Status update November 2020 – Will there be expeditions in 2021?

Since our last status update and interview with our founder in October and his interview with “natur” magazine, light has appeared at the end of the tunnel. Vaccines are in sight and our community expeditions and coronavirus appeal to support our local partners are going well.

But what does that mean for expeditions in 2021 and will Biosphere Expeditions survive this crisis?

With no expeditions since February 2020 and therefore the almost total loss of income, survival still hangs by a thread, but we are fighting hard and are rising to the challenge. In a few months, we will be able to see whether we can pull through. Chances are looking increasingly positive and we will soon start another campaign to get us over the line.

As to expeditions, we are now hopeful that at least some European expeditions will run in 2021. The first one, the Azores, is scheduled for March/April 2021. This may be too soon. The next few weeks will reveal this and we will keep you updated on here. Thereafter it’s Sweden in June and Germany in June/July. For those, things are definitely looking up, especially because experts think we may be able to get back to some sort of normal by late spring / early summer.

As to other expeditions around the world, it’s too early to make predictions now. Much will depend on vaccine rollout across the planet, as well as on how confident people will be to travel again to remote, far-flung places, and of course whether they will have the funds to do so. We expect to be able to make some more confident predictions by January, so watch this space. in any case, the expeditions to Arabia and Kenya, scheduled for January and February respectively, were deferred to 2022 quite a few weeks ago.

What you can do to help in all this and make sure it comes true is give to our appeal, join the Friends, join an expedition (Germany and Sweden are your best bet), get vaccinated and make sure people around you get vaccinated too.

See you on the other side!

Expedition diaries up to 2011

Diaries between 2002 and 2011 were mainly text-based and are archived below as PDFs.

Diaries were not kept for the early period from Biosphere Expeditions’ foundation in 1999 until 2001.

Research output for all expeditions and years is on Research Gate.

pdf Altai 2003
pdf Altai 2004
pdf Altai 2005
pdf Altai 2006
pdf Altai 2007
pdf Altai 2008
pdf Altai 2009
pdf Altai 2010
pdf Altai 2011

pdf Azores 2004
pdf Azores 2005
pdf Azores 2006
pdf Azores 2007
pdf Azores 2008
pdf Azores 2009
pdf Azores 2010
pdf Azores 2011

pdf Brazil 2006
pdf Brazil 2007
pdf Brazil 2008
pdf Brazil 2010
pdf Brazil 2011

pdf Caprivi 2008
pdf Caprivi 2009

pdf Honduras 2006
pdf Honduras 2007
pdf Honduras 2008
pdf Honduras 2009
pdf Honduras 2011

pdf Maldives 2011

pdf Musandam 2009
pdf Musandam 2010
pdf Musandam 2011

pdf Namibia 2002
pdf Namibia 2003
pdf Namibia 2004
pdf Namibia 2005 (spring)
pdf Namibia 2005 (autumn)
pdf Namibia 2006
pdf Namibia 2007
pdf Namibia 2008 (Caprivi)
pdf Namibia 2009 (Caprivi)
pdf Namibia 2010
pdf Namibia 2011 (rotation 1)
pdf Namibia 2011 (rotation 2)

pdf Oman 2006
pdf Oman 2007

pdf Oman 2008
pdf Oman 2009
pdf Oman 2010
pdf Oman 2011

pdf Peru 2003
pdf Peru 2005
pdf Peru 2006
pdf Peru 2008
pdf Peru 2009
pdf Peru 2011

pdf Slovakia 2004
pdf Slovakia 2005
pdf Slovakia 2006
pdf Slovakia 2007
pdf Slovakia 2008
pdf Slovakia 2010

pdf Spain 2008

pdf Sri Lanka 2005

pdf Ukraine 2003

pdf Western Australia 2010
pdf Western Australia 2011

Azores: Wrapping up the 2020 season

2020 is drawing to a close.

I was able to get out to sea a few more times in October and twice in November.

On 15 October we headed once again to the South of Pico, where the lookout had seen some sei whales and dolphins. After a quick look at the common dolphin, because the lookout was impatient that we get to the sei whales, we headed further down the coast. But first we found a group of bottlenose dolphin, followed by spotted. As we were about to head out, another boat found some Risso’s dolphin closer to the coast. There have not been many Risso’s sightings this summer, so we headed in to see them first. And it was a good thing that we did. I sent the ID photos to Karin Hartman of the Nova Atlantis Foundation, who has been studying the Risso’s for a long time. One of the individuals we saw was S9c, who was first seen in 2002! She had not seen him for some time, so was extremely pleased with our sighting. There appeared to be some bottlenose dolphin interacting with part of the Risso’s dolphin group too, which isn’t seen very often.

In the end, we were lucky to find the sei whales, because the lookout had lost them. In the morning, it is sometimes difficult for the lookout to see to the east, depending on the glare (past expedition members will know this term well!) of the sun on the surface of the sea. At first, they were travelling very fast, up to 13kts to the NW, but eventually slowed up and may have found some food or decided to socialise, because we saw a head out from one of them. The angle that we saw from the boat, made it appear to be a sperm whale to start with! Which would have been extremely surprising, since the lookout hadn’t seen any around. It was confirmed by the photos, that it was the underside of the jaw of a sei whale that we saw. We thought there were two sei whales, but in the end there were three based on the ID photos.

On 16 October, there was a huge group of spotted dolphin feeding with 100s of Cory’s shearwaters and tuna! The dolphin, shearwaters and the tuna are all after the same bait-fish, in this case snipe fish. The whole feeding frenzy was spread over about a mile or so. And then we were lucky to find a group of bottlenose dolphin that had escaped the eagle eye of the vigia.

