Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Team 1 has arrived, and yesterday was our first day at sea. We were quite successful even though the first day is only a half day. We caught and tagged two loggerhead turtles – a wee one and a larger one. Scientist Lisa obviously has had a great deal of practice netting these fellows, because they both were already diving before we could get close.

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We also saw a sperm whale, a fin whale, scores of common dolphins and met the resident troupe of bottlenose dolphins. The sea was relatively calm yesterday, yet the overcast light conditions made spotting blows and spotting floating sperm whales quite difficult. We knew where the sperm whales were, and even put the hydrophone in the water to confirm it, yet somehow they eluded us. We heard at least four of them clicking away quite loudly, and yet we never saw them despite our intensive searching.

A great start, and the seas today are predicted to be the same as yesterday, so we’re off to the Physeter to catalouge whatever animals show themselves to us today.

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Greetings from Banana Manor, our base in Horta. Lisa, Catherine and I (left, right, centre) have been very busy preparing for your arrival. Base is now all set up, and we are eager to greet the first team on Monday.

Girl power (left to right: Lisa Steiner, Alisa Clickenger, Catherine Edsell)
Girl power (left to right: Lisa Steiner, Alisa Clickenger, Catherine Edsell)

You can start arriving at Banana Manor after 13:00 on start day. Training begins promptly at 14:00 so please be on time as there is a lot of information to take in during the first 24 hours of the expedition slot. (Please do not arrive at Banana Manor before 13:00 as you are likely to find it empty or in the process of being cleaned with no room for you to put yourself or your belongings in.)

Lisa, Catherine and I will be at Peter’s Café at 11:30 on Monday morning, so if anyone would like to join us we’d be happy to see you. This is an informal pre-expedition lunch and is self-pay, but since we are eager to meet you and we have to eat too, we’ll socialize there and then walk back to Banana Manor. We’ve organised luggage transportation from Peter’s to base camp, so feel free to come to Peter’s straight from your flight or other hotel if you’ve already been on the island and you won’t have to worry about rolling your luggage a couple of kms to base. Walkers get Alisa’s 2 cent tour of downtown Horta.

If we don’t see you at Peter’s, then we’ll meet you at the official meeting time between 13.00 and 14.00 at Banana Manor. Expedition briefing will start promptly at 14:00.

It’s not a cushy holiday, but if you’re still packing your things, it might be a good idea to bring some cushy house slippers. They’re not official expedition kit list, but they might make base camp life more comfortable since Banana Manor is a stone and tile building. If your slippers are in the shape of cetaceans, you’ll get a star for the day 😉

I hope you all have good journeys and if you need to contact me before we meet, I confirm that my Portuguese mobile number is xxx. Please call me if you are going to miss the assembly meeting at Banana Manor. I am eager to meet you all!

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Hello everyone

Alisa Clickenger here. I’ll be your expedition leader in the Azores this year. I love working in the Azores because our scientist Lisa Steiner (we like to see if you are paying attention using our given names Alisa and Lisa) is great to work with. You won’t find anyone more passionate about whales than she is, and she has the best “eyes” on the ocean for spotting cetaceans. I learn so much from her every year. There’s a video of Lisa below

I’m finishing up some things here in the States (mainly a visit with mum) and then I will arrive a few days before you volunteers in order to set up the expedition headquarters. We’ll have Catherine, Craig and Sue as expedition-leaders-in-training (see www.biosphere-eexeditions.org/about for their details) along with us on each slot (and in that order), and we’re fortunate for that. I’ll send around another message once I get on the ground in Horta and confirm my local mobile telephone number. It should be xxxxxx, but I’ll confirm it’s working when I get it out of storage on arrival. Please remember this is only for emergency use such as missing assembly.

Ah, yes, mobile phones. There’s reception on Faial in addition to internet here and there, but we won’t be using cell phones while we’re at sea, so I invite you all to tell everyone you are off the grid for the expedition, leave your devices at home, and soak up all this expedition experience has to offer. I’ve recently become addicted to backgammon, so if anyone has a game they’d like to bring along…

I know you’ve all been eagerly reading your expedition materials and know to bring many layers of clothing. Last year was freezing cold, and the year before that very warm. We’ll see what 2014 brings. I’ll mention now that every year we have someone arrive without waterproof pants, and they get very wet and cold and miserable, especially if they are stationed on the bow as a lookout and the weather is choppy. While you can purchase waterproofs in Horta, they are expensive on the island.

Lisa tells me that she’s already been whispering to the whales, and they are eager for your arrival. So am I. Lisa has posted some updates of cetacean activity on www.facebook.com/biosphere.expeditions1 and there is a welcome video by yours truly below, so you can meet me before you meet me, it you see what I mean.

Safe travels and see you in due course.

~Alisa

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Team two went home today, and unfortunately the weather did not cooperate with us during the final days and we did not go out to sea. The team did, however, get a chance to see common dolphins in the harbour yesterday when they took the ferry to Pico. Being good expedition members they even collected all the POPA data (except for a water temperature) “just in case”.

