Today marks the last day of the second slot of the Biosphere Expeditions / Reef Check project to Tioman Island in Malaysia. Despite various challenges, including the temporary loss of a team member due to an ear infection and the loss of the compressor for half the slot, we did not miss a single research dive and even got in a couple of leisure dives. The team worked overtime to surmount the difficulties and Ed, with his bad ear, took on the deck divemastering duties and data processing like a pro. Full kudos to this group of excellent expeditioners and thank you for all your help!
Our first group is over, and most of the team has gone home. Our last day on the water showed us both the highs and the lows of being on a research team. In the morning we were lucky in our sightings – sperm whales with newborns, more fin whales, and a species not often seen here: false killer whales. We then spent the entire afternoon without any sightings, following transect after transect listening for, and not finding, a last sperm whale.
We did manage to take a group picture, and Axel designed and painted our 2012 Biosphere Expeditions mural on the wharf.
Thank you very much group 1! I’m looking forward to the group 2’s arrival on Saturday.
Today the joke on board the Physeter was “common fin whales” because we usually see a lot of common dolphins, and today every whale we saw was a fin whale! It was also a key day for dolphins – a lone common dolphin bow riding a large fin whale kept letting us know the location of the whale, even when the large male changed direction. Then, just outside the harbour we spotted a new species for this slot, the bottlenose dolphin. Congratulations to Axel, today’s photographer, for setting a new record for the number of photographs taken (1000+!)
Bad weather at sea kept us on land yesterday, giving us a chance to catch up on data entry as well as our rest. Seas between the islands were still quite rough today, and had us hanging quite firmly onto the railings. It was another eventful day, beginning with a pair of male sperm whales that had both stopwatch teams timing the blow rates. Unfortunately, they did not cooperate and give us a grand fluke ending their performance, but simply disappeared.
The other whales we saw (sei whales, fin whales and a blue whale) were equally uncooperative, giving us a merry chase with the catamaran and teaching to expect the unexpected when looking for whales. We saw two loggerhead turtles, which also eluded us for tagging.
The teams are working well together, and everyone has mastered the record keeping, making our scientist Lisa Steiner very happy.
The first real day of ocean based Reef Check with the second team begins with a glassed out sea and 20+ meters of visibility. We are heading to Chebe to survey some reef that as yet has escaped the attention of the Reef Check process. The “fish team” timing on the transect is very good which keeps the rest of the procedure in check, making Katie a happy scientist.
Our first full day at sea, and it was one that isgoing to hard to beat. It seems we hit the large-whale jackpot thanks to our biologist Lisa Steiner and our Skipper Nuno. Today’s sightings included sei whales, fin whales, blue whales and…a sperm whale!
Almost all of our encounters were “random” (meaning not reported by the on-shore lookouts, but rather by us while on the water.) Sarah took excellent photographs and we were able to confirm that we saw the same groupings of fin whales in two separate locations. Tomorrow we’ll check our identification photographs against an international database to see how far and wide “our” whales have travelled.
Martin was our hero today when he heard the sperm whale clicks through the headset just after we’d given up and started pulling in the hydrophone, so we all got a chance to hear what a sperm whale sounds like as it dives. We also saw a grouping of 75 common dolphins just outside of the harbour.
We’re just off the water and Tim was our Super-Spotter of the day. He spotted the two dolphin fins that led us to a group of common dolphins. We photographed them and recorded pertinent data, then enjoyed their frolicking around the boat for a few moments before we changed course in search of other cetaceans. On the way back to the harbour Tim then spotted a turtle. Quite impressive given that the sea was rather rough and the turtle less than the size of a dinner plate. Irina was a fabulous photographer as you’ll see below.
All of team 1 arrived in time for lunch at Peter’s. It’s been the warmest day so far (20 degrees C) and the sun was shining strong.
The team met this afternoon to talk about expedition procedures, safety, and base camp ins-and-outs. Our biologist Lisa Steiner gave a brief overview of the research and how important our work is here in the Azores. We are all quite excited to head out onto the water tomorrow.
In the morning we’ll have a briefing on how to use the equipment, the data we need to collect, and how we record the data. After lunch we’ll head to the Physeter, our research vessel, and go out to sea. Many people in our group are not sure if they get seasick or not…luckily we’ll only be on the water for a half a day, and the pharmacy is only a few meters away!
We decided to cook dinner ourselves here at base in a group effort. Four year old Tiago, the son of the Banana Manor base owners, entertained us all with visits to meet the goats, and showed us our first whale sighting (on land, on his pedal bike).
Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores):
Greetings from the Azores! Malika Fettak and I have been busy preparing for everyone’s arrival here in Horta, on the island of Faial. Working from Banana Manor, which will serve as our base camp for all three expeditions, we have been busy unpacking the expedition kit and preparing for your arrival. Today we are working with Lisa Steiner, our scientist, preparing the data sheets for the information we will be collecting in the field.
As you can see in the video (see below) it can be quite cool and wet (Lisa, who lives here, made fun of me today because I am wearing my hat!). While we expect to see some sunshine, be sure to pack your cool and wet weather gear as well as there is still a definite chill in the air!
Looking forward to meeting you
PS: The whales and dolphins are here! Lisa Steiner was out on the water yesterday collecting data, and she spotted one blue whale, one fin whale, and several groups of common dolphins and Risso’s dolphins.
Finally, after a day of challenging currents bravely fought, reef valiantly surveyed and seas almost too big for the RIB, we are under full sail with Maarten at the helm (see picture below). We’re heading to a remote island west of Tioman to survey sites that our expedition scientist Katie herself has not dived. We’ll attempt a night dive here, the first of the expedition thus far. Although the wind has been either nonexistent or too erratic to be of use, it’s been smooth sailing so far.