Friday, 7 August 2015

Experiental learning in Namibia

by Ellie Poteat - NDP Intern, July 2015

Coming from a ranch in Montana, I didn’t come here with a lot of relevant marine biology knowledge. On my first boat day, I almost launched the trailer into the ocean instead of the boat! After working here for a month, I have gained a better understanding of what it takes to work with wildlife, and I learned how to launch the boat! 

Although I had a more challenging time adjusting to fieldwork in the ocean, it was worthwhile to be able see the animals we study thrive in their natural habitat. When we approached the Heaviside’s dolphins with the boat, it’s like coming home to a pet puppy, they bounce around the boat as if they are happy to see you! No matter where people come from, I think they can appreciate the feeling of sharing a positive experience with these dolphins, and to be able to help these dolphins continue to thrive is really fulfilling. After going through the photos dolphin’s fins in the office to try and ID them, I started to recognize some of the individuals. In a way, it felt like I got to know some of them, so it made the work feel more meaningful. Working here made me develop a deeper connection to the animals that inhabit this area, and I will take back with me a greater appreciation for something that was previously completely foreign to me.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Enrico goes to Walvis Bay

By Enrico Corsi - Namibian Dolphin Project intern June-Aug 2015

I’m almost halfway through my internship with the NDP and in this brief period, I feel like I’ve learned more about the research world than in all my previous academic and field experiences. Every day I learn something new, gain new skills and become more confident about myself.

I’m becoming more familiar with the day to day running of the project and the research techniques we use. I am also enjoying meeting the public and teaching them about the animals we study.
Boat work is by far the most rewarding and exciting activity I’ve ever done in my life. Every cetacean encounter is just as amazing as the first one, I never grow tired of looking for dolphins and whales. The bottlenose come so close to our house that sometimes we can jump on a kayak and be surrounded by them in a matter of seconds.

The team is great, I couldn’t possibly have asked for a better group. All the people who work or study here are fun and welcoming, they manage to create the perfect learning and  working environment, you’ll never be homesick, you’ll start feeling at home in a matter of days.

I’m here until the end of August and am really looking forward to the time I have left. I just got off the boat and, in all honesty, I can’t wait to jump back on it tomorrow!




Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Bottlenose dolphins in the shallows

By Olly Johnson - NDP Intern March 2015

What an amazing month I spent in Walvis Bay, from quad biking in the dunes during my spare time to recording the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins from the boat! Everything was incredible and I learnt a huge amount, not only about dolphins but the sea birds too, something which at the start of the month I wasn't particularly interested in but I grew to really enjoy! 

I met some amazing people during my time as well, all of whom I hope to stay in touch with! The accommodation was great as well, being so close to the lagoon where I regularly saw dolphins feeding in really shallow waters, just 5 meters from shore at low tide! 

I would love to still be there, and no way could I pick a favourite moment from my time but some would include seeing a Heaviside’s dolphins now riding, quad biking in the dunes and the Sandwich Harbour tour! Another great moment was during one of my bird counts with Titus where we confidently concluded that the water was too shallow for dolphins and right at that moment they swam immediately in front of us in the lagoon. 

Thank you so much to everyone whose my time there so incredible!

[All photos by Olly Johnson]

Monday, 2 February 2015

Titus at sea

By Titus Shaanika -

After completing my thesis about human impacts on Heaviside’s dolphins (Cephalorhynchus 
heavisidii), I have now taken up the opportunity to do a 3-month internship with the Namibian Dolphin project (NDP), where I have been involved in the daily running of the NDP office in Walvis Bay.

My day is mostly spent attending to curious and interested visitors that walk into the office and working on photographic data from Lüderitz, Namibia. I’m involved in two projects currently run by NDP: 1) the lagoon survey (done on foot along the 3 Km long walkway around the lagoon) and 2) the tour-boat surveys (done on boat in the 100 km2 Bay). The lagoon survey is carried out in order to determine how frequently bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) use the lagoon, a RAMSAR site under threat from urban development such as an “Eco-tourism” hotel proposed to be constructed at Lover’s Hill right along the lagoon. The tour boats surveys are carried out in order to determine the abundance of bottlenose and Heaviside’s dolphins as well update the existing ID catalogues of both species. Walvis Bay is a vital dolphin habitat which also faces threats from a harbour extension currently under construction. There needs to be extensive monitoring of the bay and lagoon to assess the severity of these developments on the natural environment which is currently not fully understood. The NDP is able to carry out boat-based surveys in the bay, thanks to the kindness of three tour boat operator companies Mola Mola, Catamaran Charters and Laramon tours.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Reflections of a volunteer

“Hi Phoebe. We would be happy to have you join the team in Namibia for November and December”.

