Saturday, 31 May 2008

It's been a bit of a slow week compared to last. Met with our representatives (Heidi Skrypzeck & Hannes Holtzhausen) at the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources on Tuesday to discuss the project and goals. They're very supportive of us and Heidi will be joining us at sea when she can. Then met with Rod Braby of NACOMA who's been working around the Namibian coast for years (including piloting the right whale surveys) and had many useful insights to share on the local dolphin populations. The rest of the week was more mundane, looking at cars and a few other boat options and trying to convince the bank to let me open an account here to make financial issues a little easier.

A black backed jackal that we saw on the way out to Pelican Point on Monday.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Monday 26th I went on a kayak trip with Jeanne Meintjies of Eco-Marine Kayak tours. Jeanne has been running these tours since the 90's and is one of the older companies in town. Due to the size of the bay, the kayaks are driven out to the peninsula from where the paddle runs out to the tip of Pelican Point.

The paddle passes a small seal colony where the juvenile seals are extremely playful and very interested in the kayaks and paddles .

Although we saw a scattered group of Heaviside's at the point where I've seen them on the previous two outings, they weren't particularly 'friendly' towards the kayaks and I wasn't prepared to risk my camera this early in the season for a few poor quality ID shots.

In the afternoon Keith Wearne took me across the lagoon and salt pans by car to to look around, check up on the local bird populations (which Keith is involve in counting) and to look at the skeleton of a pygmy right whale which had stranded in the shallows. Someone had wanted the bones, so Niels Dreyer (Mola Mola) had put fencing around the carcass to allow it to rot clean without washing away. Unfortunately no body has looked at it since and the bones have pretty much rotted away. We did get to see some nice birds on the way there and back including some baby flamingos which are beginning to arrive from further north.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Sunday 25th. I went out with Mola Mola cruises again today. Being a weekend, the number of tourists and boats were considerably higher than on Friday's trip. Most of the boats here run a very similar route, clockwise around the bay stopping at the derelict Russian trawlers, the oyster farms, seal colonies, the lighthouse and then ending at the tip of Pelican Point where Heaviside's dolphins are commonly found.

There were at least 8 - 10 boats on the water and at least 4 near us at any time throughout the trip (3-4 hours) and at the point, several boats would cluster around a group of Heaviside's dolphins if they were jumping or being boat friendly and bow-riding.

As you can see from the photograph, the density of boats around the dolphins was quite striking at times. This is likely to have some effect on the natural behavioural patterns of the animals and several clients on board the boat commented negatively on the situation.
Since I've been here I've been trying to gather information about any stranded whales and dolphins from everyone I meet. Beach cast animals provide a wealth of information to researchers, especially for those species that are very poorly known.

Naude Dreyer (of Mola Mola tours) told me of a group of bottlenose dolphins that had stranded in the WB lagoon some time ago and the carcass of one animal was still there.

I went down to the location (near the salt pans) with Keith Wearne on Saturday and we managed to find the remains, it had clearly been there a while and was fairly dessicated. We managed to recover the skull, one tooth and a few other bone fragments. These will be useful for confirming the species from skull morphometrics, the age of the animal from the tooth and DNA can be collected from the bones if needed.

We will continue to try to collect as much information as possible on stranded cetaceans (both current and historic) during our field season.

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Friday, 23 May 2008

Thursday - first sea day in Walvis Bay. I went out with Mola Mola tours ( on one of their commercial trips to see what they do, where they work and to start to get a feel for the sea around here.

It was quite a different experience to anything I've seen before in either South Africa or the UK. There are nearly 30 boats in total working in the bay (concerns about the potential effects of this on the dolphins are one of the reasons we're running this project), and several of the other local species are very habituated to the boats.

There are a group of about 5-8 seals which are effectively trained to feed off the boats (and seem to behave remarkably well for wild animals) and the pelicans, sea gulls and some skua's will come to take fish from the hand.

We did see a small group of Heaviside's dolphins just off Pelican Point, but there is a large sulphur eruption in the bay at the moment which has caused the majority of marine life in the bay to die off or move away from the area. The local oyster farm has had an 80% die off and there are almost no fish being seen locally. This is apparently one of the largest sulphur blooms in many years.

For more pictures from this day, look at:
The season begins!!

I have now arrived in Walvis Bay (..WB) and have been welcomed by our hosts John and Barbara Paterson (along with Spliff and Widget the dogs, and Jacob the parrot). John runs the Albatross Task Force in Namibia for RSPB/Birdlife ( and Barbara is an ecological modeler working for MaRe at University of Cape Town.

Spliff, the dog

It's been a busy week, starting with meetings in Windhoek with staff at the Namibian Nature Foundation ( who are suporting this project and Joaquina Eduardo, a student at U. Nam who will be joining the team this season.

I arrived in WB on Tuesday evening after dark so didn't get much chance to look around, but have been gradually finding my feet. The house is great (pictured left, complete with bicycle courtesy of Jeanne at Eco-marine kayak tours).

I plan to spend these first two weeks here before the rest of the team arrives meeting the relevant stakeholders, organising accommodation, vehicles and boats, getting familiar with the area and animals here etc, etc. Got off to a good start on Wednesday, by meeting up with Keith Wearne, who chairs the Coastal Environment Trust of Namibian ( and is our main local contact. Keith has been fantastically welcoming and has really gone out of his way to introduce me to everyone I need to meet and to show me around town. Among the more mundane logistic tasks of Wednesday I met two of the local ecotour operators, Mola Mola safari's and Eco-Marine Kayak tours, both of whom have been very supportive of our project and have kindly offered to take me out to help me get a feel for what they're doing and as well as the local sea conditions.

The very welcoming dolphin themed loo seat at home.. :)