Wednesday 29 October 2008

Report finalised

The report of the 2008 pilot feel season, including the final abundance estimates, acoustic monitoring and habitat survey results is now complete and has been submitted to the relevant bodies. Please contact me if you would like to get a copy.

Sunday 28 September 2008

My apologies for the lack of recent updates - it's been a busy few months recently.

The report from our first season is nearly ready and I'll be sending it out to all IAP's hopefully by the end of Sept, early Oct latest. If you were at our end of season talks in Walvis you've already seen the majority of it, this will just be a more formal version. If you don't get a copy by mid Oct and would like one, please contact me (leave a comment blog on this or email me s_elwen AT yahoo DOT com).

Unfortunately, we missed the "Moving Sushi" expedition when they passed through Namibia - please take a look at Michael and Linda's great website and blog about their phenomenal trip around Africa and Europe to film and promote marine conservation. Best of luck to you both!

Other than that - the quest for funding continues, in between everything else, and we've been submitting a few more grants and requests to both conservation and corporate bodies. In addition to our core goals in the Walvis Bay area, we're hoping to extend the work down to Luderitz next season and that comes at a cost, more PODs, more fuel, a need for a 4x4 to get us there... we'll let you know how it develops.

Monday 11 August 2008

I have now left Namibia and am currently in Pretoria, South Africa and Ruth is in Cape Cod, USA where we both have work commits for the rest of the year. Analysis of our data from Namibia is ongoing and we plan to have a report of our field season complete by mid-Sept, which we will pass around to interested parties.

Updates on the blog will slow down from now on but I'll keep it updated with news of funding and requests etc. For now - we're looking for a boat for next year and hope to raise funds to buy one and we're also looking for a 4x4 which we need for beach surveys for stranded animals and towing the boat etc. Ideally we'd like to get a vehicle sponsored or loaned for the project.

Once again - thank you to everyone in Namibia who helped us out this year. We feel that we had a great and very successful season and we couldn't have done it without all the help and support we received from everyone there - too many to mention here!

Saturday 2 August 2008

I'm still in town as I'm trying to sell our little Golf that we were using during the season to get us around town. This week, together with John Paterson of the Albatross Task Force, I got roped into helping NACOMA out with their launch of the new Coastal Awareness Programme. The launch ceremony was held at the Raft Restaurant in Walvis Bay, where the Minister of Environment and Mayor (among others) were speaking. John and I and a few other local paddlers had to kayak past the venue bearing the standards with the new branding. Seemed to be a successful launch and we wish them all the best with the project. The "kayaking with banners" obviously hit it off with the media too as we made two of the papers the next day. All in all, it was an amusing day out and a much needed break from data crunching.

Had nearly 100 pelicans fly over the house this afternoon - a really striking sight, and their wings make a surprising amount of noise too as they fly along.

Wednesday 30 July 2008

Last days. We've been working hard trying to catch up all our data processing before the end of the season and we've also had a few good days out at sea. We've seen the bottlenose in the lagoon for the first time (it's great working in a place where you can occasionally spot your study animals before you even launch the boat!), at Pelican Point and of course up the coast north of town, where they are regularly spotted close to shore.

We had our last day out at sea on Monday, and had a great day out (it's always nice to end on a high note), spotting the bottlenose dolphins, a group of 5 humpback whales well north of town, including a tiny calf probably only days to weeks old and ending with a great few hours with the Heaviside's at the Point, where they were being quite active and boat friendly and I managed snap this photo of them jumping in front of of the the Mola Mola tour boats.

Apologies for the lack of updates, but it's been a busy few weeks as the season has been coming to a close for us. Last week we held a stranding workshop to try and rebuild interest in collecting data from stranded animals. This was done in collaboration with NACOMA and the Ministry for Fisheries and it was hosted by Heidi Skrypzeck at the Ministry in Swakopmund. Dr Jean-Paul Roux, who was been working with cetaceans and fur seals longer than anyone in Namibia made it up from Ludertiz and gave a great introduction to the area and the history of strandings here.

