The Azores expedition is officially up and running, and we can finally offer an Azorean welcome to our first citizen scientists of 2019. We have already been pushing the limits and the initial headline is a new species record for Biosphere Expeditions… but more about that later!
Our multi-national team all arrived safely, via a mix of routes and modes of transport. Some were hot off the plane and plunged straight into initial introductions, risks assessments and briefings. Not forgetting a whistle stop tour of Horta to get some bearings.
Saturday saw us dive into scientific training, with familiarisation of equipment, which was followed by data records training, and eventually rounded off with a boat orientation. Unfortunately the weather was against us, so we could not complete our first field trip as planned….that would have to wait. Patience is vital with fieldwork.
Sunday saw us head out to sea. With winds blowing from the northeast, the conditions were best described as challenging. As we headed south of Pico, we eventually encountered some loggerhead turtles and a small group of common dolphins (great spots Stefi and Shantala), but encounters were hard to find.
The hydrophone was deployed in a quest to find sperm whales, but the conditions were just too extreme to follow them. With the sea state quickly reaching force 5 (the limit that we can effectively work in, and most people can stomach), we turned around and headed back towards the protection of Pico.
An inspired (if not lucky decision), for it was just off the coast (close to Lajes) that we had our first ‘whale’ encounter……with orcas! They had been seen in the area as few days before the group arrived, but normally move on. This is the first time they have ever been recorded by a Biosphere Expedition group. Great data and a wonderful encounter!
Our day was not done as we also found a group of Risso’s dolphins, with several young, as we began to cross the ‘choppy’ channel back to Horta. A quick baptism of cetacean research for some.
Field work will often push your limits, give you moments of luck, and reward your loyalty to your task. One of our citizen scientists, Neil, is a veteran of nine (!) Biosphere Expeditions and a previous participant on the Azores. Yesterday was very much payback for his commitment, in the shape of six beautiful orcas; and it was only our first day at sea.