Hi there, I’m Jamie and I’m a Kiwi on a mission to learn about as many shark species as possible all around the globe. I hope you’ll join me as I share my marine adventures as far overseas as South Africa and The Bahamas.
Let’s begin with the beautiful country I call home, New Zealand.
Towards the end of my university degree, I decided to take a chance and apply for a volunteer position to assist with a PhD study on bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Islands, Northland NZ. One of my friends had told me about the email sent out requesting volunteers and I was scheduled for an interview during an afternoon after my lectures. I remember sitting in my Biology of Fish lecture telling my friend how excited I was for my interview after the university day ended. It went really well and I was thrilled to be offered a position to volunteer and spend three amazing months in the Bay of Islands.
I learnt an immense amount of information about the dolphins that are found there, and even got to know individuals by sight – thanks to photo ID and also prominent scarring and cuts on certain individuals. Every day we went out, we saw the dolphins and it brought me so much joy learning about these fascinating creatures and working on data at the research house. I remember how excited I got each time we spotted a shark from the research boat (I literally squealed in excitement) and wanted to know more about their ecology. I knew then that I wanted to gain more experience before heading on to post-graduate studies. Since we were in the first group of volunteers, we witnessed firsthand what that goes into setting up a successful project and that it requires hard work and dedication for a few years. It was time for me to away from university to save up for my travels whilst learning more and gaining experience with sharks.
I started looking online at shark research internships and one of the first options that came back on Google search was Oceans Campus. A photo of a great white shark next to a dive cage sparked my interest and I imagined what it would be like to learn about the creatures that have always fascinated me. I was also following a successful New Zealand shark biologist on Facebook – Riley Elliott – and asked for his advice since he had previously volunteered there. He got back to me and said that gaining practical experience with sharks was vital for obtaining research positions in the future and also that working with Oceans Campus was an amazing experience. So it was decided, I sent in an application and heard back soon after – I had been accepted for a month-long internship in Mossel Bay South Africa.
My first trip out of New Zealand and I would be going alone to South Africa to work with projects on Great Whites!!!
I felt a mixture of nervousness and excitement as I listened to my heart and followed the pull I felt towards sharks. I was finally going to leave my homeland at 23 years of age and follow my dream of working with these incredible predators.
I was working at YHA New Zealand at the time and, thanks to my super supportive team and manager, I was able to take a month off for my internship. I left towards the end of August 2015 and flew from Auckland to Perth and then Perth to Johannesburg. Words can’t describe how I felt flying away from home to begin the adventure of a lifetime. On my arrival at Johannesburg, I wasn’t sure what to expect after advice from friends who had travelled there and also general news you often hear about. One of the first people I saw was an African man who came over as I was reunited with my bag. He offered to help me with my bag. He was quite persistent in helping me and pointed to his official name badge as someone who works at the airport. He said he would help me get to the desk for the next airline for my flight to George. I thought it was a nice gesture and went alongside him, watching my bag intently. Once I got there he put his hand out asking for money. I didn’t have any South African money – just a couple Australian dollars leftover – and since he looked quite skinny I decided to give him the change I had. It was a lesson learnt and I realised I was not yet South African-savvy on my own. I decided to stay at the airport for my 9 hour layover, just to be safe.
After my flight from Johannesburg to George, my pick up wasn’t there straight away so I was a little nervous but eventually I was greeted by Kennedene – basically the ‘Mum’ at Oceans Campus and we talked all the way to the Campus house. I was fascinated to hear about the snakes that occurred – even in the backyard sometimes! I arrived in the evening so didn’t see the scenery along the way but remember being told about the interns that went out that morning and saw 16 individual great white sharks on one trip. Clearly I had come to the right place. After going through the private entry gate, we drove up the driveway and parked up in front of a huge and beautiful house (or rather mansion!). It was a far cry from the weatherboard housing of New Zealand and the cosy batches I was familiar with. I walked over a small bridge across the pond and past weaver birds’ nesting in the trees, walked in through the revolving entry door and quickly greeted the other interns and staff before heading into my zebra-themed room for a much- needed rest in a proper bed.