Stranded cetaceans are fairly rare and Namibia has a very large empty coastline, so to be able to effectively find out what animals are stranding and be able to collect data (species, size, age, genetics, stomach contents etc) from them , there needs to be a system in place for reporting their occurrence. This workshop was a first step in getting people interested and letting them know why strandings are important, what kind of data to collect (location, photographs and length) and who to tell so that there is an opportunity for more in depth sampling and that all the data gets centralised.

We'll put up more data on this in a few days.

Thursday 24 July 2008

It seems that it's whale season in Namibia! Although we expected to see the odd southern right whale and a few humpbacks passing by on their way north, we've been surprised by the number of animals in the bay. Of course, getting reports from the tour boat skippers makes it much more obvious. Yesterday there were 3 or 4 right whales in the bay, today at least one other, and there have been humpbacks most days in the last two weeks.
The weather has been good and the dolphins are still around. Although the Heaviside's seem to be less active and harder to get to around the full moon, we've kept the data collection ticking over. Today, we eventually managed to get the C-POD (the new proto-type version of the moored hydrophone we have at the Point) into the water and hopefully working this time! New technology is always a challenge, but hopefully it gives us a few good days of data. We had bottlenose and Heaviside's swimming right past it this morning just a few hours after we put it in the water, so that gives us some great visual verification of the data it's collecting.

And lastly - we noticed that the guano platform was getting scraped clean when we passed it the other day. This platform was built in the early 19th century for birds to roost on i the hope that they would generate large amounts of guano in an easy to access location that was safe from predators. There are a few of these platforms scattered along the Namibian coastline, but only the one here in Walvis Bay (you can see it on Google-earth on the north east side of the bay very close to shore if you look). They scrape the guano off and then send it across to shore on a wire pulley system. Quite a job!

Friday 18 July 2008

Sadly, we learnt today that Keith Wearne of CETN passed away last night.

Keith has been an active force in conservation here in Walvis Bay for long time, and was especially involved with the birds and RAMSAR site. He was one of our central contacts here in Namibia and was fantastically welcoming to me when I arrived, showing me around and introducing me to all the relevant people and has recently been helping us by letting us use his computer for downloading hydrophone data, and lending us books from his personal library.

We'd like to pass our condolences to Gail and their sons on their loss. Although we didn't know Keith for very long, we'll all miss him.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

End of Seaon Talks!

Please note - if you are in the vicinity please come to our end of season talks. It will be a fairly informal affair with plenty of time for questions and discussion.

Monday 28th July
At the "Anchor's" (Mola Mola's coffee shop at the jetty next to the Yacht basin)
17h30 - 19h00.

Get in touch with us, if you have any questions.
Despite the wintery misty weather, we've had a productive, if variable, week out there - two days of only 20 odd photographs and two of several hundred photographs! The Heaviside's were fantastically abundant and boat friendly for a few days, even coming to play around the boat while we were sitting on the mooring dealing with the hydrophones, so I had a productive hour with the camera without even switching the engines on. They seem to have returned to their more normal 'indifferent' behaviour again and the windier weather the last two days hasn't helped, as it makes them much harder to find.

The PODs have gone back in and come back out as we're still having some teething problems with the newer C-POD's hardware, but the older T-POD is collecting some good data out there.

Ruth and Joaquina setting up the PODs ready for deployment.

One of Jeanne Meintjies customers having a great paddle in a very aptly named boat.

Tuesday 8 July 2008

We've been trying to get the database up to date, but it's a running battle as we're collecting data all the time. But currently - and this is a rough and unfiltered count, we've identified 58 Heaviside's dolphins and 46 bottlenose dolphins. This doesn't mean that's how many there are - far from it, it's simply the number we've been able to photograph and identify.

The big difference between the two species is that we keep seeing more or less the same bottlenose dolphins and have identified very few new animals since mid-June. Whereas, the Heaviside's dolphin catalogue continues to grow. They're much harder to photograph and not nearly as well marked.

