Wednesday 24 August 2011

Meeting of minds

By Gabriel Al-Najjar - Oceans Intern August 2011
I’m now halfway through the internship living and working with people from all over the world and still feeling like there is so much to do and learn. That’s not to say I haven’t been fulfilling my goals for the month, but a month is a relatively short time to take in everything there is to see. Up to this point, the most memorable experience in the whole trip has happened in one minute; one minute of pure significance and amazement. I was out on the water where we had encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins with about 7 individuals. I had been documenting their behaviour, so I was able to really focus on everything that they were doing: every jump, every breath, every action taken above the water or next to the boat. We had been with them for about half an hour and this is when it all happened. One of the adult dolphins came up to our boat to the side I was on, and had turned on his side in such a way that he could look up at me. At first I wasn’t sure what he was doing, and that’s when Simon said “He is totally looking up at you right now”. In that instant, I knew that I was experiencing something that I had longed to be a part of since I begun aspiring to be a field biologist. The dolphin had continued to swim with us and fix his gaze for about a minute before breaking our locked eyes and dashing off to reunite with his dolphin friends where he belonged. To see these magnificent creatures in the wild as free beings and have an interaction like this one has, in a way, made the whole trip worthwhile. That is one minute of my life that I will never forget.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

On tourism..

by Alyssa Avery - Oceans Research Intern August 2011

Tourism in the winter months at Walvis Bay is at a high making July and August the busiest months for the companies. Most boats are filled with people who either prepay for the trip, or have reservations for the trip. However, every so often one of the interns gets to join the boat on its tour of Walvis Bay to see the marine life. While this may just sound like a fun day off, it is actually work even though they give you “Namibian Coffee” which is actually sherry, but they don’t tell you that. Being on the tour boat is different from being on Nanuuq, or being in the office grading photos, looking at acoustic recordings or evaluating the forms of data collected. Our job while on the boat is to see how many animals either boards the boat (yes it does happen, especially with the seals who like to board the boats for fish) or how many animals interact around the boat. We also make note of how many fish are fed to the local seals, seagulls, and pelicans that are encountered throughout the three-hour boat ride and the seagulls really do sound like the ones from Finding Nemo. We do this to see how tourism is affecting the marine life, and if there should be something done to give the animals a ‘safe zone’ where boats could not go, or give the animals more distance. That way it would be the animals’ choice to interact with the numerous catamarans, ski boats and kayaks that encircle the area on a daily basis.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Interning in Namibia

by Jaime Werenka 

My first week as an intern for the Namibian Dolphin Project went super well. I found it pretty easy to adjust to the house and town and everyone is really sweet. The work is hard but enjoyable- yes even the office work isn’t too bad. In fact an office day is almost like a day off because it is so chill. We have early mornings and early nights here - falling asleep at 9pm is no problem after a few days work. And as all of us interns had been warned but hoped differently, it is cold here in the winter.

The first week came to an exciting close with the necropsy of a False Killer Whale. Simon received a phone call about a whale washed up on the public beach in Swakopmund just as our work day was starting. Awesome!

The False Killer Whale was already dead when we arrived but it was still warm. It looked like as if it was a life size plastic toy. We took several measurements at first and found that it was a 4.02m long juvenile male. Simon and Tess decided that head of the whale should be removed so the skull could be taken to the national museum in Windhoek. Well you can’t exactly leave a decapitated whale on a public beach. So the necropsy, which took approximately five hours to complete, began. It was pretty gruesome but so amazing. I readily put on some gloves, grabbed a knife, and dug in. Literally.

It was also very educational. Simon and Tess showed us the heart, lungs, kidneys, intestines, stomach, and pretty much everything else there is to see. A unknown growth was also found and kept for further observation along with other whale bits like the stomach and testes.

Tomorrow the stomach will be cut open because the weather has been no good lately for boat work. We will be checking the contents to learn about the diet of the whale, as well as examining the stomach for parasites like worms.

[ Note - subsequent to this post being written, we have opened the stomach and it was full of full of squid beaks and large, freshly dead (but unidentifiable) fish, so clearly the animal had been eating recently ]

So far it has been an amazing almost two weeks of raw science.