Team 2
Team 2

Many thanks to all the team members from both groups who kept their spirits up despite the challenges the weather threw at us this year. I know it was disappointing not to go out to sea every day that that we were scheduled to, but hopefully you made the best of your time here in the Azores and go home with fond memories of the group. Your legacy is in the details, so to speak, and with so much data entry from all of you we have quite caught up with all the data that has accummulated over the course of past expeditions. Thank you!

I’d also like to thank Buff for donating Buffs to keep us warm and dry, and Swarovski Optik for our new snazzy binoculars.

I hope to see you again on another expedition, some time, some place. Safe travels everyone and thank you again for your support.

Alisa Clickenger
Expedition leader

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Finally we’ve had a “calm” day in which we are able to use our new Swarovski Optik binoculars. We’ve been keen to try them, and yesterday the sea and wind cooperated leaving expeditioners with a free hand to hold them!

Spotting a turtle
Spotting a turtle

Just in time, too; Sabine spotted a 40 cm sea turtle.

Spotted!
Spotted!

Although we didn’t see any whales yesterday, we received terrific news. Our scientist Lisa has only seen a handful of humpback whales off the shores of the Azores in the twenty years she’s been conducting research here, but just yesterday she received word of a match. A humpback whale seen here in the Azores in 2006 has just been identified in the Cape Verde Islands. This is only the third such match she’s made.

Humpback match
Humpback match

Other matches this season include two out of the 19 whales identified on Tuesday. 2350 was first seen in 1999, then again in 2008 & 2009. The other was seen in October of 2010 and this year she had a 2 year old calf with her! The photos below are 2350 as seen in 1999 & yesterday.

2350
2350

Such matches are very important as accurate knowledge of the origins of the baleen whales passing the Azores archipelago during April and May will help to determine which stocks they come from and assess more accurately their true numbers (which are often inflated in efforts to set or reintroduce hunting quotas).

On Thursday our searching was not in vain either, through some choppy seas. We found a group of bottlenose dolphin that actually appeared to be enjoying the waves! They were surfing! It was the main resident group that we tend to see often around Faial & Pico.

Surf's up!
Surf’s up!

Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago

Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Gordon’s quote of the day was “there were too many flukes to count!” We encountered several groups of sperm whales in the morning and went from group-to-group-to-group for the entire day. At one point there were as many as sixteen whales at the surface, and seven of them fluked almost simultaneously. Then the rest fluked and we got several excellent identification pictures. There were three large males in the group that made the adult females they swam with look live calves. Further, at the debriefing we identified seventeen unique flukes in a single day, which is a Biosphere record for the Azores.  Needless to say our scientist Lisa was ecstatic.

Branko was out team photographer for the day, and he took the whale tail that we’ll all use for our screensavers. Sabine was our super spotter of the unique and wondrous, and managed to see a palm-sized loggerhead turtle, several types of phytoplankton, and a floating egg sack. Be sure to ask her about the sea snake. 🙂 Several team members also saw a shark flash by the side of the boat. Add common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, and some Rissos dolphins, and we call it a stellar day.

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Today was Team 2’s second day at sea, and despite the rough sea we were lucky enough to see the first sperm whales of the season. The group included one calf, and we spent the morning with them. There were a total of eleven sperm whales socialising at the surface, and two of them cooperated nicely with our research team and fluked for us. Perhaps the highlight of the day was when we saw a sperm whale breaching repeatedly in the distance. Fingers crossed for some sunshine and some more target species tomorrow.

Sperm whale breaching
Sperm whale breaching
Spending time with sperm whales
Spending time with sperm whales

 

 

 

 

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Half the team went to Pico today and the other half is working on the mural in the harbour.

Working on the mural
Working on the mural

We’ve had a horrible few days with absolutely atrocious weather. We broke all sorts of records on this slot that we really did not want to break: number of days with weather too bad to back out, least number of sightings, most cloud, coldest, etc. The list goes on! But this is what nature and the weather can be like and I think everybody understands this, even if it is of course very frustrating. Still, thank you for being such a great team with good spirits and using the time on land for data entry, picture analysis and other activities to help out Lisa with her research.

Team 1
Team 1

Still, on Saturday we had a small break in the weather and went out to sea for the morning. We had three random sightings of common dolphins on the way to where the lookouts said there was a blue whale. We then stayed with the whale for over an hour, but four metre waves prevented us from taking any good identification photos.

Believe it or not, there was also a bright spot, a single one on Thursday, which Neil managed to capture on the Nikon.

That bright spot...
That bright spot…

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Today was slot 1’s first day at sea. The swells were quite large, and our team members bravely hung onto the rails while searching for cetaceans. After sighting our first group of common dolphins, however, many of our team members discovered they hadn’t quite gotten their sea legs. When the fish feeding group at the back of the boat (myself included) grew to more than half the team, we decided to come back to the harbour. The lucky half of the team not affected by the large waves sighted three Risso’s dolphins on the way back. Joris, Annette, and Christina then decided to take advantage of the shore time and began this year’s wharf painting, a good-luck tradition here in the Azores, while the rest of the team helped with data entry at home base.

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