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!
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.