On 28 October we went to see some bottlenose dolphin, using the dorsal fin IDs, it is the same resident group that we have been seeing the last few trips out. Most of the dolphin were not interested in the boat, but a couple did come over and bowride as the group moved to the southeast. There were some quite large swells around and those made for some good photos as the dolphin either came out of them or surfed down them. One of the bottlenose dolphin had a cookie cutter shark bite on the tail stock. These small sharks attach and take small circular bites out of whales usually, but sometimes they can also have a dolphin snack.

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On 6 November, I made a road trip to Pico, since that was the only likely place to get to sea. Unfortunately, the sea down there was really rough. And although we saw some spotted dolphin, the camera stayed in the case!

My last day out of 2020 was 7 November. And that was unexpected. I was not planning to go out, but the vigia called to say he had sperm whales! This was the first time in a while that sperm whales had been seen instead of sei whales. So I decided to go out on my own and see who was around. Some more surprises, 1019’s group was still hanging around! They have been here since the middle of June, with another sighting at the beginning of September. This group has been to the Canary Islands in the past, so not sure if they will be sticking around here or making the trip south. Anyway, it was a good decision to go. The whales were only a mile or so from the area we covered on the 6th. We also came across a dead Cory’s shearwater, probably a young one that had just left the burrow. It is a steep learning curve when they get out onto the water for their first year. There was no obvious cause of death and we didn’t have any thing to bring it back to shore in, for a more thorough investigation.

During the downtime in between trips, I have been working with a new fluke matching algorithm. The results are amazing, with the program finding matches that had not been previously found. Attached are a few examples. One where instead of three separate IDs there is only one, another where there were some significant changes to the fluke, but the algorithm saw that the basic contour was still the same and another with a few changes. There will be more to come on this program soon, it is almost ready for its public launch.

Thank you very much to Biosphere Expeditions and its donors for the support to get out to sea whenever possible this summer. Hopefully things will be different in 2021 and the expedition will be back up and running as usual.

Stay safe everyone and see you on the water!

Lisa Steiner

P.S. SEAFARI sightings are now online for August/September and October.

Community expeditions update November 2020

In the Azores (whales & dolphins) our scientist Lisa Steiner has been out on and off the water all the way back since April and has a written a detailed blog.

Lisa Steiner

In Germany (wolf), a small community expedition took place in July and there is also a blog.

Scientist Peter Schütte with a Germany community expeditioner

In the Tien Shan (snow leopard), our community camera trapping team have done very well to capture more snow leopard photos and to run a community expedition in September, collecting valuable data in the absence of our annual citizen science expedition. This means we can produce a combined 2019/2020 research report, the publication of which is imminent. Check the Tien Shan research output page for details soon.

The Tien Shan community expedition team

In Costa Rica (sea turtles), work to save turtle nests from poachers continued successfully, despite the pandemic, with a skeleton crew. The nesting season is now over and the research station closed.

The hatchery in Costa Rica

In Thailand (elephant), we are working hard to get our study herd through the crisis.

Elephants in Thailand

In the Maldives (coral reefs), our local partner has instigated a new coral reef conservation project.

Coral nursery table

In Kenya (African biodiversity), we empowered local communities with technology with great success during the last international expedition that ran just before the pandemic hit and have published the report of this already. “Enonkishu is thriving as far as the wildlife goes. There were eleven lions, four wild dogs, and Kisaru, the cheetah, just on one walk last Sunday. It looks like Kisaru is pregnant again and sticking around to have her cubs in Enonkishu for a second year in a row,  which will be fantastic”, says conservancy manager Rebekah Karimi.

Kisaru cubs (c) C Flechtner

In Armenia (leopard, bear, wolf), the community expedition was planned for November, but had to be cancelled when the war in Nagorno-Karabagh, which is too close for comfort to our study site, broke out. With winter approaching, plans have been postponed to 2021.

Autumn in the Armenia study site

Status update October 2020 – Our expeditions and fight for survival

Biosphere Expeditions is still here, albeit with all hatches battened down in an effort to survive the storm. Here’s an update to an interview with our founder and executive director, Dr. Matthias Hammer, about the situation at the moment.

Q: Our last interview was on 18 August 2020. What has changed since then? What’s the new situation and thinking?

A: When we last spoke, there were hopes for a vaccine by the end of 2020. Now most expert think mid-2021 is more realistic and even this will not be a “silver bullet” that will bring a swift end to the pandemic and a return to normal. We should expect masks and social distancing to be in place for 2-3 years.

Of course this presents a huge challenge to what we do. We are not expecting there to be many expeditions with citizen scientists in 2021. In fact, we recently postponed our Arabia and Kenya expeditions, planned for January and February 2021, for a year to 2022. I expect many other expeditions to follow suit. If conditions are favourable, we may be able to run the odd expedition in Europe later in 2021, but our honest assessment is that not much else will be possible in 2021. It may even not be possible to run any expeditions at all in 2021.

Q: What does that mean for the survival of Biosphere Expeditions?

A: To be honest, it will be very tough. We can probably weather the storm until the end of 2021. Getting there will be hard and we have to be very careful and plan well, which we are doing, of course, but beyond that it will become very difficult indeed to survive without expeditions running.

Q: What can people do to help?

A: First and foremost support our coronavirus appeal. The focus of the appeal is on our local partners and enabling them to continue with their critical conservation work despite the crisis. They too face a tough struggle and the more we can support them, the better for them and their conservation initiatives around the world. The appeal will finish on 30 November and we’re going for a final push over the next few weeks. We’re 80% there (from 124 donors) and hope to raise the last 20% (just under €10,000) too as we reach the home straight. Please give generously! Thereafter we will run a Biosphere Expeditions survival appeal to help us come out the other end.

Continue reading “Status update October 2020 – Our expeditions and fight for survival”