During the last day of August, it was super rainy and windy so the other new interns and I decided to make the most of the home theatre and watched 2 movies – The Jungle Book and Forgetting Sarah Marshall – lots of nostalgia and giggles! We also played a card game at the dining table which was a fun way to socialise. Most of the afternoon was spent packing up our gear from the house as we were moving to our new base at the backpackers.
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On our arrival at the backpackers, I was pleasantly surprised when I realised how close it was to town and the Point and was already looking forward to having the extra freedom to walk places during my downtime and days off with my new group of friends. The set out at the backpackers was great – there were a couple of small blocks of accommodation spread out, two dining rooms, a swimming pool with poolside chairs to relax on, a bar and travel sales desk where we could go to get help booking tours and transport. I really liked our new base- it just had a really homely vibe overall and I felt comfortable as soon as we arrived.
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That night we headed to a local bar where we had a farewell Braai dinner for the interns who were departing the next day (a braai is like a South African version of a bbq-and it is delicious!). Something that was amazing for me to see was that people openly smoked in the bar, it was such a contrast to the bars back home where there were designated areas outside for people to smoke and also strict checking of age identification.
Over the next couple days, I went on trips to the Blue Shed, supermarket, Arts and Crafts stores and the Point where I saw plenty of dassies (or rock hyrax) running around and also tried a traditional South African pudding “malva” (it was really tasty and reminded me a bit of our steam pudding back home in New Zealand). We also saw seals jumping around in the surf which was an amazing sight during our quick walk back to the backpackers.
Our orientation day was very exciting – we were introduced as a group to Oceans staff and researchers, had an outline of all the projects that would be taking place and how we would be helping with data collection as well as various weekend exclusions available. The trips that particularly caught my eye were cage diving with great whites (something I told myself I absolutely had to do during my time there!) and a horseback safari. I was also very interested in learning about the conservation of big cats and wanted to learn it in a way that would not support the farming of them for canned hunting – something I didn’t know was such a big issue until I was in South Africa.
I was thrilled to hear about how we would be helping with projects on Great White populations, habitat usage of marine mammals, movement ecology of catsharks, predator prey behaviour strategies of white sharks and cape fur seals and also intertidal community assessment. The skills we were told we could look forward to learning included; basic seamanship, inducing tonic immobility in benthic sharks, animal husbandry at the aquarium, chumming trips with Great Whites, dorsal fin ID, land-based cetacean surveys, BRUVs, intertidal transects as well as lectures on GIS and genetics.
We also went to the harbour to get our harbour passes verified as the port has very strict entry regulations. Later that afternoon, we were taken to the local aquarium we would be gaining experience at while interning and introduced to Allen who ran it. He was a very interesting guy who told us all about his previous experiences looking after a variety of captive animals, and all about the sharks he cared for at the aquarium – his love for the sharks was immediately obvious and I was excited to learn from someone so enthusiastic.
The aquarium was quite small compared to the massive Kelly Tarltons I had seen in Auckland, New Zealand, but it was perfect for my first lessons on animal husbandry and later – behavioural trials. It housed a variety of sharks including- puffadder shysharks, leopard catsharks, pyjama catsharks and smoothhounds as well as a range of beautiful fish and invertebrates – I was always excited when looking around for the octopus in the benthic tank.