Monday 8 August 2011

False killer whale stranding in Swakopmund

A dead false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens) was found by Swakopmund residents washed ashore on the morning of the 6th of August in the Mole. The animal appeared to have died very recently. The sighting was reported to the Walvis Bay strandings network and the NDP were on the scene soon after it was reported. We took a  set of standard measurements from the animal and several samples for molecular analysis and collected the skull which will go to the National Museum in Windhoek. We also looked for the the possible cause(s) of death by looking for signs of illness including tumours and parasites. The stomach was removed and the contents will be analysed in the coming weeks to assess what the animals had been eating prior to its death.  

The false killer whale was male, was just over 4 meters in length and likely to have weighed around 600 kgs.  Its teeth were severely worn down which may be to be a sign of old age or that it was feeding on sharks and rays which have very rough skins. False killer whales normally live in deep offshore waters along the continental shelf edge. They are part of the oceanic dolphin family and mainly eat fish and squid.  Like ‘real’ killer whales, they occasionally prey on marine mammals as well. There is no information about the number of false killer whales in Namibian waters, but they may be threatened by fishing activity and offshore seismic exploration for oil and gas which leads to a high degree of sound pollution.  

Being on one of the main holiday beaches in Namibia, we had quite an audience throughout the necropsy, including lots of small children who were all very fascinated by the inside of a whale!
 Worn down teeth.
 Measuring it's girth
 Removing the head
 Tess taking on the PR job

Thursday 4 August 2011

Community Outreach Programme

by Simon Elwen
This year the NDP and Oceans Research has been developing an Education Programme or “Community Outreach Programme”, aimed at both adults and school learners. Heidi Etter, has been developing this part of our work.

On the 11th of July we held an evening of public talks at Oceans Restaurant in Walvis Bay, along with John Paterson of the Albatross Task force. This evening was initiated and hosted by Marko Jansen van Vuuren of Catamaran Charters and we used the opportunity to sell some of our photos to raise some funding for the Education programme (for printing, laminating and a projector etc). The evening was a great success and we had really positive feedback and interest from the people who attended and managed to raise a few thousand rand for the project! We’ll be giving another evening of talks up in Swakopmund on the 9th of August at the Swakopmund Museum (19h00) so please do come along to that if you can!

Heidi has done a great job of making contact with the local schools and in developing materials, so we’ve already managed to have education days at two local high schools. Last week a baby Heaviside’s dolphin was found stranded along the beach south of Walvis (by Naude Dreyer again) and since the animal was small and easy to move around, we used the opportunity to perform the necropsy as a demonstration. We did this for the Grade 12 biology learners at the International School. I think they got a lot out of it and we’re looking forward to future education events. It was great having Dr Sonja Heinrich (a colleague from the University of St Andrews who works on the Chilean dolphin, 'sister' species to the Heaviside's) with all her experience involved as well - she's been visiting us and the dolphins for the last two weeks.

Some photos below of us with the students at the dissection with the International School.
 a slightly concerned looking class at the beginning
 but getting into it - here I was showing them the 'hand' bones in the flipper

The lungs were healthy with no signs of worms, and no other clear signs of cause of death

Sonja, Me, Heidi, Rachel, Deanna and Lesley.

Then Heidi at Duneside High

Playing the 'echolocation game' trying to pinpoint sounds
Bethan measuring our whales and dolphins with students

Tuesday 2 August 2011

On the naming of dolphins

by Xela Indurkya

We photograph dolphins' fins and try to identify them. If you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that. Being a work of science, the fins get assigned numbers or letters for identification. That was probably an obvious point.

Yet dolphins are adorable, lovely creatures. Who would ever think that a number could do them justice?

That is why, every so often, a dolphin gets a name.

Presumably this sometimes happens during office work, when someone is grading or matching photos of fins and goes a bit loopy after staring at fins for hours. Personally, I have yet to see this happen. What I have seen instead is a great deal of random naming in the wild, and over dinner.

Last Thursday, we were out on the boat and saw a dolphin with a relatively unmarked fin, but a white mark on his head. At first, it was "the dolphin with the white mark on its head." But we went from encounter to encounter, and it eventually reached the point where it was simply inefficient to say, "Don't photograph that, it's the dolphin with the white mark on its head again."

Instead someone said, "No, it's Kevin again."

Thus he or she was christened Kevin.

