Monday 6 August 2012

Breaching humpback whales

By Meagan Gary, Oceans Intern July and August 2012.

This past week has been an exciting week for everyone a part of the Namibian Dolphin Project. On Tuesday, we were on our way to Sandwich Harbour (60km south of Walvis by boat), to set up a C-Pod (a device that will record data about the echolocation clicks for months at a time) to record bottlenose dolphin presence down there.  Unfortunately, due to poor weather conditions we aborted after only heading about 10km down the coast as we need really good weather to make it that far and back safely. However, this ended up being a good decision on many levels. 

While we were photographing a very boat-friendly group of Heaviside’s dolphins, a humpback whale was spotted breaching on the horizon. Humpback whale data is important to the Namibian Dolphin Project because the population structure of the humpback whales seen in Namibia isn’t fully understood. The whales that pass by Walvis Bay are on their way north, probably to Gabon, but possibly to a breeding area slightly further south. This has been a very good year for humpback whale sightings in Namibia, but because there are usually only one or two a day, and it can take over an hour to get the data we need (biopsy for a skin sample and photo ID images), each and every whale counts. The humpbacks that pass by Namibia tend not to breach as often as the humpback whales in other parts of the world. When whales breach they can lose bits of skin which can be collected and used for genetics, saving us from having to biopsy the whale. As we approached we saw two humpback whales flipper slapping and breaching.  It was spectacular to see from the perspective of our 6m long boat, small by comparison. By the end of the encounter we had over a hundred photos for photo ID and two biopsy samples. It was a great last day for the interns that stayed only for July. The next couple days were filled with training for the August intern teaching them how to take advantage of some of these unexpected opportunities to collect data. 

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