Friday, 8 August 2014

Bryde's whale calf stranding and attempted rescue at Walvis Bay

Last Saturday (02 August 2014) a small whale was reported to have stranded alive at the Walvis Bay Salt works pump station. Many whales and dolphins have been recorded to strand there in the past. We think that the dead end nature of this corner of the bay, the shallow slope of the sea floor which makes the tide rise and drop very quickly and the many channels in the area confuse animals which might be trying to leave the bay by a direct westerly route. What this means is that many of the animals which strand here are often healthy and rescuable (most solitary whales and dolphins which strand tend to be sick, old or injured). Read more about this theory in Ruth Leeney's paper on pygmy right whale strandings in this area: Paper on the NDP website here

Sara Golaski, MSc student with the Namibian Dolphin Project coordinated rescue efforts and managed to get small team of local volunteers out to the pump station by 11am. The animal was assessed and although it looked rather emaciated it seemed strong and was also small enough at 5.7m long to be potentially rescued. After taking a skin sample for genetic analysis and a range of standard length measurements to ensure species ID, the animal was kept wet and cool with towels while the team waited for the tide to come in (their thick blubber layer and dark colouring means that whales can overheat quickly when out of the water). Local company T&T Marine provided a large ski boat to assist in the rescue. Once the tide was high enough the animal was rolled gently onto the rescue stretcher and manoeuvred into deeper water alongside the boat. The small whale (its sex still unknown) was held in the stretcher along side the boat and moved out into the middle of the bay in the hope that it would be able to navigate around Pelican Point. It's very hard holding a nearly 6m long whale (which could weigh as much as 3 tons) in a stretcher alongside a moving boat and the animal eventually wriggled free and swam off into the choppy sea.

Although the wet and exhausted team were all hopeful the animal had made it back out to sea, it was reported to Sara again on Sunday morning. With help from Margot Jefferson, Sara managed to get back out to the whale, but by early afternoon with the tide still out, the whale was looking very exhausted, breathing irregularly and in poor shape. Unable to get sufficient volunteers to help move the whale, the decision was made to let nature take it's course.

The whale was a juvenile Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni) and is the 4th of this species to strand in Walvis Bay in the last 3 years (2 adults at Long beach at 2012 and 2013 and a calf at the pump station in 2012 - we have no records of the speies stranding here prior to that). Two genetically and physically distinct populations of Bryde's whales live off the coast of southern Africa, one offshore on the west coast which migrates from Southern Africa in summer up to the Equatorial regions in winter and a second smaller population which was  thought to live only on the Agulhas Bank off South Africa until one was found in Walvis Bay in 2012!  

The bites and scars on the whale are caused by cookiecutter sharks (with a little help from local seagulls reopening the wounds) which are thought to live only in the warmer waters beyond the Bengeula current. The freshness of these bites suggest that the animal must have moved in rapidly from deeper water, probably in the last few days. These bites are more common on offshore Bryde's whales but genetic analysis will confirm which population this animal belongs to in due course! 

We know so little about these pelagic whale species and strandings provide a very valuable information resource for scientists, like those at the Namibian Dolphin Project. Although rescue isn't always possible, the NDP has 2 stretchers to lift small dolphins and whales and does it's best to coordinate refloatation efforts.  We're a small team running on an even smaller budget and every bit of support helps - so please drop us a line or pop into our environmental office at the Walvis Waterfront if you're interested in being involved in the strandings network or can help out with equipment or funding. ( or 081 687 6461).  Learn more about research on this enigmatic species in South Africa at the SA Bryde's Whale Project Facebook site.

A big thank you to everyone who helped out with the rescue on Saturday, especially Margot Jefferson, Toya Louw and T&T Marine.

