We started out on a beautiful warm day with low wind and a glassy calm sea. It may be our last day out at sea in Luderitz and what a day it was! The sea was so clear we could see the sea floor which was 7m deep, perfect conditions for sighting animals from far away. We surveyed 30 or so Heaviside's dolphins feeding for a long time while enjoying their aerial acrobatics before moving on.
Before long, while we were with 3 Heaviside dolphins for an encounter, off in the distance we saw a breaching humpback whale about 500m away! South of Guano bay. I only saw the splash but my heart was pounding with anticipation of my first humpback whale sighting. The dolphin encounter was immediately wrapped up, loose items put away, everyone prepared for the pursuit (humpback whales are still relatively rare in Namibian waters, so data is very precious to the project). We sped towards the whales and inched closer once they were within 50m away. They were cruising along at about 6kn and though they were no longer breaching, were a magnificent sight. There was no time to lose, photographs were taken for identification, trying our best to capture both their dorsal fins and flukes. I was busy preparing the biopsy arrows, fingers fumbling with cold and the wind snatching at plastic bags. It was adrenaline pumping and we had a limited time frame before the whales would be too harried and stressed. Luckily we managed to sample both the whales and have all the photographs.
TWO HUMPBACK WHALES IN THE MIST
BIOPSY ARROW CLOSING IN ON WHALE - GENETIC SAMPLES ALLOW US TO INVESTIGATE WHICH BREEDING POPULATION THESE ANIMALS BELONG TOO
THE PATTERN OF BLACK AND WHITE ON THE UNDERSIDE OF THE TABLE ALLOWS US TO IDENTIFY INDIVIDUALS AND LOOK AT MOVEMENTS BETWEEN STUDY SITES AND POPULATIONS.
Despite the initial lovely weather, a fog bank rolled in and we left the humpback whales soon after. Books hardly prepare you for the live sighting of animals. Especially when they are of sizes so large it is difficult to visualise. I have come to the end of my internship with the Namibian Dolphin Project and my time here was so full of new experiences it often was a struggle to keep it together, do well and have fun at the same time. However I have learnt so much that it has been a lovely time. From acoustic analysis to proper photo identification and data management. Hands on working on the boat and good handling of equipment. These skills I hope to hone and work on in time to come and I'm so grateful for the NDP for the opportunity. With the many friendships forged with people from different nationalities, it is sad that the time has come where we are going to leave Luderitz on the 28th and the NDP will be moving on to Walvis Bay.