Not that field naming always works. A few days before that, we met a dolphin with an unusually large nick at the base of his or her dorsal fin, whom we called Bruce. (A debate ensued as to whether it was Bruce, Brucette, or Brucella, but that's irrelevant; most names seem to end up being masculine anyhow.) It became clear over a dinner conversation, however, that we apparently have three different dolphins with supposedly unusually large nicks at the bases of their dorsal fins; all of whom we've been calling Bruce.

It wouldn't be the first time the same name was used more than once. We have two Daves (but as they are different species, some would argue that this doesn't quite count). Despite the attempts of some to use feminine names—like the attempt to say that Bruce was Brucette, or a dinner table conversation in which several people agreed that someone ought to be named Lucy—masculine names seem to be the ones to stick.

Sunday 17 July 2011

Whale Season in Walvis Bay

By Deanna Massey

Well it has been about 2 weeks since I landed here in Walvis Bay and I can’t believe how fast it has gone by. I am loving everything so far and I have learned so much in just two weeks’ time (don’t touch the jellyfish).

My favorite part of the past 2 weeks was the humpback whale stranding we had early the first week. It was my first time seeing a whale up close and personal so it was an exciting experience for me. After we took some measurements and some blubber samples it was decided that the whale probably died of natural causes.

The other interns and I have also had quite a few encounters with live whales while out on the boat. I remember the first encounter with a humpback I had and turning to Bethan, another intern, and just smiling and saying “this is so cool!!”.  It is surreal when you see these guys for the first time; they are so big yet so graceful in the water it is hard to believe that they weigh so much. I don’t think that I will ever get tired of the whale encounters while here in Walvis Bay. Another fun part about my trip so far is all the interesting birds that can be found in Namibia, especially near the coast. It is my goal by the end of the month the name all the birds of Walvis Bay CORRECTLY! :D

Day off in the Desert

by Rachel Blackburn

Even on a day off, myself and the other interns this month spent it surrounded by and continuing to learn more about the nature around us.

At about 8 A.M. we were all picked up to start our desert tour in the Moon Valley of Namibia. Right away, our tour guide began to give us more information than we really knew what to do with but we were all intently listening and absorbing every word. We were informed about the culture of the local area, the history, and the economic changes that will be occurring soon with the construction of a uranium mine and desalination plant. Although we were all very interested by this, my favorite part began once we entered the moon valley and began learning about the plants and animals which are adapted to live in the desert. We learned about beetles who will do headstands every night to collect the condensation from the air with their body and allow it to drip down to their mouths, plants with roots that extend up to 60 meters underground to find a water source, spiders who build their webs under a layer of sand where they can hang out under it protected and only come out when food is at the edge of the web, and much bigger animals like ostrich who will eat very bitter fruits and leaves because of the high water content within the plant. We also learned about how local cultures found uses for the plants adapted to live in the area and much, much more. It was truly a different world and we were lucky enough to see even just a small amount of it and thoroughly enjoy our first day off here in the wonderful Namib Desert.

Sunday 10 July 2011

The Fascinating World of Acoustics

By Cayla Ranice

I was excited to discover that each intern would be given their own project to work on during office days or during spare time and days on land. And I was even more excited to know that if we were interested, we could learn more about dolphin acoustics and work on analyzing whistles and clicks. I raised my hand immediately when we were all asked who was interested in getting involved with this. I’ve always found dolphin whistles super fascinating and wanted to learn more about them. So I was extremely happy when Tess informed me that I could work on acoustics with her. YAY! 

Since that day, I have been working on analyzing bottlenose dolphin whistles that were recorded by Tess at uShaka Sea World in Durban last year. There are many whistles to go through and it definitely takes a lot of concentration and motivation to get through them. Some days are harder than others and sometimes the whistles are confusing and unclear. But all in all, the experience has been awesome. Listening to dolphin sounds is really cool and being able to see what the whistles and other sounds look like on a spectrogram puts everything into a whole new perspective. I could listen to dolphin whistles all day! But I will admit that after 4 to 5 hours of staring at dolphin whistles, a headache often occurs and some minor frustration! I have recently started helping out with recording dolphins while out on the research boat as well. I love being able to see the dolphins in their natural habitat and also listen to them communicate at the same time. It’s a really rewarding feeling when you come home after a hard day at sea and look through your recordings from the day and discover that you did indeed catch the dolphins whistling. It’s truly amazing! 

