Tuesday 7 April 2009

The 2009 summer field season is now over. I'm going to handing the data over to my student and hopefully not thinking about solving any problems for a day or two :) I'll post updates as our findings come out.

Luderitz was a sweet and successful end to the season for me, which has been rather stressful due to all our funding issues. But all things considered, it worked out pretty well, mainly I must say due to the fantastic support the project has received from the Namibian community. I'm going to try list a few of the key people to whom I really owe a vote of thanks:

Ingo, Isolde, Dougie, and Alan at Pelican Tours - the loan, launching and recovering of Pedro was invaluable for our work in Walvis Bay.

Naude, Megan and Neels Dreyer of Mola Mola Safaris - for being proactive and organising so much relating to the whale and dolphin strandings. For helping us out with cheaper fuel and a venue for our fundraiser talks in Feb.

Catamaran Charters and Eco-Marine kayak tours - for donations to our research costs this season.

NACOMA, and Rod Braby especially - for being so supportive of the project and helping us find ways to rescue out funding situation.

Namibia Nature Foundation, Rachel Malone and Chris Brown - for fighting so hard when our funding was pulled out that they seem to have rescued the situation for us and all the other projects funded through the same granting body.

John and Barbara Paterson for housing us and being so helpful with the strandings and our research all the other little things that we are always needing.

I'm back in Pretoria for a few months trying o process some of the data and publish and few papers, but we're still working on some grant applications, mainly to buy some hydrophones so that when we're back in July for the winter season we'll be running at full tilt. With all the work we've put in over the last year the project is now reasonably set up to run for the next two years.

The two main items that we still need to fund are a set of C-POD hydrophones (grant in progress) and getting our own research boat which will allow us more freedom for longer days and different launch sites and allow us to broaden out goals and work considerably. Anyone reading this who might be able to help us fund or find a research boat that will be used for marine conservation in Namibia - please get in touch with me!

Three days home and I'm looking forward to the winter season when more whales are around. There is very little known about humpback whales from Namibia and we're currently collaborating with the Wildlife Conservation Society who are working in west Africa and with other researchers from the University of Pretoria to share data we collect on this species from Namibia.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

This season is now winding down after a good few ups and downs. And they continue.

We have left Walvis Bay and are currently in Lüderitz for a few days as we hope to develop LDZ into a secondary field site. Due to its latitude and slightly jutting out position on the west coast, the weather here is normally very windy and makes small boat based photographic work like we’re doing in WB almost impossible. If our grant comes through, we hope to deploy some hydrophones as well as run a few visual surveys and collect skin once a season to investigate the structure and separation of dolphin populations between here and WB and later with South Africa.

I’ve never been to Lüderitz before and I’m glad I made it out here this season despite the continued car problems (my car is still stuck in Windhoek!!). It’s a very interesting little town, and is really isolated being ~400km from the border to the south and from WB to the north and about 800km from the capital with very little in between other than vast expanses of sand dunes.

I've put a few pics at the end of this post. A big thanks to Jean Paul Roux of MFMR who, although he’s not in town this week put me in contact with Günter Behrens (who runs yacht tours of the bay). Within hours Günter had helped sort us out with a boat to get us out to the dolphins, and great accommodation right on top of the hill that we’ll hopefully be able to use longer term!

We went out to sea on Tuesday morning trying to squeeze in a few hours before the notorious wind picked up. What can I say? Dolphins galore! I managed to get seven skin samples in an hour and a half. It took us 3 weeks to do that in Walvis Bay – it’s a combination of the dolphins mood (whether they’ll bow ride the boat or not), where they ride the boat (affected by the shape of the boat hull) and the fact that the dolphins here are really abundant and boat friendly! On Monday afternoon we’d been out to Dias Point and Guano Bay to look at the site from shore and saw at least 30 dolphins within a km or two of the land and some animals were only meters from shore – what a fantastic spot for dolphin watching. We also saw a brief feeding frenzy with about 40 gannets diving onto fish and a several groups of Heaviside’s dashing over to join the fun. Other than one or two brief observations of surface feeding in Walvis Bay, I’ve never seen Heaviside’s dolphins do anything that could be described as definite feeding behaviour. In South Africa where I did my PhD research the animals seem to be feeding offshore in deep waters at night and when inshore are mainly socializing and resting.

It’s fascinating seeing all these differences in behaviour along the coast. Unraveling the links between prey type, prey distribution, and competition from seals and other dolphins (for instance, there are no bottlenose dolphins hogging the nearshore environment in Lüderitz or South Africa) and how these factors affect dolphin behaviour is one of our key goals. We hope that by studying these processes will be able to understand the mechanisms behind habitat choice and thus be able to better predict how dolphins are likely to respond to a changing environment.

Pics below of the light house at Diaz Point, a Heaviside's dolphin that was swimming around in the bay just in front of the lighthouse, a rather bad shot of the brief feeding frenzy (it was far away) and a map of the area.