The weather remains challenging as is the visibility and wind, and the team members have had to remain flexible. We had an unusual – and sad – sighting on Sunday when we saw a dead common dolphin. It was missing its tail, and we assume it got caught in a fishing net even though the tuna fisherman here in the Azores use hooks and not nets. Monday was the best day on the water for this slot so far – we saw Risso’s dolphins breaching, a giant sun fish, a loggerhead turtle, and a group of fourteen sperm whales with calves!
Team three has arrived, and with them has come the stormy weather. The seas are too choppy to go out, so today was a slide show and data entry day at base camp. We did do the on-board briefing and familiarized ourselves with the boat and the equipment, and now we wait for the wind to die down.
PS: I forgot to publish the slot 1 sightings, so here they are: sperm whale 12 encounters – 21 animals – 6 calves | common dolphin 22 enc – 603 animals | bottlenose dolphin 1 enc – 2 animals | false killer whale 1 enc – 4 animals | sei whale 6 enc – 20 animals | fin whale 15 enc – 17 animals | blue whale 2 enc – 2 animals.
The third and final slot of the Biosphere Expeditions Malaysian Reef Check expedition has drawn to an exciting close this morning. We were anchored at Nipah, on the southern end of Tioman. This is the place referred to in a previous entry as the site of the amazing nocturnal racing worms. We pulled in at Nipah to discover the sandy sea floor peppered with large urchins, which each had a population of small black fish living between its spines. The really remarkable thing though, was the speed with which the urchins were chasing each other around. They were in twos and threes and moving at an unbelievable pace with one of the racers emitting a cloud of what I assume to be sperm. Incredible sight! What’s with Nipah and high speed invertebrates?
At around 03:00 in the night, a powerful squall woke us and intensified until Hylton, the skipper decided that the best course of action was to lift the anchor and head back to Tekek, rather than be slapped around at anchor for the rest of the night. What ensued was an exciting night run to Tekek and a very welcome calm in the duck pond at the marina. A very exciting end to a very interesting expedition!
Thanks to all the team members who made this research possible by donating their time, energy and money to this very worthy alternative to sitting on a beach with a book for their holiday. Thanks as well to Katie Yewdall the scientist whose project we helped to crew and Hylton Hines the skipper of the Araliya.
Slot two has completed their last “turtle time”, and yes, we finally spotted a turtle within the designated turtle time thanks to Sylvia. Lisa bought us a round of drinks and Nigel bought us a round of desserts and it was quite sweet, on all accounts. Just as we finished that celebration, yesterday we finally caught and tagged a loggerhead turtle, so we are quite happy with the turtle sightings this slot.
The second team had a week of terrific weather (Beaufort=1-2, wind=1-2) and once again we had a great variety of animal sightings and made quite a few matches to animals Lisa has previously matched up here in the Azores.
Our second group of volunteers has brought very nice weather and some incredible luck for us in our sightings. We continue to have the excellent problem of data coming in so quickly that at times it is difficult to keep up with recording them. A new species for us was sighted on Tuesday when we saw a minke whale. We also had the opportunity to see eleven sperm whales swimming abreast on the surface. Tuesday we also had eight random sightings, which kept Cornelia and Sylvia quite busy on the POPA paperwork.
After a well-deserved shore day on Wednesday, we continued to be lucky in our animal sightings on Thursday and saw striped dolphins swimming in their carousel fashion and a leatherback turtle. We also saw sperm whales exhibiting unusual behavior by sticking their noses out of the water to take a look at neighboring whale watching boats. Both days we sighted the strange and wonderful sun fish. Also on Thursday, several of us on the Physeter had the remarkable good fortune to see a sperm whale breach. We’ll see if we can top that in our last two days.
The team from slot three of the Tioman Island Reef Check expedition have, despite some nervous apprehension, passed their full set of identification examinations with flying colours and are now ready to hit the high seas and begin surveys. We board the Araliya tomorrow for the final leg of this, the inaugural Malaysian expedition. The data these teams have gathered, will join a growing body of such data that the Reef Check organisation collects from coral reef locations around the world. The hard work of the team members from this and similar expeditions will be used by scientists, conservation organisations and policy makers to plot their course into the future as they develop their approaches to the management of these precious but poorly understood ecosystems. The people on this expedition could have had an easy holiday under an umbrella with a good book, but they have instead dedicated their time off work to a cause, which desperately needs their boots on the ground (or in this case fins). My hat off to all of you.
The first full day of Reef Check training for slot three of the Tioman Island expedition is going well. The difference between snappers and bream is not causing serious conniptions. The subject of “deep reefs” came up so I sent a quick email to Tom Bridge of James Cook University, an authority on the matter. Before the end of the classroom session, Tom had sent an elaborate and awesomely interesting reply on the nature and role of these off limit ecosystems. The reading of his email at the end of the class provided a brilliant opportunity to get input from a leader in an unusual field of reef research. It also showed how valuable are scientists who care enough to make such an effort to educate the public. Cheers Dr Bridge!
P.S. A video blog of slot 1 is now also available (see below).
Our research team for slot two has arrived, and we are coming together nicely as a research team after our first (half) day at sea. We all got a chance to practice our spotting skills with a fin whale with the unusual habit of diving for more than twenty minutes at a time. We also spent some time with the largest grouping of common dolphins to date, a group of 200+.
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!