I've put up pictures below of our two "star performers": T-029 a bottlenose that we've see a grand total of 8 out of the 13 days that we've seen bottlenose so far and C-022, a very boat friendly and photogenic Heaviside's dolphin that we've now seen on 6 different days!
Unfortunately, C-022's distinctive scarring pattern is already starting to fade so we can only use these scars for a short period. The deeper notches found in the trailing edge of some dolphins are much more stable and can be used over several years to identify animals.
The difference in how "boat friendly" individual dolphins are is a problem for the mark-recapture analysis we're trying to do as, unless we can account for it, we will be severely biasing the resulting abundance estimate (downwards) because we are oversampling some members of the population and undersampling others which are less boat friendly. The best way around this is try to 'capture' the entire population. So...we're back out tomorrow.
Despite the teething problems we've been having with the T-PODs and C-PODs, things have been progressing well and we've spent most of our time recently out at Pelican Point due to putting the PODs in and out.

Highlights: Despite being a little more choppy than usual due to a northerly wind, the 5th was a nice day out with lots of activity - we had another encounter with a humpback whale off the Point; there several seals were feeding on some large fish out there as well as a few white chinned petrels in the area which we haven't seen too often.

Although the bottlenose dolphins seem a little harder to find this week, we managed an encounter off the Point today (8th) with 5 of them and Mike Lloyd of Mola Mola got a great shot from the beach of us following them down the coast. We were being patient and slowly following them in the hope that they would move out of the surf zone so we could photograph their other side!

Sunday 6 July 2008

On Thursday we hauled out the T-PODs which had been sitting of Pelican Point for a week, where we see Heaviside's dolphins on a daily basis, and bottlenose dolphins occasionally.

The T-POD ( is a self-contained, submersible hydrophone and computer which recognises and logs the high-frequency clicks made by dolphins. These "echolocation" clicks are used by dolphins (and porpoises) to explore their environment, find prey and communicate.

This screenshot from the programme TPOD.exe shows a 4-second period in the early morning of June 30th. These clicks were recorded in the frequency range between 90 and 130 kHz, indicating that they are clicks from Heaviside's dolphins. Time is shown on the x-axis and the y-axis shows Pulse Repetition Frequency, or click rate. The red and yellow lines probably represent clicks from at least 2 dolphins, since one series of clicks appears to be increasing in speed, whilst another series (the yellow and red line on the bottom right of the screen) is slower.

This is the first use of T-PODs to acoustically monitor Heaviside's dolphins! Watch this space for developments and more detailed findings......

Many thanks to Dr Simon Northridge at the University of St. Andrews for the loan of this equipment.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

After nearly a month's worth of various postal and custom delays, we eventually managed to get the T-PODs out at sea on Sunday. We dropped two in off Pelican Point where the density of Heaviside's dolphins is the highest. These two will be in together for a calibration period of a week, to make sure they're receiving at the same level, then we'll move one over to near Bird Island where the bottlenose dolphins are regularly seen. We managed to have a generally productive day on the water and also got some good photo-ID data from Heaviside's and a group of bottlenose dolphins which were at the Point. Both species swam very close to the T-PODs while we were there providing us with a great visual confirmation for the acoustic data.

We're taking most of this week off to take care of a few logistic issues but will be back on the water on Friday

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Today was an interesting day. We came across the bottlenose dolphins feeding towards the south of the lagoon, then later a different subgroup further north and then at the end of the day when we came in, we found them again, in the yacht basin right where we launch the boat! The feeding is interesting to watch as the dolphins do a lot of dashing back and forth and surface-rushing to chase fish. Whenever we have seen dolphins feeding so far there have also been young seals feeding alongside, although usually in a tighter cluster, and with more fish leaping out in front of them. They're very difficult to photograph when they're feeding and it takes a lot of patience to get the ID shots we need, although it's great now that we're starting to identify individuals by eye. While looking through the photos of the day just now, I discovered one animal with a very deep scratch which we hadn't noticed while at sea (see photo).

The Heaviside's were almost absent from the point today for the first time, with only a handful sighted. But the big excitement of the day was that killer whales were seen by one of the tour boats. After all the boats had had a look at them, we managed to grab a few ID shots as they were moving offshore. I've cropped in a few and posted them below, along with a shot of a Caspian tern which was feeding alongside the bottlenose dolphins.

