Sunday, 24 April 2016

Adventures in Luderitz! Morgan Martin

Greetings from Luderitz!

We’ve been making our way around the tiny town of Luderitz this week getting to know the locals and their way of life. I keep hearing the term ‘Buchter’ being used to describe the locals here. I looked it up and found a very fitting description:
Deep, deep in the south of Namibia, there lies a town nestled amongst the windswept boulders of the rugged coastline. The town and people are known by many names. Some call it Olindiri, some call it Okakoverua, some simply call it Lüderitz, but the name the inhabitants of that town affectionately use is the Bucht. Themselves, they call Buchters. I want to explain exactly what we mean when we say we are Bucthers and why we Buchters are proud to be called Buchters: “A Lüderitzbuchter or Buchter” is not just someone born in Lüderitz. The name Buchter defines a very special group of people who enjoy life to the fullest. There is an expression for Lüderitz and its people, “The Bucht tires you!” because we can never get enough of talking, of laughing and of having a good time.”
So needless to say, we’ve been doing our best to fit in as Buchters and keep a low prolife as the newbies around town. Can’t say that it’s working…it seems like we are approached everyday by new people wanting to know why we are here and what’s with the kayak strapped to the roof of the Jeep. In Luderitz, your car is your calling card. Everyone knows you by what you drive, so we have been adequately titled ‘the people with the kayak’.

We are staying in an igloo made of wood on top of a large rock overlooking the harbor. We are renting from Mr. Heiko Metzger and his lovely wife, Diane. They have three dogs that enjoy paying visits to our flat. The newest addition to the family is Dex, a Malamut/Husky mix. Dex doesn’t know how big he really is and enjoys a good cuddle just like most of us.

This week we were fortunate to be given a tour of the harbor and local bays where I will be collecting data. Heiko owns a catamaran tour boat and brought us out for a morning trip to see the local Heaviside’s dolphins and an African penguin colony. The water is a beautiful green-blue color out here, teaming with life in every direction. I have truly landed in a rather unstudied marine biology mecca. I can’t wait to start collecting data on the dolphins out here! We were also fortunate to have been given a tour of the local Heaviside’s dolphins hotspots in the bays surrounding town. Jean-Paul Roux is our scientist contact in Luderitz. He works for the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources in town and has been a native Buchter for 30 years. He drives the 25-minute commute to the bays each morning to go observe the dolphins and sea birds. A truly dedicated scientist and one of the more brilliant I’ve met. I am looking forward to collaborating with him over the next few weeks.

Keep in touch!

Thursday, 14 April 2016

05-April-2016 First post from Morgan Martin conducting dolphin research in Luderitz, Namibia

Hi Everybody!

This is my first post in a series about my current work as a PhD student with the Namibian Dolphin Project. My name is Morgan Martin, I have been living in Walvis Bay, Namibia, for about 6 months and moved to Luderitz, Namibia, last week to begin my first field season. I will be staying in Luderitz for the next two months collecting data on the local dolphin populations here. Lots of excitement to come from my end and I hope that you will enjoy following my upcoming adventures in this new rugged little African town. There will be trips at sea aboard the Anichab which has been secondly named the ‘Vomit Comet.’ Most days will be spent on my kayak paddling around beautiful secret lagoons filled with Heaviside’s dolphins, the iconic dolphin species of the Western Cape of southern Africa. I am attempting to conduct the first study of how Heaviside’s dolphins’ behavior matches with the sounds they emit underwater. I am looking at the types of echolocation clicks they produce and how they may use them to communicate with one another underwater. Luderitz, Namibia, is a great place to try such an experiment because there are Heaviside’s dolphins sighted almost every day here.

The events of my move to Luderitz were nothing short of humorous. A week before my departure, my Jeep decided to become a failure of an individual and I spent more than several hours with the mechanic discussing ways we could off-market fix the beast and get it back on the road in time for my trip to Luderitz. I was finally able to pick it up from the mechanic two hours before my road trip. This did not include the small issue that the roof rack I bought to transport my kayak did not fit my roof. As they say in Namibia, ‘we made a plan’ and ended up strapping a large kayak to my roof with some foam, rope, and tie down straps. What’s a 750 km adventure on gravel roads without a kayak clever strapped to your roof?