Monday, 28 July 2014

An aside...a trip to Sandwich Harbour

By Barbara Laesser - NDP Volunteer 2014

My trip to Sandwich Harbour was a wonderful experience. The adventure started around midday and we got picked up by a very friendly tour guide. On our way to Sandwich Harbour we crossed a variety of landscapes including barren salt pans and hummock dunes. These little dunes were covered by some vegetation, which give shelter to all kinds of fascinating animals that have adapted to the harsh conditions found in a desert. After a very short period of time, our tour guide became very excited because in front of us were the beautiful golden sand dunes, which he called his ‘outdoor office’. We were told that these sand dunes have reached an age of around 1 million years. So they are very old! Driving up and down these dunes was fun and around lunch-time we decided to stop on top of one of the dunes, where we enjoyed an incredible view of sand dunes lining up next to the Atlantic Ocean. Seeing all this dramatic nature made us very hungry, but luckily we were served with some fantastic food and drinks. When the wind decided to pick up we quickly hopped back into the vehicle and continued our journey. But this time we were heading towards the beach to drive into Sandwich Harbour itself. Along the way we saw not only wind-sculptured dunes, heaps of cormorants and seals, but also the remainders of the traders and fishermen community. Further inside Sandwich Harbour we witnessed a fluffy white baby flamingo in-between some other flamingoes in the freshwater lagoon. When it was time to head home we drove along another dune chain that ended in some hummock dunes, where we were lucky to find a small group of springboks and two ostriches. That was great! All in all, it was a very lovely trip.  

Thank you so much Katja and Naude :)

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A wrap-up of two busy months in Luderitz 2014

By Sara Golaski - MSc student.

We’ve just finished up another busy couple months of fieldwork in Lüderitz, with lots of time on the water, and a few more interesting sightings!

During this year’s two-months in Lüderitz, we did 16 photo-id surveys (a total of 93 hours on the water) covering 868 kilometers. In total, we took 8595 ID photos!  The information from these surveys is being used to look at abundance, population trends and habitat use of Heaviside’s dolphins. We also did three multi-day ship surveys, a continuation of our work looking at cetacean distribution within the Namibian Islands Marine Protected Area. We covered a total of 2176 kilometers in our 171 hours on these surveys and had 58 cetacean sightings from the ship.


We also had five acoustic loggers in the water listening for dolphin clicks throughout the field season (see top map). This data will be used to examine temporal patters in fine-scale movements of Heaviside’s dolphins around Lüderitz. This is important to ground-truth our survey data for defining dolphin habitat because we aren’t out late in the day or at night.  

Fieldwork in Lüderitz is always exciting, because there are so many opportunities for Heaviside’s encounters and we really never know exactly what we’re going to find. Interesting sightings from this year include the southernmost sighting to date of the inshore bottlenose dolphins from Walvis Bay and the first sighting of fin whales inshore in Namibian waters! We also had 5 humpback whale sightings, including a feeding pair and a surface-active mom/calf pair. Humpbacks are usually seen migrating through between June and November, so these sightings are important for highlighting “out of season” use of this area. We even had a very rare sighting of southern right whale dolphins in the distance from the ship!

When we aren’t at sea we keep ourselves busy with office work too. Other accomplishments this field season include 1 paper submitted, 1 back from review and being corrected, 3 finished and with co-authors for comment.

A great big thank you to Jean-Paul Roux and Kolette Grobler at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and M&Z Motors for their support in making our field season possible.




Saturday, 24 May 2014

Heaviside's dolphins - the little dolphin in Africa

Keeping blogs up to date is hard work!  So today I'm going to take a short cut and link you to a video about the dolphins we're working on here in Luderitz and Walvis Bay.  Heaviside's dolphins are the smallest dolphin in Africa and endemic to (i.e. found only in) the Benguela ecosystem on the west coast of Southern Africa.

Most people have never heard of them, let alone seen them - despite the fact that they are easily seen from shore right off the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town (which is about the southern limit of their range)!   So last year we were quite chuffed to get a little exposure for the dolphins and our project when it was featured on 50/50 - South Africa's leading conservation news television programme.