Monday 23 June 2008

Data collection has been continuing along in the last week and we've been putting together the the bottlenose dolphin catalogue - so far we've identified 38 individuals (although there are some repeats in that as 12 animals were only identified from one side).
Unfortunately, we've been held up slightly by having some engine problems with the boat, which Ingo has been great about getting sorted out - thanks so much for that. We've used the opportunity to get on some of the tour boats to collect some opportunistic photographs. Thanks to Levo Tours and Mola Mola for hosting us. While on Levo's Antie, Ruth and Joaquina came across these 2 humpback whales near Pelican Point, which were rather popular with the tour boats.

Tuesday 17 June 2008

Data collection is now progressing well and we've had 6 dedicated research trips on Pedro already. We've encountered Heavside's dolphins (or Benguela dolphins as many people call them here) on all of those and bottlenose on 4 of them (with some re-sightings already). However, all encounters are not equal and some days the Heaviside's dolphins can be very difficult to approach for photography.

We're trying to stay on top of the data processing by grading our images for quality and picking out the distinctive animals as we go. Only good quality photographs of well marked animals will be used in the mark-recapture calculations. This means fins need to be well focused, close up, and perpendicular to the camera to minimise the chances of mis-identifying any animals. I've put a few example photographs below of the types of natural-marks we use to identify animals. The bits of missing fin are mainly the result of interactions with other animals, they never heal and can be used to identify individuals for many years (if they don't get disguised by the addition of too many more marks!). These images are not all of a good enough quality for abundance estimates - but I've included a few of the very well marked ones we've seen in the last week, just to show that they're out there. As you can see, the Heaviside's (left column) are not nearly as well marked as some of the bottlenose fins (right column). (For scale - the Heaviside's fins are actually much smaller than those of the bottlenose).

Wednesday 11 June 2008

Went out to the Point today in the hope of surveying to the south when the mist lifted but it only lifted quite late so we just stuck around and worked the Heaviside's for several hours. They were being particularly frustrating today, diving whenever we got near them, hardly ever coming close to the boat, changing direction and splitting up all the time. On a positive note - there were a few nicely marked ones out there which was gratifying as the first few I'd photographed from the Mola Mola tour boats all had perfectly clean identical fins. The dolphins seem to wake up at about 10am when the tour boats arrive and the sun comes out and a few were leaping about.

Marko on Silverwind spotted a young humpback whale just off the point and after the tour boats left for home we followed it for a while and got a few ID shots for our colleagues working on the species in Angola, Gabon and South Africa.

Tuesday was a fantastically sunny calm day and we took Pedro for a survey most of the way to Swakopmund before hitting mist and turning back to the point. After working with a few evasive Heaviside's, we encountered a great group of bottlenose dolphins which the tour boats had spotted.

The majority of the time, the dolphins were in very close to shore and appeared to be feeding, with lots of chasing up and down the shore line with occasional small fish jumping. The seals were also getting in on the act and there were always a few with or very close to the dolphins chasing things about just under the surface.
Interestingly, there were frequently Heaviside's dolphins nearby - they didn't exhibit anything that was obvious feeding behaviour, and the two species just seemed to ignore each other.

The dolphins were amazingly close to the shore - I kept expecting them to strand themselves on the beach chasing the fish, but they never did. Apparently this is quite common behaviour for them around here in the areas were there is little wave action.

Monday 9 June 2008

The ball is rolling! Ruth arrived on Thursday and Joaquina on Friday and we got almost straight out to sea. We tried one of the smaller boats from NDMS on Saturday but it was unfortunately a little too small for the type of work we are trying to do and the areas we need to visit outside the bay, so it was a rather short day but Sunday was more successful..

Ingo, of Pelican Charters has generously offered us the use of his ex-tour boat Pedro, which is fairly large and very safe and a great option for us at the moment. Sunday we took Pedro for our first full working day as a team and spent several hours with the Heaviside's at the Point. Unfortunately, they were being rather shy and the misty weather didn't help with photography, but that's the nature of the work. We narrowly missed finding the bottlenose dolphins but hope to get them next trip. All in all, it was great being out there and tomorrow we're out again. The only downside of working on Pedro is that the seals kept jumping aboard expecting to be fed. It's a strange feeling trying to work with a 350kg bull fur seal standing behind you watching you work. We're hoping they'll eventually dehabituate to this particular boat as they seem pretty well tuned as to the difference between the tour boats.

