Azores : Tenacity rewarded

Update from our marine conservation volunteering holiday in the Azores archipelago, working on whales, dolphins and turtles

The harder you work, the luckier you get.

Sea day 3 began with clear skies and views of Portugal’s highest mountain on the Island of Pico. We headed for the lee of the island to increase our chances of sighting (and recording) target species. Despite the best efforts of the spotters and deployment of the hydrophone, we were not seeing (or hearing) anything. Eventually we received information that a humpback had been spotted off the north coast, so we headed into the somewhat rougher waters on the windward side of the island. This culminated in a 145 kilometre circumnavigation of Pico during which we did manage to find a juvenile humpback feeding and were even treated to a couple of breaches.

Sea day 4 came with more swell and another long day covering 108 kilometres north of Faial. This time sperm whales could be heard in the distance through the hydrophone. So we began the process of slowly honing in on their position. Sea conditions made it challenging and after hours of work, Alice finally spotted the blow as the whales surfaced just 200 metres from the boat. The resulting photos enabled Lisa to get positive IDs on four individuals, some of which had been recorded on previous expeditions of ours.

After four days at sea, fatigue was certainly evident amongst the team. But with incoming rough weather a 5th consecutive day on the water was decided upon. We were a couple of expeditioners down due to sea sickness and fatigue, but the team pulled together, with Emma and Elena volunteering to make sure all roles were covered.

Day 5 was a different story to the previous days, with calmer waters, no rain and more whales. We had over 20 sperm whale sightings with six individuals identified, and as if to reward the hard work of the previous days, we even managed to record a blue whale (we’re still waiting on any positive ID matches for this individual).

This Sunday the team are having a shore day and taking a well-earned rest. Fingers are firmly crossed for a break in the weather to enable one more day at sea.

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Azores : On the water

Update from our marine conservation volunteering holiday in the Azores archipelago, working on whales, dolphins and turtles

The expedition is underway with participants from six countries arriving to Horta on Monday. Some great weather conditions meant we hit the ground running with training on equipment use and data collection amongst the avocado and banana trees at the expedition base.

After the training was completed, the weather became more challenging for Tuesday afternoon’s test run on the water. Despite the conditions, within four hours we’d covered 57 kilometres, recorded common and bottlenose dolphins and three sperm whales (including a calf displaying suckling behaviour). The team did well on the data recording, especially Tracy, who is in danger of earning herself a permanent slot as POPA master.

Expedition scientist Lisa has been giving evening lectures, and after last night’s species identification lecture, everyone was keen to put their new knowledge to the test. However, the cetaceans weren’t making it easy. Despite almost double the distance covered, and deploying the hydrophone – so we could potentially hear what we couldn’t see – day two on the water proved less fruitful (with only common dolphins recorded).

Such is the unpredictability of wildlife. Spirits amongst the team are high and the weather looks good for day three on the water.

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Azores : Re-orientation

Update from our marine conservation volunteering holiday in the Azores archipelago, working on whales, dolphins and turtles

Expeditions are partly about the journey and the destination. So, after three days, three flights and four airports Henry and I landed in the Azores. Though slightly later than anticipated due to an unforeseen strike! No real drama and now the interesting part of the expedition can begin….

For the past couple of days Jim and Claudia (our hosts), and we have been preparing the expedition base for your imminent arrival.

It has been great to re-orientate myself with (and introduce Henry to) Horta, meet up with our hosts and catch up with Lisa (our scientist) to hear about all the recent news. We will share more detail on that once you’ve arrived…

We now just hope that the weather and whales (and other target species) are on our side and we can look forward to some great fieldwork (and data collection) over the next few days.

So safe travels to those of you on group 1 still en route, and we look forward to meeting you all on Monday morning (as per the details in the dossier).

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Azores : Opener

Update from our marine conservation volunteering holiday in the Azores archipelago, working on whales, dolphins and turtles

It’s time for the initial introductions. I am Craig Turner and I’ll be your Expedition Leader in the Azores this year. On the first group, I will also be joined by Henry Taylor (Expedition Leader in training). It is great to be going back to the Azores after a few years’ break and escape the ongoing Scottish winter – I‘ll be making tracks earlier than expected as more snow is forecast, which could otherwise hamper my journey to the airport!

I am currently organising and packing my kit, checking that I have all I need for the next month – so don’t forget to check the project dossier. It will be great to meet up with old friends and colleagues from previous years, not least, our scientist Lisa Steiner. If you want to find cetaceans in the Azores, then she is the person to find them. If you have seen the latest project report and Lisa’s recent publications or the 2022 Azores expedition roundup, then you’ll know, not what to expect, but what we hope to record. Last year, you’ll note they had a variety of records – so you never can be too sure what ‘data’ we will collect. Just cross your fingers for good weather….

We arrive on Friday morning, a couple of days before we meet the first group, in order to set up the expedition headquarters. I’ll send around another message once I hit the ground in Horta and confirm my local contact details.

This reminds me to mention communications on the island. There’s cell/mobile reception on Faial in addition to internet via public hotpots and free WiFi in most cafes. Hopefully, you can resist the need for frequent international comms, and just soak up the experience of Atlantic island isolation.

I hope you’ve all been eagerly reading your expedition materials and know to bring many layers of clothing. As to the weather, think Vivaldi ‘The Four Seasons”, so prepare for warm, cold, wet and dry – sometimes on the same day. Don’t forget your sunglasses or your waterproof trousers – you’ll thank me when you are stationed on the bow of the boat as a lookout and the weather is choppy (so also bring your motion sickness pills/patches – if you know you need them!).

So with the local team in place, whale sightings already logged by Lisa, all we are missing is you. It will be great to meet you all and I’ll send along another update very soon.

Here’s to another month working back in the EU!

Safe travels group 1…

Craig & Henry
Expedition Leaders

Continue reading “Azores : Opener”
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