(Note from Simon  - It's not all about work - this is Cayla and her sand angel on Sunset Dune. Acoustic projects don't make for good photos, so I've put this one in :). 

Thursday 7 July 2011

Weather - what we talk about all the time...

Since our lives are controlled by the weather, I thought we should dedicate a whole blog post to it :)

by Heidi Etter

What’s the weather like in Namibia?  It is a common question asked by interns that have been accepted to the program.  The answer is it can be very fickle.  The key thing to remember is contrary to popular belief, everywhere in Africa is not hot!  Namibia is located in the southern hemisphere and the coastline is bordered by the cold, upwelling Benguela current and weather conditions are wind-driven.  And since Namibia is in the southern hemisphere, the months of the internship, June, July, and August are during the winter months. 

You would expect it to be warm in Walvis Bay, even in the winter since it is bordered by the desert, however, this is not the case.  The only time you will get warm weather here during the winter is when the east wind blows off of the desert, though this is usually accompanied by a sandstorm for part of the day.  With all of this being said, expect it to be cold…expect it to be even colder on the boat on the water. 

Perfect example of the weather conditions…the other week starting on Sunday, we had beautiful weather because an east wind was blowing…the sun was shining…we were on the boat in flip flops, shorts, and t-shirts (well some of us were)! Then bring on Tuesday…the wind changed to the southwest and we were freezing! Layers of thermals, fleeces, jackets, warm hats, etc. you get the point!  Everyone’s noses looked like Rudolph the reindeer because they were so red from the cold.  Out at sea on Wednesday, the morning started out with three layers of clothing, it was foggy and windy and we were drinking coffee to stay warm.  By  the afternoon, it was nice and sunny but the wind had picked up to 13 knots  making for a bumpy and chilly ride home. However, once on shore because it was sheltered and the sun was radiating its heat on us…we decided to go for a refreshing afternoon swim.  To sum up that experience…imagine a polar plunge…it was shocking to the body cold.

So to answer everyone’s questions on what the weather is like in Namibia…nobody knows…not even the weather forecasters because they are always getting it wrong.  Prepare for cold and hot weather conditions…it just depends on which way the wind is blowing, literally!
Satellite photo of the east wind blowing sand out to sea - taken in June last year

Wednesday 6 July 2011

June 2011

1 lunar eclipse
1.5 beach surveys (one cut short by a stranding elsewhere)
2 necropsies of animals

15 sea days
73:59 hours at sea
332nm / ~600km driven at sea
733litres of fuel burnt at sea

16.6 GB or 4500 photos taken
6.5 hours of acoustic recordings

All in all a very productive month - many thanks to Mel Ngo, Cayla Vandenaweele, Hannah Murphy, Kuan Li and Kassler Peh!  Great to meet you guys and thanks for coming out to help with our project.
Simon, Tess and Heidi

Monday 4 July 2011

We'd like to thank Daniel Gard from Virginia Beach, Virginia, USA.  At the beginning of the 2011 winter field season, he graciously donated a Panasonic Toughbook laptop to the project.  As resources are very valuable and limited in fieldwork, the donation of such an important piece of equipment greatly improves the productivity of our project.  The laptop has already been utilized extensively in data management and processing during this field season and will allow us do more advanced acoustic recordings at sea in the future.  Thank you again Daniel for your generation donation to the Namibian Dolphin Project!

Saturday 25 June 2011

Bottlenose dolphin acoustics - by Mel Ngo

20 June 2011
This past weekend, we were given Saturday and Sunday off to relax and explore the wonders of Namibia. A couple of interns went on a camping trip to Spitzkop, which is about 3 hours away from Walvis Bay. From the stories and pictures they shared, they had a great time seeing the kind of glory Namibia has to offer.

This week has been the most productive by far. After coming back from our two day break, we were all re-energized and eager to get back to work. On Monday, we had an encounter with the bottlenose dolphins, which we haven’t seen much of this month.  This season the NDP has brought in some new technology, a hydrophone to record the sounds made by the bottlenose dolphins (and anything else they encounter), focusing on whistles and other sounds they are able to make which are mostly for communication.