We're still going out on the tour boats in between research trips to gather data on their movements in the area and interactions with animals in the bay. Thanks to Marko of Catamaran Charters who took out Ruth and Joaquina today while I spent the day standing in queues at the Traffic department dealing with the necessary bureaucracy involved with buying an old Golf to run us around town. Ruth managed to get some nice photos of Heaviside's bowriding Silverwind today.

First team photo: Ruth, Joaquina and Simon

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Went out on one of the Mola Mola boats again today (thanks Neels and Megan) to try get a few bottlenose photos and they have been seen in the bay recently. It was a beautiful day, sunny and calm and we found them just north of town and I managed to get a good few ID's from them. Also nabbed a few pelican and skua shots while out there. The Heaviside's at the point were also behaving and I managed to get a few good shots of them, including a few marked individuals which is great for the beginning of the catalogue. Ruth arrives tomorrow and Joaquina on Friday so if the boat is ready we'll be out there on the weekend and data collection starts full time.
For more photos, look at :

Tuesday 3 June 2008

The project really needs a vehicle to move us and the boats around town and I've been following a few leads and putting forward some proposals in this regard. If you know anyone who can help, please get in touch.

Another big thank you to Alan Louw, Flossie Janse van Rensburg and Andries Prinsloo of Namib Diving and Marine for their help in getting us a boat.
Managed to get our own boat out to sea at last. Namib Diving and Marine Services (NDMS) have been really supportive of the project and have been trying to find boats that are both suitable and fuel efficient. We took their aluminium demo boat for a run on Sunday to see if it was right for us (it has rear tiller-arm steering, I'd normally prefer a boat with a centre console that you can drive standing up to make searching and dealing with surf conditions easier). However it turned out to be a great stable design that is easy to stand in for both searching and photography and quite fuel efficient too.

Ran up the coast away and then out to the point where we encountered some Heaviside's dolphins and a group of bottlenose.
Unfortunately, the bottlenose were bow riding a tour boat away from us and I didn't want to chase them. Working around the tour boats is going to be a real challenge for us in the coming months.

Saturday 31 May 2008

It's been a bit of a slow week compared to last. Met with our representatives (Heidi Skrypzeck & Hannes Holtzhausen) at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources on Tuesday to discuss the project and goals. They're very supportive of us and Heidi will be joining us at sea when she can. Then met with Rod Braby of NACOMA who's been working around the Namibian coast for years (including piloting the right whale surveys) and had many useful insights to share on the local dolphin populations. The rest of the week was more mundane, looking at cars and a few other boat options and trying to convince the bank to let me open an account here to make financial issues a little easier.

A black backed jackal that we saw on the way out to Pelican Point on Monday.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Monday 26th I went on a kayak trip with Jeanne Meintjies of Eco-Marine Kayak tours. Jeanne has been running these tours since the 90's and is one of the older companies in town. Due to the size of the bay, the kayaks are driven out to the peninsula from where the paddle runs out to the tip of Pelican Point.

The paddle passes a small seal colony where the juvenile seals are extremely playful and very interested in the kayaks and paddles .

Although we saw a scattered group of Heaviside's at the point where I've seen them on the previous two outings, they weren't particularly 'friendly' towards the kayaks and I wasn't prepared to risk my camera this early in the season for a few poor quality ID shots.

In the afternoon Keith Wearne took me across the lagoon and salt pans by car to to look around, check up on the local bird populations (which Keith is involve in counting) and to look at the skeleton of a pygmy right whale which had stranded in the shallows. Someone had wanted the bones, so Niels Dreyer (Mola Mola) had put fencing around the carcass to allow it to rot clean without washing away. Unfortunately no body has looked at it since and the bones have pretty much rotted away. We did get to see some nice birds on the way there and back including some baby flamingos which are beginning to arrive from further north.