Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A wrap-up of two busy months in Luderitz 2014

By Sara Golaski - MSc student.

We’ve just finished up another busy couple months of fieldwork in Lüderitz, with lots of time on the water, and a few more interesting sightings!

During this year’s two-months in Lüderitz, we did 16 photo-id surveys (a total of 93 hours on the water) covering 868 kilometers. In total, we took 8595 ID photos!  The information from these surveys is being used to look at abundance, population trends and habitat use of Heaviside’s dolphins. We also did three multi-day ship surveys, a continuation of our work looking at cetacean distribution within the Namibian Islands Marine Protected Area. We covered a total of 2176 kilometers in our 171 hours on these surveys and had 58 cetacean sightings from the ship.


We also had five acoustic loggers in the water listening for dolphin clicks throughout the field season (see top map). This data will be used to examine temporal patters in fine-scale movements of Heaviside’s dolphins around Lüderitz. This is important to ground-truth our survey data for defining dolphin habitat because we aren’t out late in the day or at night.  

Fieldwork in Lüderitz is always exciting, because there are so many opportunities for Heaviside’s encounters and we really never know exactly what we’re going to find. Interesting sightings from this year include the southernmost sighting to date of the inshore bottlenose dolphins from Walvis Bay and the first sighting of fin whales inshore in Namibian waters! We also had 5 humpback whale sightings, including a feeding pair and a surface-active mom/calf pair. Humpbacks are usually seen migrating through between June and November, so these sightings are important for highlighting “out of season” use of this area. We even had a very rare sighting of southern right whale dolphins in the distance from the ship!

When we aren’t at sea we keep ourselves busy with office work too. Other accomplishments this field season include 1 paper submitted, 1 back from review and being corrected, 3 finished and with co-authors for comment.

A great big thank you to Jean-Paul Roux and Kolette Grobler at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources and M&Z Motors for their support in making our field season possible.




Saturday, 24 May 2014

Heaviside's dolphins - the little dolphin in Africa

Keeping blogs up to date is hard work!  So today I'm going to take a short cut and link you to a video about the dolphins we're working on here in Luderitz and Walvis Bay.  Heaviside's dolphins are the smallest dolphin in Africa and endemic to (i.e. found only in) the Benguela ecosystem on the west coast of Southern Africa.

Most people have never heard of them, let alone seen them - despite the fact that they are easily seen from shore right off the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town (which is about the southern limit of their range)!   So last year we were quite chuffed to get a little exposure for the dolphins and our project when it was featured on 50/50 - South Africa's leading conservation news television programme.

Videographer Zach Vincent spent a few days with us here in Luderitz last year and got some great footage of the animals which he combined with some footage shot with colleagues working on the animals in Cape Town

Check out the video here:

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Luderitz field season 2014

by Simon Elwen

We're just over halfway through our Luderitz Field Season for this year. Always good to spend some time down here, even if it's quite a challenge getting 5 people, 1 dog, a baby, a boat and a car full of equipment all the way here in one piece. It's only 400 km in a straight line from Walvis to Luderitz, but we can't tow the boat over the dirt roads and have to take the ~1200 km tar road via Windhoek.

Unfortunately, this year my car didn't make it and just north of Keetmanshoop the cylinder head blew leaving me, the boat and the dog stranded!  Quite a mission getting everything the last 500km to Luderitz but we managed to do it and my car has been left in Keetmans awaiting a new engine ($$$ !!!).  Working without a car is a major challenge when you need to cart lots of equipment around town, launch and refuel boats etc etc. So my first priority at the beginning of April was to find a car to use.  Lots of phone calls and emails later and M&Z Motors came to our rescue by lending us a double cab Triton for the field season!  An absolute life saver and a HUGE thanks from all of us for the help while we await a new engine being delivered for my car.  Here are some pics of the Triton helping us load the boat down at the slip way:

The marine wildlife around Luderitz is fantastic and strikingly different to what we see up in Walvis Bay, despite being only 400km to the south.  There are several reasons for this, including the strength of the upwelling which happens down here creating a very rich and dynamic ocean and also that the continental shelf is much closer to shore here (about 30-40 km compared to over 100km in Walvis), so we tend to get more 'offshore' species here including large whales.  

