St Helena Online

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Swimming with whale sharks – an island tradition

A swimmer with a whale shark off St Helena. Click the pic to see Julian Beard's video
A swimmer with a whale shark off St Helena. Click the pic to see Julian Beard’s video

Swimming with whale sharks is nothing new on St Helena. Fishermen used to have to fend them off, to avoid taking an unplanned dip alongside them, according to video-maker Julian Beard.

He used a high-tech Go Pro camera to record an encounter with five of the giant creatures off Jamestown – though only two feature in the video he has posted on YouTube.

The camera’s ultra-wide lens makes them appear far closer to the swimmers than they really were, says Julian.

whale shark video link 550

Click the pic to see Julian Beard’s whale shark video

“This is only my second time swimming with whale sharks,” says Julian, “but I saw them on numerous occasions during my childhood. I know loads of people who have been swimming with them for years.

“The last two years are the most I have ever seen: last year 17, this year 35 individuals.

“I remember talking to fishermen about how these giants have lifted the bows of their
boats out of the water as they rub themselves against the boats. Usually you would have to use an oar to push them away from the boat in fear of being flipped over.”

Whale sharks are harmless to humans, but even so, with adults reaching the size of a bus, you’d want to keep them at a safe distance from a small boat.

Scroll down for a gallery of images from Julian’s video

“Swimming with these gentle giants is an experiance of a lifetime,” says Julian. “You feel so tiny beside them as they glide along.

Click the pic to see Julian's video
Click the pic to see Julian’s video

“As long as you respect them they don’t mind you being there. If you start to splash around or jump into the water near them and act erratically they will swim off.

“At the end of the video you will see some tourists from another boat jumping into the water and splashing around, which scared the shark off.”

Julian has also published videos shot while motorcycling around the island, some of them with a large group of fellow bikers.

“I’m trying to compile some videos of activities that Saints get up to during their spare time,” he says. “Many of these activities are slowly dying out. For example, the motorcycle rides use to consist of 60 bikes or more; now they are down to a handful.

“People used to go down to the ocean after work daily and compete in water sports. Now barely anybody does this anymore.

“I’m trying to get a video of people sliding down the Ladder to get into town, which is now something rarely seen. I can remember 15 years ago watching loads of people slide down at the same time.”

  • An electronic tag attached to a whale shark – nicknamed Bella and thought to be pregnant – has enabled scientists to track her movements for several hundred kilometres. Click here to follow Bella’s journey. 

Click on the thumbnails below to see images from Julian Beard’s video

Writer rescues Napoleon: was America ready for him?

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What would the Americans made of Napoleon, had he escaped from St Helena and started a new (and longer) life in the young United States?

The idea is explored in a debut historical novel by writer Shannon Selin – who’s also published, unusually, a video trailer for her book, Napoleon in America.

It sees him fetch up in New Orleans – once a French city – and then go around the country upsetting the ladies with pleasantries that don’t quite work.

Worse things happened across Europe in his day.

A review on the Kirkus books website tells how he is welcomed on arrival in Louisiana by cries of “Vive l’Empereur!” from Americans and French expats alike.

“Though enfeebled by his travels, Napoleon hasn’t lost his ambition or hunger for power; soon, he’s traveling around his new country and coming up with schemes every step of the way.”

The review does not say whether St Helena emerges at all favourably in the novel.

Read more here or watch the trailer here

How photo-blogger told America about island oil disaster

MS Oliva goes aground. Click the pic for more images, courtesy of

Photographer Andrew Evans arrived on the world’s most remote inhabited island just days after the bulk carrier MS Oliva was shipwrecked, creating an environmental disaster.

The ship releasing an oil slick that was to kill hundreds of endangered rockhopper penguins – and for a few days, it went unreported in the world’s media.

Evans had travelled to Tristan da Cunha in his role as National Geographic’s ‘digital nomad’, intending to capture the islanders’ way of life. Instead, he found himself witnesses the islanders’ response to a calamity.

Now National Geographic has released a video of him talking about how he broke the story of the MS Oliva.

“It was devasting,” he says. “Nobody in the world knew about this. This was an island that was completely disconnected. It’s off the grid.

“The first thing I did was take as many pictures as I could. I created a YouTube video and published it immediately from the ship. I put it out on Twitter [an internet messaging website] and it got picked up by the blogosphere.

“National Geographic got it out there in the real press, and it went to the New York Times.”

The lesson, says Evans, is that anyone with a camera and a web connection has the power to share news with the world.

In fact, Tristan is not as disconnected as he suggests. The story was also being relayed beyond the island on Tristan’s own website, which is published from the UK.

And unlike Evans, a Belgian witness had video footage of the crew actually being rescued by personnel from a passing cruise ship. However, Kanaal van KristineHannon’s shots did not appear on YouTube for another 11 days.

And efforts were being made to get the story in the UK media – but the oil spill happened in the same week as the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The BBC was told about the story several times, but took days to get round to covering it.

The Today programme ran a live interview on the crisis on 22 March 2011 – the day Evans arrived on Tristan (and released a video in which he made no mention of the disaster).

Tristan penguin rescuers triumph – maybe

National Geographic Live: Andrew Evans on reporting the Tristan oil spill
BBC Today programme report – 22 March 2011
Andrew Evans arrives on Tristan da Cunha – 22 March 2012
Nightingale Oil Spill – Andrew Evans’s original video,  24 March 2012
YouTube: MS Oliva runs aground – Kristine Hannon crew rescue footage, 27 March 2012