Back in the office, the ‘acoustic team’ uploaded the data on to the computer; from there we are able to look more closely at the data to see (and hear) if we have recorded any whistles.  Unfortunately, there were no whistles from Monday’s encounter, but there were a couple of other interesting sounds such as clicks, buzzes and burst pulses.

The next day, Tuesday, we did our normal routine of launching the boat around 8 am. The boat team for that day was Simon, Heidi, Hannah, Kuan and I. As always, we were on search for whales and dolphins, and heading north just off the fishery docks we spotted bottlenose dolphins again. I was very excited as it was my first time seeing them this season and for some of the others as well. I forgot how massive and big these dolphins are and I was happy I got to see them again. Some were friendly in the beginning, approaching the boat and others were jumping and socializing from a distance. With Tess not being on the boat I’d been ‘promoted’ to run the acoustic recordings. Once we found them, I immediately prepared the equipment, hooking up the hydrophone to the boat, connecting it with the recorder, finding a spot for the recorder, and plugging the headphone to the device. When everything was set up and the hydrophone was placed in the water and the recording was on, I listened to the eerie mysterious sound of the sea for the first time. It was quite an interesting experience, it was very quiet when the engines were off, kind of spooky in a way. Within the first couple of seconds that the recorder was recording and the headphones were on my head I heard these amazing animals whistles. I jumped and shouted “They’re whistling!”. Simon and Heidi just looked at me and laughed as I could not believe what I was hearing. VERY COOL! We did several recordings and most of those files had at least a few whistles and many clicks the bottlenose produced. SO VERY COOL!!!!

At the time of the recording at sea, listening in on the dolphin’s secrets, it seemed like no sound was being made much of the time, but once everything was downloaded on to the computer, I found other whistles in the files that I did not hear when at sea. It’s much easier to pick the whistles out visually on the computer than by ear on a noisy boat! It was one of the coolest experiences I have got to experience again with the NDP team this season. I cannot wait to learn and find out more!!

Monday 20 June 2011

Intern blog 3 - Kuan Li

Tess's birthday last Friday (17th), so we decided to combine a beach survey following the spring tide with a little beach braai (barbeque) to celebrate the occasion.  Worked the poor car almost to death, apparently a full tank and 8 people on a soft beach is about the limit a Mitsubishi Turbo Diesel can deal with..

Blog entry by Kuan:

June 17th, Friday

We went to Donkey Bay for beach survey today. Donkey Bay is at the south of Walvis Bay. On the way to Donkey Bay, we passed the salt banks and everyone was excited about it. We jumped of the car and had a walk along the muddy road. The pools were red because of algae and the mud around the pool had different layers of color. Then, Simon drove us all the way south to the border of Sandwich Bay. We saw four jackals, probably a big happy family, walking along the sand dunes.

Basically, the survey started from Donkey Bay till Pelican point. We travelled north and tried to find dead animals especially dolphins and whales. There were a lot of dead seals on the beach, some were freshly dead and others had only bones left. We drove to a freshly “dead” seal on the beach and wanted to check it out. As soon as we stopped the car beside it, it opened eyes and started to run away from us. We were so amazed because everyone thought it was dead. The seal looked back at us innocently like saying: “Leave me alone. I am just having a nap”.  We had a big laugh and continued the search. After a while, we discovered a dead leatherback turtle. It had been dead for a long time since only bones were left and buried in the sand. The turtle was about 160cm long and its skull was missing, but we could see its tail, legs and shell. Apart from the turtle, we also found a piece of whale’s bone nearby, which was pretty awesome. It could be a right whale or a humpback whale. After investigated the area, we headed to Pelican point.

At the Pelican point, we set a bonfire and prepared for braai on the beach. At the meanwhile, we explored a wrecked ship. The water was quite shallow but freezing cold. There were some sea anemones, which were fun to touch. It was awesome to have braai on the beach and we all enjoyed the day.'s not all about pretty pictures of dolphins...

Blog entry by Hannah "Banana" Murphy...

