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.