Tuesday, 16 August 2016

An insight into the world of science...

By Peggy Liebig - NDP Intern Jun-Jul 2016

My 6 week internship with the NDP started with a couple days of theoretical presentations about what we are going to work on for the next 6 weeks. Each week had a different theme which we were learning the theory and practice about. Then we got to work...

Each day two of the four interns would get on the boat in the morning (weather dependent, unfortunately the weather was really bad the time we were there) while the other two stayed in the office to do Photo-ID. When coming back from the boat we entered the collected data into the spreadsheets. Also there would be one of us going on a tour boat to gain some additional opportunistic data and how the tour boats are interacting with dolphins and seals.
We also did a bird survey almost every day to count the different species of birds in the lagoon.

The first weeks theme was Photo-ID. That were also the first days on our research boat Nanuuq. That time we spend with Dr. Simon Elwen and learnt a lot how to take the best pictures of dorsal fins on the boat and how to identify the different individuals. With that data it is possible to get an abundance estimate for the bottlenose population in Walvis Bay. Bridget showed us later in the internship how to do that in R and Mark.  

The second week was all about behavior. We did a scan sampling on the boat with the dolphins but also practiced some other methods on shore with flamingos. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to pay as much attention to that topic as to the first weeks theme.

Boat work was the theme of the third week. That’s when we learnt to tie knots, skipper a boat, to deploy moorings with C-PODS and how to shoot a crossbow for biopsy purposes. At the end of the week we had a quiz night to test our knowledge in the categories knots, boat parts, navigation and behaviour.

For the fourth week Dr. Tess Gridley came up to Namibia to teach us about acoustics. She gave us a little task were we had different signature whistles and we had to categorize them. The second day we started to get familiar with the software Raven and became a sound file with whistles where we had to get some measurements like highest/lowest frequency, time and peak power. The fifth week was all about strandings. We did a strandings survey along the beach where each of us was allowed to practice some sand driving. Furthermore we prepared a debate for and against human impact on strandings.

This internship really helps you to understand how a field research is conducted. Although you do not have the time to get into every detail as deep as you would like, everyone on this project was keen to help us understand the different techniques, show us specifically what we were interested in and of course also how to have a good time in Namibia.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

My Road to Namibia

By Jeff Hemphill - NDP Intern 2016 Jun.
From countless days being spent on the water fishing to the sun soaked days drinking cold beer on the white sand beaches of Florida, I have grown a strong passion for marine wildlife and the environment in which it inhabits. When I arrived at university I seemingly ignored this passion and began my path to engineering, because of course that’s where all the money is. Soon after I realized I had gone the wrong direction and switched over to something a little more comfortable in Environmental Science. This door opened up a world of opportunities and I began looking into internships to further my path and see where it could take me. Towards the end of 2015 I happened to come across a few opportunities on a conservation website and figured I’d go ahead and see if I could land one. The Namibian Dolphin Project happened to email me back with a return email saying that they’d love to have me join their cetacean research team. This kind of threw me off though. My ignorance of Africa immediately kicked in and I became utterly confused as to where in the world I had just applied to go. After a few months of preparation, excitement, and 48 hours of flying I found myself landing in the middle of an African desert to be filed into a hut of an airport. The thoughts started popping into my head of what in the heck did I just get myself into?

Soon after getting settled into the cottage I realized my ideology of Africa was completely wrong. The views from the back porch were of a beautiful lagoon teeming with wildlife. The only thing that really puzzled me was the weather. Was I in Walvis Bay, Namibia? Or Seattle, Washington? Thank goodness I brought my winter clothes (basically every jacket I own). The first week we unfortunately couldn’t get on the water due to the high winds and misty mornings, but soon after being trained and getting some formal background we were finally able to get some good research in. Boat days consisted of early, cold mornings waiting or the mist to clear, but once it did we got to see some amazing things.

My first boat day I was absolutely amazed with the high jumping Heaviside’s Dolphins. We just happened to catch them at a time when they were full of energy and doing some awesome tricks (not so easy to photo ID). A few boat days had gone by and they kept promising that bottlenose would be around soon, but I seemed to be having no luck. Until my first encounter came about. This happened to be another extremely impressive day where the bottlenose were very energetic and fortunately not only did I get some good photo ID, but also got some really cool jumping pictures. These guys were not like the smaller cousins in the Florida panhandle. They were huge! I was blown away by the size of them, especially when they would jump right next to the boat.

From this internship I gained a lot of very useful knowledge and research experience. The team members here taught me the basic techniques of photo identification, some in depth acoustics data interpretation, as well as some boat and life skills. A huge thanks to everyone for being patient and very helpful with us interns and giving us some ground to get our careers under our feet!   

Jeff taking some photos of dolphins in Namibia

A wonderful unexpected journey

By Simone Fick

Travelling to Namibia I had no idea what was in store for me. Even though it’s not so far from home, I had never been there, so it was going to be a whole new experience. When you hear about Namibia, you think desert, lots of sand and hot days, but I was greeted with so much more! Misty mornings and the Moon landscape, Sossusvlei with canyons, Naukluft Nature reserve with waterfalls and green mountain trails, and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of everything this beautiful country has to offer. One other big thing that made this journey amazing was the people in the community and the project. I travel around a lot and constantly meet new people and the small communities always amaze me. Almost everyone is friendly and willing to help which really contributes to your experience, whether it be canoeing with seals, driving through the dunes, joining the wildlife cruises to collect data tour boats and travelling on a glassy ocean while working.

Even though I’ve worked previously on projects with marine mammals, there’s always something new to learn. If it’s your first project and you’re lucky enough to do it with the Namibian DolphinProject, I would say it’s an excellent choice. They teach you the valuable skills used in the industry and it definitely is a life changing experience. Early, misty morning starts for boat launches to find the Heaviside’s and Bottlenose dolphins, collecting photo-ID and behavioural data, the odd penguin or Mola mola showing itself now and again, seals providing entertainment every day and if you’re in the right season, whales! You come to love photo ID matching and to see how individuals change over the years. You might have to save a seal or dolphin now and again, where you can feel the difference you make by saving that animals life! All this research makes a difference to animals and nature, and you can be a part of it. Again, these are just a few of the many wonderful things you can learn, skills you build up and life changing experiences you get from joining the project.

I can honestly say it was an unexpected wonderful journey, made possible by people with the same love for animals and science. Some of the team members I only know from friendly emails and then Barry, the only Irish I know in Walvis Bay, who showed me all they do and how to do it, thank you for the skills and memories. I hope to work with this Project in the future again.

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.
Please feel free to check out our daily Facebook posts at: https://www.facebook.com/Namibian-Dolphin-Project-754118207992426/