We were lucky enough to have a group of fin whales (Balaeoptera physalus - the second largest species of animal in the world!) hanging around for a few weeks. We only encountered two of them twice from the small boat just off Luderitz but saw an even bigger group of 6 animals about a week after that during our first ship survey of the Marine Protected Area.  This is the time I've ever seen a fin whale and the first time anyone is aware of, of a sighting of this species close to shore in Namibia!  So a great sighting for all of us. No idea why they have been hanging around so close to shore, but very happy that they were.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

NDP Open Day - Community support great but corporate backing is still lacking...

By Tess Gridley:

Last week the Namibian Dolphin held a Fundraiser and Education Day at the Walvis Bay Waterfront.  We had several aims by holding these events - the first was to let people know who we are, what we are doing and where we are based.  We've been based at the Waterfront since July, and where we have a range of education information and material available freely to the public to view - but still most people aren't quite sure who we are or what we get up to.

The second was to invite all schools to an education event to increase awareness of Namibia's marine life. We've been meaning to run a big education event for a while and during the summer months is the best time as our fieldwork commitments are less.

And the last was to raise funds - primarily for Namibian students, office running and general research costs. This final aim is crucial for us. While Simon and I are employed through the University of Pretoria on a contract basis, we have to search hard for funds for the office and students and to conduct the research we think is important. Recently we have had some really great Namibian students approach and work with us (for instance see blog by Titus below). We would love to be in a position to offer these students paid internships or student bursaries, but at the moment we can only offer volunteer positions. This means that most students can't afford to work with us, as they need to find alternative paid work. Our long-term aim is that the project is run by local Namibians and getting these studentships is the first step towards achieving this.

We hoped that through running a fundraiser event we could inspire local businesses to support marine conservation and thereby secure some financial backing for the students, the environmental office, research or all three. Currently this has not come through and the search continues. On the up side though – the fundraising evening we held was fantastic. It was a sit down meal for 50 people, with music and games to boot – and was a lot of fun! We had support from NACOMA, Maersk and Nedbank – who all booked large tables and enjoyed the evening.



The Education Day on the Saturday was also a great success – over 150 children attended the event and there was a real buzz at the Waterfront. We had 10 stations set up - so children could learn about sounds in the sea, sharks, seabird conservation, ‘tools of the trade’ and see our collection of marine mammal skulls.  For the younger kids we also had face painting, arts and crafts and pelican viewing. All the volunteers that helped out on the day were wonderful and all the kids seemed to love the day. In fact, more than 70 ended their day with a trip to sea with Laramon tours, where they got to do some wildlife viewing - for those children who had never been to sea before this was a real treat.
So what did we learn from our busy weekend  - well mostly that the community in Walvis Bay really cares about the marine environment and wants to know more - but that we are going to have to work a little harder and shout a little louder if we want local businesses (particularly those that use the marine realm - Manica, Maersk, de Beers, the fishing companies etc, this means you!) to take note and support local conservation efforts… and on that note I'll get back to writing yet another funding application :-)

A HUGE thank you to everyone who helped out with the day, the event and with prizes:

Volunteer Support: Bex Russel, Margot Jefferson, Bridget, Sara, Marie, Justus, Cecelia, Tobias and Titus, the Albatross Task Force (Sarah Yates) and CETN (Peter Bridgeford & Sue Roux).

Venue supplied by Anchors Restaurant, Lindi Dreyer and Marti Behr

Printing costs supported by Printworx Swakopmund & the NACOMA project. Petra at PAKO MAgazine helped out designing some of the info sheets.  Mega-Stationers, Waltons and Herco all supplied some materials for the day.

Raffle Prizes by: AfriCat & Okonjima Lodge, Sun Sail Cruises, Levo Tours, Lyon Des Sables, Lemon Tree Deli, Mussel Cracker, Art Africa, Harbour’s End, Namib Offroad, Harbours End

Boat trips on the day by Laramon Tours

Ocean Adventures helped courier some of the kids to the event with their busses and Catamaran Charters provided a prize for the winning essay.