Videographer Zach Vincent spent a few days with us here in Luderitz last year and got some great footage of the animals which he combined with some footage shot with colleagues working on the animals in Cape Town

Check out the video here:

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Luderitz field season 2014

by Simon Elwen

We're just over halfway through our Luderitz Field Season for this year. Always good to spend some time down here, even if it's quite a challenge getting 5 people, 1 dog, a baby, a boat and a car full of equipment all the way here in one piece. It's only 400 km in a straight line from Walvis to Luderitz, but we can't tow the boat over the dirt roads and have to take the ~1200 km tar road via Windhoek.

Unfortunately, this year my car didn't make it and just north of Keetmanshoop the cylinder head blew leaving me, the boat and the dog stranded!  Quite a mission getting everything the last 500km to Luderitz but we managed to do it and my car has been left in Keetmans awaiting a new engine ($$$ !!!).  Working without a car is a major challenge when you need to cart lots of equipment around town, launch and refuel boats etc etc. So my first priority at the beginning of April was to find a car to use.  Lots of phone calls and emails later and M&Z Motors came to our rescue by lending us a double cab Triton for the field season!  An absolute life saver and a HUGE thanks from all of us for the help while we await a new engine being delivered for my car.  Here are some pics of the Triton helping us load the boat down at the slip way:

The marine wildlife around Luderitz is fantastic and strikingly different to what we see up in Walvis Bay, despite being only 400km to the south.  There are several reasons for this, including the strength of the upwelling which happens down here creating a very rich and dynamic ocean and also that the continental shelf is much closer to shore here (about 30-40 km compared to over 100km in Walvis), so we tend to get more 'offshore' species here including large whales.  

We were lucky enough to have a group of fin whales (Balaeoptera physalus - the second largest species of animal in the world!) hanging around for a few weeks. We only encountered two of them twice from the small boat just off Luderitz but saw an even bigger group of 6 animals about a week after that during our first ship survey of the Marine Protected Area.  This is the time I've ever seen a fin whale and the first time anyone is aware of, of a sighting of this species close to shore in Namibia!  So a great sighting for all of us. No idea why they have been hanging around so close to shore, but very happy that they were.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

NDP Open Day - Community support great but corporate backing is still lacking...

By Tess Gridley:

Last week the Namibian Dolphin held a Fundraiser and Education Day at the Walvis Bay Waterfront.  We had several aims by holding these events - the first was to let people know who we are, what we are doing and where we are based.  We've been based at the Waterfront since July, and where we have a range of education information and material available freely to the public to view - but still most people aren't quite sure who we are or what we get up to.

The second was to invite all schools to an education event to increase awareness of Namibia's marine life. We've been meaning to run a big education event for a while and during the summer months is the best time as our fieldwork commitments are less.

And the last was to raise funds - primarily for Namibian students, office running and general research costs. This final aim is crucial for us. While Simon and I are employed through the University of Pretoria on a contract basis, we have to search hard for funds for the office and students and to conduct the research we think is important. Recently we have had some really great Namibian students approach and work with us (for instance see blog by Titus below). We would love to be in a position to offer these students paid internships or student bursaries, but at the moment we can only offer volunteer positions. This means that most students can't afford to work with us, as they need to find alternative paid work. Our long-term aim is that the project is run by local Namibians and getting these studentships is the first step towards achieving this.

We hoped that through running a fundraiser event we could inspire local businesses to support marine conservation and thereby secure some financial backing for the students, the environmental office, research or all three. Currently this has not come through and the search continues. On the up side though – the fundraising evening we held was fantastic. It was a sit down meal for 50 people, with music and games to boot – and was a lot of fun! We had support from NACOMA, Maersk and Nedbank – who all booked large tables and enjoyed the evening.



