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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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 camp in Horta. Vera, Lisa and I (right to left)

have been very busy preparing for your arrival. Base camp is all set up, and we are eager to greet the first team tomorrow. As it says in the dossier, we’ll be at Peter’s Café at 11.30 on Monday morning to have some lunch, so if anyone would like to join us that would be great. If not, we’ll see you all at the official meeting time between 13.00 and 14.00 at Banana Manor. The expedition briefing will start promptly at 14:00.

I hope you all have good journeys. Please call me if you are going to miss the assembly meeting at Banana Manor. I am eager to meet you all!

Alisa Clickenger
Expedition Leader

P.S. You’ll notice in the picture that Lisa has a cast on her right hand. All will be revealed on site…

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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)

Apologies for the sound quality, but it was quite windy 😉

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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 it’s Lisa, your scientst, from Horta, not to be confused with Alisa!

I am going a bit stir crazy after six months of being stuck on land. I am looking forward to the expedition in a couple of weeks. There have already been sightings of baleen and sperm whales from the lookouts. We aim to get identification photographs of blue, fin, sei and humpback whales as they migrate past the islands. Last year we had 2 blue whales that had been seen in previous years, so we will be looking to build on that this year. We have also had two humpback whales match to animals seen in the Cape Verde Islands! This year I will also be collaborating with a scientist in Bermuda, so widening the scope for possible matches. And then we have our “regular” sperm whales. They can keep us very busy at sea sometimes if we come across a large group. We will be taking photographs of their flukes and matching them to the catalogue that I keep of animals seen elsewhere in the Atlantic and Mediterranean. It will be nice to see some old friends that have been sighted before and also some new ones passing by the Azores for the first time. If we are lucky we may find a new match of a male to Norway or another female that has been to the Canaries in addition to animals seen in previous years in the Azores. If there are no whales around, we are always on the lookout for dolphins or turtles. Bottlenose & Risso’s dolphin are also target species for photo-identification, while common and striped are always a joy to watch if they choose to bowride with the boat. We also try to catch and tag loggerhead turtles for the joint University of the Azores/University of Florida turtle programme.

While on the boat, you will all have jobs to do. Remember that this is not just a whale watching holiday! Someone records data for all the cetacean sightings; another job will be to take ID photos of target species with the expedition camera, as well as any nice people/scenic photos during the day. A team member keeps the log for the boat. A couple of people each day will be responsible for filling in POPA paperwork (I’ll explain what POPA stands for when you get here). We are the only non-fishing boat that participates in this project, collecting data on random sightings of cetaceans as well as turtle and bird surveys. And of course don’t forget the most important jobs of all – the observers. A couple of you will be lookouts, trying to spot the animals at sea! It is not easy to spot whales and dolphins at sea, but you will get better at it as the expedition goes along. There will be a couple of days for a little bit of R&R around the island as well as data entry at base. Photos of Risso’s dolphin from previous years are on the computers at the base for you to crop and match if you have spare time (for example during foul wheather days when we can’t go out on the boat). Other ongoing project is entering data from previous year’s logbooks & data sheets.

At the end of your slot, you may need a holiday to recover!

See you all soon!

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