Friday, 7 February 2014

The value of historic archives for research

By Titus Shaanika - University of Namibia 

Newspapers are an invaluable source of information, they keep with them information that many consider useless  over years, but if newspapers are revisited even after decades information in newspapers can be quite useful, with that in mind the Namibian dolphin project decided to go through the Namib times newspaper(largest daily coastal newspaper ) archives at the Walvis bay municipality library, in search of records(pictures, articles and adverts) about dolphins, whales, sharks, turtles and fishing or anything of interest to a marine conservation organization like Namibian dolphin project. Archives under study are from 1965, 1966, 1967 and 1971

 Pilchard fishing was the talk most of the articles during the studied years, the pilchard industry was by the most productive fishery, an article on 21 May 1965 reported that “1964 was the most successful pilchard fishing season ever at Walvis Bay”. 650 000 tons of pilchards were caught off Walvis Bay", a different article on 3rd September 1965 reads “four pilchard factories have completed their quota of 90 000 tons each" there are several other article about the pilchard galore that was off the Namibian coast. On 6 august 1965 a certain Mr. I J Kuen wrote a letter to the Namib sun expressing his worry about the mismanagement of marine resources and the large number of foreign fleet of trawlers in South West African (Namibian) waters. This article shows that there were concerns of the way of marine resources off the Namibian coast were managed and if such a letter was taken serious maybe pilchards fishing would still be productive and profitable off the Namibian coast and we would still be spotting whales, dolphins and turtles frequently off our beautiful coast.

The invasive Jellyfishes that are of serious concern nowadays, started causing problem problems in 1960s, on 3 March 1967 an article titled “tons of jellyfishes caught up in nets with pilchards” reads “one load of 50 tons of fish the night before last had at least 30 tons of jellyfish amongst it”, this delinquent is still causing headaches today. 30 tons is too big a number for something that has little to no economic significance of the Namibian people, jellyfishes are a delicacy in some Asian countries, perhaps construction of jellyfish processing and exporting factories should be looked into, this an opportunity for local businessman and women. 

The recent stranding of sharks due to sulphur bloom in the lagoon is not something new to the bay, a cases far worse than the one on 17 January 2014,occurred on 29 December  1967 were over 10 tons of fish died and where wash up into the lagoon, the 10 tens included Beast such as sharks, skates and soles.

The low number of articles about cetaceans (collective name of whale and dolphins) in the newspapers perhaps might be because their populations have been exhausted by whaling activity already an article on 19 January 1971 about sperm whale being caught off S.W.A coast, reported “… whales are seldom seen in the bay nowadays…”, many article on cetaceans were mostly about sperm whales.



Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Sharks stranding in the lagoon

by Tess Gridley

Friday 17th January.  Today we were alerted to the presence of several sharks at the Walvis Bay lagoon early in the morning.  The first call was from Bex Russell, who saw a 1.7 meter bronze whaler shark (Carcharhinus brachyurus) stranded on the mudflats near Millionaire's mile.  The animal was calm and sedate, probably suffering from lack of oxygen and exposure. It was refloated by Simon Elwen of the Namibian Dolphin Project and within a few minutes swam away into deeper water. Just over an hour later, there was a report of another shark stranded in a similar position. This animal was slightly smaller, and again calm and re-floated easily. Within the next hour, 2 more sharks (one more bronze whaler and one smooth hound shark) were found by local residents, all successfully re-floated and we are hopeful that they made it back out into open water.

We are not sure why they stranded, but it most likely due to the warm temperatures and a lack of oxygen in the water associated with the current sulphur bloom. While the sharks we have encountered so far are quite placid, bronze whaler sharks can and do bite and wild animals are unpredictable and potentially dangerous especially when stressed. Therefore we would encourage members of the public to phone the Namibian Dolphin Project on 081 421 4968 or the WB Strandings Network through: 081 602 1355 or 081 149 7377 for further assistance if they encounter any stranded sharks, or other creatures such as whales, dolphins or turtles.