Friday, 25 May 2012

Fun in the sun in Luderitz

By Shannon Hampton - UCT PhD student current helping us out in Luderitz.

I have been in Lüderitz, the land of endlessly blue skies, for 10 days today. It is turning out to be an experience quite unlike any other I have had. After a ridiculously early flight from Cape Town to Windhoek and then on to Lüderitz I stepped off the plane and into the startlingly bright sunlight of Namibia. Sara, an intern from the USA and I were met by Dr Tess and driven into the town that we will call home for the next two months. Tess even organised a black backed jackal sighting en route! J
The very next day we were off to sea on the RV !Anichab for an overnight survey. I boarded the boat with some trepidation, it is smaller than the research vessel I am used to, and that defeated me in bad weather. The blue skies and sunshine distracted me a little from feeling apprehensive about sea sickness, while we searched the ocean for dolphin, whale and penguin sightings. We were rewarded by seeing all three, although I struggled to identify what had made the far-off splashes there were dusky and Heaviside’s dolphins and a whale of some sort (possibly a minke whale). Although we weren’t counting them, we also saw plenty of seals, albatross, skuas and petrels. It was sometimes difficult to tear my eyes away from a soaring albatross to scan the ocean for dolphins.
Despite being absolutely freezing, it was great to be outside on deck and, when the sun was shining and I was on a break, to curl up in a warm spot on the deck. Tess and Simon were sympathetic of my weak sea legs and let us get some sleep while they stayed up through the night to keep everything going. We were all up to welcome in a gorgeous dawn near Mercury Island. It is a rock of penguins, Bank cormorants and gannets. It is gorgeous!

The excitement didn’t end when we got back to Lüderitz. This was the first time I had been involved in the photo identification of dolphins, and I can’t imagine how they manage to get such clear photos of the dorsal fins from animals that are moving so fast and appear to be everywhere at once. On that note, it is pretty amazing to be where there are dolphins everywhere at once. We had a special guest in our team this week, the photographer, Thomas Preschak, is in town and he joined us on some small boat surveys. I have admired his previous work and it was fantastic to get to meet him and to see a professional photographer in action. It was also nice to have someone agree with me that sardines are pretty amazing. I haven’t managed to convince the dolphinologists of this… yet.

Everyday seems to bring new experiences and challenges (by the end of the two months I am sure that I will be able to get off that boat with grace and ease and carry 20L of petrol without my arms burning) but for the day we had yesterday will be hard to top. We were at sea before dawn, there was barely any wind and the sun was just peaking over the sand dunes. Almost immediately we came across a huge group of dusky dolphins. Unfortunately, they seemed to be the only animals active on a morning where everything was in a lazy calm. We even came right up to a black-browed albatross and it didn’t trouble to itself to move away. Even the wind was too lazy to blow in the afternoon so we were able to head out again in the afternoon. In theory this trip was to put hydrophones in the water, but before we could do that we came across bottlenose dolphins. There were a group of about 20 individuals, including the most adorable and tiny calves. We followed them into the sunset and only the fading light made us turn away. Obviously, we were doing important scientific research on their behaviour and not just enjoying the magical evening at sea. It is hard to imagine what else can happen to top that, but I am willing to wait and see.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

A great post from Victor "Quisher" Mukena, a Namibian Polytech student who's currently interning with us in Luderitz.  We hope Victor can come back and join us for his 4th year project when he gets there!
Being with the Namibian Dolphin project (NDP) for a month has been a great adventure and experience. I have had the chance to observe and see the amazing creatures found on our coastal water including dolphins, penguins, whales, many birds and most important some of our off-shore islands, which not all Namibian have had a chance to get close to and see. I have had a great learning experience, getting a chance to set my eyes on Mercury, Halifax and Possession Island. As a student, was taught about these important islands as important safe homes and breeding ground to hundreds of marine birds. It was a great feeling when we visited Mercury Island, a very small island with no vegetation, decorated with hundreds of penguins, gannets and cormorants breeding there, this I got first hand experience, which was joyful. During my internship, I have acquired knowledge on Dusky and Heaviside dolphins, right and minke whales which I all saw in Luderitz.  

Trusting me with operating and working with your delicate equipments like camera to take pictures for dolphin identification, and granting me with the opportunity to drive the boat, is a sign of you generosity and desire to get everybody to feel welcome as part of the team. I wish I could have known about NDP while still doing research projects, as I could have studied a lot as far as marine life is concerned. I never know what life holds for me, my greatest wish is to do a project with NDP at some point during my study period as I believe the two project leaders (Dr. Gridley and Dr. Elwen) have a lot to offer.