The first day we went out to sea, I did not go out to sea.  When I was informed of this tragedy, I replied, “Oh, okay! That’s great!”  I did not, however, think it was great.  I was dying a little on the inside.  We all woke up at 6 and I waved at everyone as they filed out the door with excitement in their voices.  I locked the door behind them and turned around to face the empty house.  I trudged to the office and plopped down next to the stack of data forms that I was going to enter into an Excel spreadsheet.  There were so many! “Well,” I thought to myself, “someone has to do it… and it might as well be me.”  I prepared myself for the boring task ahead.  Only a few minutes passed before I was intrigued by the information on the data sheets!  The first thing that I leaned was that being on a boat is not conducive to good hand writing.  I now read Simon Hieroglyphics and Tess Hieroglyphics almost fluently.  It was super difficult at first, but got easier as the day went on.  I felt like I was learning more about dolphin behaviour than the people were on the boat! It was so cool! Before long, I could recognise where the dolphins liked to hang out! When I got on the boat the next day, I picked up the data form and knew exactly what I was doing! It was great!! The next week when my office day came around, I was excited to sit in my PJ’s, drink tea, and enter really interesting data about dolphins!

Sunday 12 June 2011

Necropsy Day

While we have interns, we’ve asked them to write the blog entries for us to get across some of the excitement and novelty of doing all this for the first time.  I think that having done this for a few years now I sometimes forget what an impression a whale necropsy makes when you do it for the first time.  I loved Kassler’s contribution so much I’ve left it entirely unedited except for correcting place names.

I think in all the excitement and ‘gore’, some of the interns may have missed the bit where we looked for parasites, obvious signs of death and collected skin and blubber samples for genetic, stable isotope and pollutant analyses.  The skulls of both animals have been collected and are going to the National Museum in Windhoek in due course.

Both animals described below were discovered by Naude Dreyer of Sandwich Harbour tours who is one of the key members of the Walvis Bay Strandings team.  

I've put in some photos below showing the stages from collection on the beach to final remains. Also a photo showing the small hair follicles on the snout, the shark bites on the tail stock (after death) and Tess looking up cranial structure as we tried to look for the sound producing organs

7th June, Tuesday, 2011
By Kassler Peh – Oceans Research Intern from Singapore

Necropsy of killer whale (calf) and Heaviside’s dolphin (calf)

We set off for Swakopmund early in the morning and reached the offices of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources at about 0900 hrs. Somewhere within fisheries laid our prized possessions, the dead killer whale and Heaviside’s dolphin. The whale was about 2.3m in length while the dolphin was much smaller, only about 80cm long. Excitement could be sensed all across the intern’s faces and everyone was ready for the necropsy. There were even two journalists present, sharing the exciting moment with us. But little did we know that what started off as a pleasant day would soon turn into a day filled with gore and blood.

First up was Mel, who had the task taking off the killer whale’s head. As soon as the knife sliced through the layer of blubber on the whale, blood started oozing out of the slit. Gas from within the whale started escaping as well and soon, the whole room was filled with the foulest smelling stench ever. As soon as the head came off, Simon took over and dismembered the beast like a seasoned butcher. Together with a few other interns, we started tearing and cutting off the blubber and flesh of the whale. Bits of whale flesh and blood started spewing and spurting all across the room, finally exposing the insides of the whale after about an hour. From the oesophagus all the way to the anus, every bit of the whale was pointed out by Simon expertly. It was a really insightful day for the interns albeit the gore and mess. Finally, the whale was chopped into pieces and packed into small bags, ready for disposal.

Next up after lunch was the Heaviside’s dolphin. Relatively easier to butcher due to its size, the insides of the dolphin was exposed in a matter of minutes. The surprising thing was that the lungs of the dolphin actually had dark patches in it and lung worms were present in its lungs. Milk was also discovered in the stomach and intestines of the dolphin. Just like the whale, the dolphin was also chopped up into pieces and packed into bags.
The only remains of the two corpses were their skulls, which will be transported to the National Museum in Windhoek. Removing the flesh and brain matter off the skull was the last thing on the agenda that day. Once that was done, signs of relief can be witnessed all over the intern’s faces and all of us gladly left the fishery with a huge sense of achievement. What a bloody Tuesday indeed.


Monday 6 June 2011

Namibian Humpback Whales

06 June 2011 - by Simon Elwen

Humpback whales are one of the most well studied large whales in the world and yet there is still  great uncertainty about many aspects of their lives. Even such relatively simple facts such as where exactly they feed and breed can be surprisingly complicated as individuals sometimes mix between these grounds. The International Whaling Commission (the body which governs and controls global whaling) has defined the  stock of humpback whales which breed off the West coast of Africa as 'Breeding Stock B'. This stock is split in a northern (B1) and southern (B2) component based mainly on historic whaling data records.

