleasure to swim with and so beautiful to watch. We also saw many mantas like Duckface and Swampthing, who were always playing in the water. One of my particular highlights was learning to measure a shark. I was so nervous and worried about getting close enough in good time, that I didn’t know how to then get away in equally the same amount of time. I was luckily saved by a gentle pull away from Rich and no whale sharks were harmed in the process.
One thing that I did notice was different to the last time I was volunteering, was the number of people getting into the water with us. A lot of the time, we would be the first ones in the water, but by the time we had jumped in, there would be a number of boats coming towards the area. It’s amazing to see so many people with so much rightly granted enthusiasm, but it was sometimes sad to see how quickly curiosity can turn into a frenzy. That’s why I loved the fact that this time there was so much more local interaction where we went to local schools for children’s day to make shark hats and to give presentations about the whale sharks in the area.
I can’t tell you how much I miss the Island and all the MWSRP girls, they’re an amazing bunch that absolutely adore the ocean. It’s completely unnecessary to say that I’m saving up for the next time I can get out there to be back on the lookout and riding the waves on the bow of the Dhoni.