The Education Day on the Saturday was also a great success – over 150 children attended the event and there was a real buzz at the Waterfront. We had 10 stations set up - so children could learn about sounds in the sea, sharks, seabird conservation, ‘tools of the trade’ and see our collection of marine mammal skulls.  For the younger kids we also had face painting, arts and crafts and pelican viewing. All the volunteers that helped out on the day were wonderful and all the kids seemed to love the day. In fact, more than 70 ended their day with a trip to sea with Laramon tours, where they got to do some wildlife viewing - for those children who had never been to sea before this was a real treat.
So what did we learn from our busy weekend  - well mostly that the community in Walvis Bay really cares about the marine environment and wants to know more - but that we are going to have to work a little harder and shout a little louder if we want local businesses (particularly those that use the marine realm - Manica, Maersk, de Beers, the fishing companies etc, this means you!) to take note and support local conservation efforts… and on that note I'll get back to writing yet another funding application :-)

A HUGE thank you to everyone who helped out with the day, the event and with prizes:

Volunteer Support: Bex Russel, Margot Jefferson, Bridget, Sara, Marie, Justus, Cecelia, Tobias and Titus, the Albatross Task Force (Sarah Yates) and CETN (Peter Bridgeford & Sue Roux).

Venue supplied by Anchors Restaurant, Lindi Dreyer and Marti Behr

Printing costs supported by Printworx Swakopmund & the NACOMA project. Petra at PAKO MAgazine helped out designing some of the info sheets.  Mega-Stationers, Waltons and Herco all supplied some materials for the day.

Raffle Prizes by: AfriCat & Okonjima Lodge, Sun Sail Cruises, Levo Tours, Lyon Des Sables, Lemon Tree Deli, Mussel Cracker, Art Africa, Harbour’s End, Namib Offroad, Harbours End

Boat trips on the day by Laramon Tours

Ocean Adventures helped courier some of the kids to the event with their busses and Catamaran Charters provided a prize for the winning essay.




Friday, 7 February 2014

The value of historic archives for research

By Titus Shaanika - University of Namibia 

Newspapers are an invaluable source of information, they keep with them information that many consider useless  over years, but if newspapers are revisited even after decades information in newspapers can be quite useful, with that in mind the Namibian dolphin project decided to go through the Namib times newspaper(largest daily coastal newspaper ) archives at the Walvis bay municipality library, in search of records(pictures, articles and adverts) about dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles and fishing or anything of interest to a marine conservation organization like Namibian dolphin project. Archives under study are from 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1971

 Pilchard fishing was the talk most of the articles during the studied years, the pilchard industry was by the most productive fishery, an article on 21 May 1965 reported that “1964 was the most successful pilchard fishing season ever at Walvis Bay”. 650 000 tons of pilchards were caught off Walvis Bay", a different article on 3rd September 1965 reads “four pilchard factories have completed their quota of 90 000 tons each" there are several other article about the pilchard galore that was off the Namibian coast. On 6 august 1965 a certain Mr. I J Kuen wrote a letter to the Namib sun expressing his worry about the mismanagement of marine resources and the large number of foreign fleet of trawlers in South West African (Namibian) waters. This article shows that there were concerns of the way of marine resources off the Namibian coast were managed and if such a letter was taken serious maybe pilchards fishing would still be productive and profitable off the Namibian coast and we would still be spotting whales, dolphins and turtles frequently off our beautiful coast.

The invasive Jellyfishes that are of serious concern nowadays, started causing problem problems in 1960s, on 3 March 1967 an article titled “tons of jellyfishes caught up in nets with pilchards” reads “one load of 50 tons of fish the night before last had at least 30 tons of jellyfish amongst it”, this delinquent is still causing headaches today. 30 tons is too big a number for something that has little to no economic significance of the Namibian people, jellyfishes are a delicacy in some Asian countries, perhaps construction of jellyfish processing and exporting factories should be looked into, this an opportunity for local businessman and women. 

The recent stranding of sharks due to sulphur bloom in the lagoon is not something new to the bay, a cases far worse than the one on 17 January 2014,occurred on 29 December  1967 were over 10 tons of fish died and where wash up into the lagoon, the 10 tens included Beast such as sharks, skates and soles.

The low number of articles about cetaceans (collective name of whale and dolphins) in the newspapers perhaps might be because their populations have been exhausted by whaling activity already an article on 19 January 1971 about sperm whale being caught off S.W.A coast, reported “… whales are seldom seen in the bay nowadays…”, many article on cetaceans were mostly about sperm whales.