Dol­phin alarm raised from afar

Zululand Observer - Monday - - ZO NEWS - Dave Sa­vides Google: ‘Con­serve dol­phins’ to ac­cess the live feed.

A DOL­PHIN ‘spot­ter’ raised the alarm last week af­ter she saw what she be­lieved to be an en­dan­gered Hump­back dol­phin en­snared in the shark nets at Ne­wark beach. What made the ob­ser­va­tion sig­nif­i­cant was that Ju­dith Leiter was at the time about 10 000km away from Alka­ntstrand! Ju­dith, born in Ger­many but liv­ing in Aus­tria, is de­voted to the Richards Bay Hump­back dol­phin project, headed by re­searcher Shanan Atkins, marine bi­ol­o­gist at the Wits School of An­i­mal, Plant and En­vi­ron­men­tal Science. As such, Ju­dith spends hours scan­ning the live feed from Alka­ntstrand. And so, when she saw a large ob­ject in the nets, the What­sApp chain was lit and was fu­elled when later pic­tures showed the Na­tal Sharks Board boat en­gaged in haul­ing ac­tiv­i­ties at that sec­tion of net. The fear had been that fol­low­ing the lift­ing of the nets af­ter the 8 Au­gust tragedy that saw three NSB crew mem­bers drowned, the dol­phins may have be­come used to the open wa­ter and thus less aware. There was a col­lec­tive sigh of re­lief when Sharks Board spokesper­son, Mike An­der­son­Reade, set the record straight on Fri­day. ‘A ragged tooth shark was tagged and re­leased on Tues­day morn­ing from that net. ‘It was vis­i­ble on the sur­face when the staff got there and had sur­vived the night, which is not un­com­mon for them as rag­gies are able to ven­ti­late them­selves by gulp­ing wa­ter,’ said Mike. ‘The shark was belly up, which I sus­pect is what can be seen in the pic­ture, and our staff spent quite a long time get­ting rid of the air from the shark’s gut prior to re­lease.’

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Ju­dith was over­joyed at the news that it had not been a dol­phin and that the NSB had suc­cess­fully freed the shark. Her con­nec­tion with Richards Bay is an in­ter­est­ing one. ‘I was a farmer for 12 years, but three years ago I left the farm and was go­ing through very dif­fi­cult times. I was look­ing for some­thing that could help me get back on my feet again and give my life new mean­ing. ‘I be­gan to look for NGO or­gan­i­sa­tions and I ended up with the Ger­man So­ci­ety for Dol­phin Con­ser­va­tion. ‘Last year in April, when the GRD started to sup­port the Hump­back dol­phin pro­tec­tion project in Richards Bay, I learnt that they had in­stalled a beach cam­era which is ac­ces­si­ble for ev­ery­body all around the globe,’ said Ju­dith. ‘I think I lit­er­ally fell in love with McCam (the cam­era), Richards Bay, the ocean, the dol­phins, whales and birds the first time I con­nected.’ Hav­ing made con­tact with Shanan and sent her first snapshots of dol­phins, her en­thu­si­asm as a ‘cit­i­zen sci­en­tist’ has grown. ‘We be­gan to chat and this was the be­gin­ning of our very spe­cial friend­ship ‘I ap­pre­ci­ate and ad­mire her love, en­thu­si­asm and deep com­mit­ment for the an­i­mals and the project. ‘I also feel so blessed to be part of the team now and love to help wher­ever I can, even though I’m so far away from Richards Bay. ‘Dis­tance doesn’t mat­ter.’

From her home in Tirol, Aus­tria cit­i­zen sci­en­tist Ju­dith Leiter mon­i­tors Richards Bay’s en­dan­gered dol­phins via the live feed from Alka­ntstrand

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