Around 2pm, my road tripping partner, Alistair, and I were en route to Luderitz. We took the most direct route and made arrangements to stay at a campground in Betta, Namibia, about six hours down the road. We pulled into the camp after dark and were greeted with T-bone steaks and a platter of food to put on the braai (African BBQ). The best part about our campsite that night was the crystal clear sky and it was a new moon. We were literally in the middle of nowhere with stars that twinkled so brightly I had trouble sleeping. It was one of the most beautiful places I have seen in Namibia so far. We woke up the next morning, packed up and got back on the road. We passed the wild horses of Aus on the way as well as the spooky ghost town of Kolmanskop. We were greeted at the entrance of town by a sandstorm which made transporting the kayak great fun. ;) All in all, we made it safely and in one piece to the place we are going to be staying for the next two months. Happy days to come and looking forward to sharing them with you.
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Wednesday, 21 October 2015

By Robert Giesler - NDP Intern Aug 2015

Landing at Walvis Bay airport, my first thought was "what have I done?” The airport was little more than a tent, and everywhere I looked there was sand, and nothing else. I was thankful to find that Walvis Bay was in fact a city with actual houses. The community is a small one, and it wasn’t long before I'd met the entire population of the waterfront. This tight knit community feel is what gives the town its charm, and what makes the program redeeming. As a part of a small team, you are not only guaranteed to make close connections with your fellow interns and staff members, but also to have real responsibilities and be an integral part of the team. The data we collected and entered will all be put to use by the project (after quite a bit of mistake fixing I'm sure), and on the boat everyone has responsibilities and jobs to do. 

Boat days were the highlight of the research. We had the opportunity to spend plenty of time with the animals; watching the adorable Heaviside’s dolphins swim within inches of the boat, witnessing bottlenose dolphin feeding frenzies and following humpback whales for biopsy samples.

This internship gave me a great insight into the life of a marine researcher. I learned things I didn't expect to, like how to prep, launch and drive a boat, how to use a crossbow and a hydrophone, and how to put a battery on to charge properly (something we all struggle with... right?). I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this important project as well as to spend a month in one of the most beautiful countries on the planet!


From forests to deserts- The Namibian experience

By Lauren Melchionda, Intern with the NDP Aug 2015

I love trees. I love stratified bark, whorled branches, and long taproots.  Most of the biology that I took part of in my undergraduate career happened in the Vermont forests.  My woodsy scientific upbringing instilled in me a passion for conservation and the environment.  As I approached the end of my third year in college, I sought out internships to gain more experience working in the natural world.  The Namibian Dolphin Project Internship leapt out at me as an opportunity to study new creatures in a totally different environment.  I applied, was accepted, and a few months later I found myself on a plane to Namibia!

Namibia could not have been more unfamiliar to me. There was sand instead of soil and rather than studying plants, I was studying marine mammals.  There was definitely a learning curve.  Dolphins are harder to find and much harder to photograph than conifers and angiosperms.  Despite the adjustment, working with these animals was a life changing experience. Our boat, The Nannuuq, was very small so I really felt like I was a part of the cetaceans’ habitat.  I got to see humpback whales, bottlenose and Heaviside’s dolphins, seals and penguins, all while working! I grew particularly fond of the Heaviside’s dolphins which swim and play right along the side of the boat!

Working with The NDP equipped me with many useful skills. I learned all about cetaceans, data collection and entry, and working on a boat.  This was also a great opportunity to learn about the Namibian culture, a place I previously knew nothing about. I got to work with people from all over the world and the diversity in all of our homes, educations, and interests made the summer extremely enriching.  Working with cetaceans and with all of the different biologists made me realize that even though we study different subjects and come from faraway places, our love for science and passion for conservation is universal. 



Friday, 7 August 2015

Experiental learning in Namibia

by Ellie Poteat - NDP Intern, July 2015

Coming from a ranch in Montana, I didn’t come here with a lot of relevant marine biology knowledge. On my first boat day, I almost launched the trailer into the ocean instead of the boat! After working here for a month, I have gained a better understanding of what it takes to work with wildlife, and I learned how to launch the boat! 

Although I had a more challenging time adjusting to fieldwork in the ocean, it was worthwhile to be able see the animals we study thrive in their natural habitat. When we approached the Heaviside’s dolphins with the boat, it’s like coming home to a pet puppy, they bounce around the boat as if they are happy to see you! No matter where people come from, I think they can appreciate the feeling of sharing a positive experience with these dolphins, and to be able to help these dolphins continue to thrive is really fulfilling. After going through the photos dolphin’s fins in the office to try and ID them, I started to recognize some of the individuals. In a way, it felt like I got to know some of them, so it made the work feel more meaningful. Working here made me develop a deeper connection to the animals that inhabit this area, and I will take back with me a greater appreciation for something that was previously completely foreign to me.