Most of the work on this population has taken place in Gabon (by the Wildlife Conservation Society), which is a breeding area and in South Africa (by the University of Pretoria), which is largely seen as a migratory corridor, and there is very little information from the thousands of km of coast in between. Genetic analysis of whales from South Africa and Gabon, has shown some evidence of stock separation, supporting the B1/B2 split. However individual animals have been resighted (from photographs and using genetic sampling) in both South Africa and Gabon showing that at least some animals use both areas. However there is still some confusion about how all these stocks, breeding areas and migratory corridors actually fit together.  Data from the areas in between SA and Gabon are particularly valuable right now in trying to help the IWC answer these questions.

In addition to our main dolphin focus, the NDP has been collecting photographs and genetic samples from humpback whales at sea and from strandings as much as possible since we started. We've also been collating photographs and records from tour boat operators in Walvis Bay which has greatly increased our data set of humpback whale photos. Most of these photos have been taken by Mike Lloyd and Orlanda Sardinha who work on the Cataraman Charters vessels (  Recently, a colleague of mine who did his PhD work on the humpback whales off western South Africa, matched the photographs we've collected in Namibia to his catalogue of known animals from SA. Unfortunately no matches have been found yet between Namibia and South Africa, but we'll keep looking. Although this is a very small sample (only 35 individuals were identified from tail flukes in Namibia), it is still an interesting result and is being presented as paper SC-63-SH21 at the meeting of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission which is being held right now in Tromso, Norway (

Next up is matching our Namibian whales to the catalogue from Gabon. Meanwhile, work continues here in Walvis Bay and we hope to see lots more humpback whales this winter!


Thursday 28 April 2011

Some of the NDP's work on the Walvis Bay population of bottlenose dolphins was presented recently at the South African Marine Science Symposium at Rhodes University - this conference is the preeminent get together of marine scientists in Southern Africa.

Presented was:

Individual variation in bottlenose dolphin ranges in Walvis Bay, Namibia. Implications for managing restricted areas.
by Lauren Snyman with Simon Elwen, Marthán Bester, Tess Gridley, Theodore Meyer and Ruth Leeney as coauthors

Also accepted was a talk I was meant to give entitled

Shrinking or emigrating? Decreasing abundance trends of a vulnerable population of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Walvis Bay, Namibia, subject to high human impacts.
by Simon Elwen with Ruth Leeney, Tess Gridley, Lauren Snyman and Justina Shihepo as coauthors.

Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances, I wasn't able to make the conference to present my talk, but Lauren did us proud getting our research out there.

Monday 14 March 2011

March 2011 - Luderitz
by Simon Elwen

A flying month in Namibia, I wish we could stay longer as there is so much to do as always!

Just spent 10 days in Ludertiz where we serviced the hydrophone (unfortunately, one is AWOL..), and had a remarkably good run on the weather front. We got in a 7 days on the trot of photo-ID data collection on Heaviside's dolphins and defintely had some resightings of animals previously ID'd there.

As always, the Heaviside's in Luderitz were lovely, although a little thinner on the ground than normal (possibly due to the odd weather down there recently, there has been very little wind and its very warm)

However, we had a good few encounters and some super friendly animals which really helps for photography! I've pasted in a few pics below, including one of a young animal with some diatoms on it which is interesting and one of the tall ship Picton Castle which was in town for a few days while we were there.

Just up in Walvis Bay now, so more updates will follow soon!

Thursday 20 January 2011

by Simon Elwen 20 Jan 2011

A quick update to say we're working on the annual report for the project in amongst trying to get some papers published from all the data we've been collecting in the last few years.

The project continues and we'll be back for a short field season in March (Walvis and Luderitz) and then another long field season in June-July based mainly in Walvis Bay.

If you don't receive a copy of the report by early in Feb, please get hold of me. I've put in a little teaser map below. This figure shows a 'probability density distribution' of bottlenose dolphins in the last 5 seasons (i.e. where we have and are likely to see them). One map for each season and one with all combined.