That was it. I was booking flights and on my way down to London to get my visa sorted. I arrived in Walvis Bay in early November.

Now, six weeks later, I am incredibly sad to be coming to the end of my volunteer time with the Namibian Dolphin Project. But instead of being sad, I’m going to try and give you an insight into my experience and why I’m already planning my return to this part of the world. To put it briefly I have fallen head over heels in love with Namibia, the people, the places, the food and of course the dolphins!

Before coming to Namibia I only had a small amount of marine research experience so the past 6 weeks have been a huge yet thoroughly enjoyable learning curve. In the Namibian Dolphin Project office at the Walvis Bay waterfront both Steph and myself are involved with the logistics and day-to-day management of the project, quite a unique experience and one that I believe to be incredibly valuable. In addition to this, learning dorsal fin photo ID skills, editing videos from previous field seasons and explaining the function of baleen to tourists has enriched my time significantly.

Working with the team in the office is fun, but for me the best part is getting out on the tour boats. There are a number of marine tour companies in Walvis Bay, all of whom take boats out on a daily basis to offer tourists the privilege of seeing Heaviside’s and Bottlenose dolphins in the wild, as well as Cape Fur Seals, maybe some whales and even the odd penguin. As volunteers we get to do this a few times a week! Every time we collect data on the location, number and activity of the dolphins we see and I can assure you that the novelty never wears off. Seeing bottlenose dolphins bow ride or Heaviside’s dolphins swimming underneath the boats for the twentieth time is just as exciting as the first.

But my time in Namibia has been made equally as memorable through the experiences had outside the office and dolphin boats. By meeting so many Namibians and South Africans, all of whom are immensely friendly, I have been able to stand on top of dunes that plummet straight into the sea at Sandwich Harbour, drive 4x4s along the beach to Pelican Point and to sit only metres from a lion roaring its head off at Erindi Game Reserve. Now, future interns, my advice to you – dive head first into the dolphin research, you will learn a huge amount but also take all opportunities you get offered, you will head home with some amazing memories!
Tonight we, and members of the Fisheries Observer Agency, are attending an end of year soirée hosted by the Albatross Task Force. Working with the Namibian Dolphin Project has been immensely rewarding for such a short period of time, it has exposed me to the inner workings of an international research project and has helped to direct my future plans, both academically and career based.

Friday, 17 October 2014

October - Walvis Bay

by Tess Gridley

To many on the outside it may look like we have been keeping a low profile in Walvis Bay - have we been on holiday? Do we still care, where are Glen and Sara??? Others (those who don't hang out at the waterfront) probably haven't noticed we've been gone!

Well to provide a bit of an update, Simon and I (and Lucas, Glen and Alan) moved down to South Africa in July to start setting up a research station there - Sea Search. A large reason for the move was so that we can develop and maintain closer relationships with the key universities  (UCT and Pretoria) and set up an NPO which can help to finance research in both South Africa and Namibia. We've made important steps towards these aims, bought a big house to run research from and are expanding our research team and planning for a very productive 2015 both in  Namibia and for research in False Bay and along the Garden Route.

So although you may not have seen our faces around on the water too much recently,  We've been working 24/7 behind our computers writing grants, raising funds and awareness of issues affecting dolphins in Walvis Bay so that the coming years we can monitor Namibian populations and collect research data on a range of species. We've also published a few papers on our finding on bottlenose dolphin signature whistles and Namibian humpback whales, which will be available on the website.

We've also welcomed Dr Daniela Maldini to the Namibian Dolphin project and together with her husband Jon, they will be spending more time in Namibia over the coming months - so keep an eye out for them. .

- Highlights so far from our funding drive include:
Support from De Beers  to run Marine Education Day in 2015 in Walvis Bay
Support from the Walvis Bay Municipality for education materials for the Waterfront Environmental office
Three years of research funding from Nedbank Go Green to support dolphin monitoring in Walvis Bay (well, enough to keep the boat on the water for about 50 days a year, but there are a lot of other costs for research and we are still a long way off our target. Importantly - we still trying to get funds for local students and interns - but feeling positive about the future and what we have achieved so far....

We've also been attending the 3rd Large Marine Ecosystem and the 6th annual Benguela Current Commission meetings in Swakopmund and talking with UNam lecturers about student projects for next year and giving some courses there for the current undergrads.

No visit would be complete without getting a little stinky, and within 48 hours of being in Walvis we were conducting a necropsy on a dead Heaviside's dolphin calf and a few days later searching for a 4m stranded something on the way to Swakopmund..(which turned out to be a pygmy sperm whale which was reported drifting at sea in August.

So as you can see we've been busy and very much putting Walvis Bay at the top priority for our future research plans. We look forward to keeping you updated on your results and please remember to get in touch if you come across stranded animals!!

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.