Thursday, 20 August 2009

August

Trevor and my student Theo have left, headed back to Pretoria. Theo is doing his honours (4th) year project looking at the distribution of bottlenose dolphins in the bay, and particularly how their behaviour varies in different areas. It’s still in progress, but by the end of the year we’ll have a much better idea of what’s happening out there.

Ruth has now arrived from the US – with hydrophones (C-PODs) in tow! This is great news for us as they are rather expensive and we’ve been struggling to get them funded. We have eventually been successful through a Matching Grant from the NACOMA project (see links) in a joint proposal with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources. These instruments will be used for long term monitoring of the dolphin populations and habitat.

The C-PODs (http://www.chelonia.co.uk/about_the_cpod.htm) are very new instruments and replace the older, simpler T-POD. Last year we borrowed some T-PODs from Simon Northridge at St Andrews University in Scotland to investigate dolphin habitat use at Pelican Point and got some very interesting and unexpected results which differed from the visual observations quite considerably. Ruth has worked closely with the manufacturers for many years and we also managed to get one of the very first C-PODs built to test (although there were many teething issues which thankfully now seem to have been solved). We’ve already put in one at Pelican Point and are really looking forward to what we see with the longer term deployments we’ll get this year. In an exposed environment like Namibia, the PODs are ideal instruments for long term monitoring of habitat use as they can stay in the sea 24 hours a day for months at a time, while we are limited to calm sunny days. We’ll be putting 2 more in the bay in the near future and 2 down in the L├╝deritz area.

Other than that, all has been going well. We’ve had a few days off the water with bad weather (or bad decisions on my part, but the weather forecasts here are about as good as throwing a dice) but the data is coming in. Lots of sightings of bottlenose dolphins, including some great jumping and socialing on one day which is always fun to see and photograph. Heaviside's dolphins have been a bit scarce and whales too have been few and far between this year. There have only been 4 humpbacks since I got here and 2 right whales were in the bay last week but we missed them unfortunately.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Mid July 2009

The winter field season has started again. I’m rather behind in updating the blog as you’ll notice from the date! Have been pretty busy and doing most things on my own for the first few weeks.

In summary – Unfortunately Pedro, who we used last year as a phenomenally generous loan from Pelican Tours, wasn’t available any more. However, the project is making good head way and we’ve managed to secure our own boat this year which makes us more flexible in terms of time spent at sea and when and where we launch. She’s a nice little boat, which I’ve called Nanuuq (which is Inuit for polar bear – I wa trying to avoid the more obvious dolphin based names). As a new acquisition which had been standing for a while in the previous owners driveway, she has unfortunately taken a fair bit of teasing back into shape. New batteries, spark plugs, had to get most of the safety equipment, winch strap broke after seeing too much sun in the last few years, dirty carbs…lots of frustrating little things like that to keep us busy.

Ruth couldn’t make it out for the beginning of the season this year due to work commitments, so I started this season by roping in a colleague of mine from the University of Pretoria, Trevor McIntyre to do some skippering for me. Trevor is doing his PhD work on elephant seal foraging behaviour in the southern ocean. He’s using data from electronic tags attached to the seals on Marion Island. Fascinating stuff and a quite different approach to the type of work we’re doing here, but in many ways answering the same core questions of distribution and ecological interactions.

We had a few good days out to sea in between all the boat mechanicing. There were some really dominant east wind conditions here to start the field season, which made for hot, dry sandy mornings with katabatic winds howling down off the desert. But these conditions always drop in the afternoons as the southerly winds fight back, often resulting in a warm, calm truce out in the bay. Nice for us to get out in the afternoons a few times as its almost impossible during the rest of the year due to the strong winds in the afternoons – and it’s really lovely to be on the water in just a t-shirt in this part of the world!! The Heaviside's dolphins have been as fickle as always, some days they’re all there and super boat friendly, while other days you can barely find a single one.