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!