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Bardi ranger swims with whale shark for research

Jun 12, 2015

Bardi Jawi Ranger Dwayne George has just returned from a marine science expedition tagging whale sharks for research in Exmouth.

Could you imagine what it would be like to swim alongside the largest fish in the sea?

This adventure of a lifetime became a reality for Bardi Jawi Ranger Dwayne George who was fortunate to swim with an eight metre whale shark in Exmouth as part of a marine science expedition.

Dwayne was invited by scientists from the CSIRO to assist them tag whale sharks for research after being impressed by his turtle tagging techniques back in his home waters on the Dampier Peninsula.

“The whole experience was amazing, it blew my mind. I still can’t believe I was there and got to do that,’’ he said.

“It was a bit scary at first, jumping in with this big monster. The largest one was 8m and its head was twice the size of me and two people could easily get sucked into its mouth.

“But once I was in there, I realised that it was such a really calm and gentle animal and not frightening one bit.’’

Dwayne George tags a turtleDwayne said the four-day marine science expedition across Exmouth and the Ningaloo Reef was extremely successful with researchers tagging seven whale sharks, 33 green turtles and five reef sharks.

“We tagged all seven in one day. I jumped in to help tag two of the whale sharks and got to swim with them for an hour. They were tagged with satellite and acoustic devices through the dorsal fin so we can track their movements and record depth and location data,’’ he said.

“We also got skin samples as well to check their diet and you can see what they’ve been eating for a whole week from one sample.’’

Tagging whale sharks and reef sharks was a new experience for Dwayne who is used to working with turtles on the Dampier Peninsula.

“It was another great experience to tag reef sharks and I was keen to soak it all in. I tagged five big lemon sharks with acoustic tags and they were about 3-4m in size and they’re very powerful animals,’’ he said.

“We pulled the sharks in with ropes that we had put out with burleigh. They rest on their back along the boat on a big soft cushion and you have to be really quick and make sure to keep water in their gills at all times. We fitted them with tags that will be able to monitor them for the next 10 years.’’    

For Dwayne, the experience has been awe-inspiring, not only teaching him new skills but opening the doors for future career opportunities.

“It was unbelievable. I would love to do it again and I’m now thinking about becoming a marine scientist. The job they do to research and protect animals is amazing,’’ he said.