Tuesday, 26 July 2016

My Road to Namibia

By Jeff Hemphill - NDP Intern 2016 Jun.
From countless days being spent on the water fishing to the sun soaked days drinking cold beer on the white sand beaches of Florida, I have grown a strong passion for marine wildlife and the environment in which it inhabits. When I arrived at university I seemingly ignored this passion and began my path to engineering, because of course that’s where all the money is. Soon after I realized I had gone the wrong direction and switched over to something a little more comfortable in Environmental Science. This door opened up a world of opportunities and I began looking into internships to further my path and see where it could take me. Towards the end of 2015 I happened to come across a few opportunities on a conservation website and figured I’d go ahead and see if I could land one. The Namibian Dolphin Project happened to email me back with a return email saying that they’d love to have me join their cetacean research team. This kind of threw me off though. My ignorance of Africa immediately kicked in and I became utterly confused as to where in the world I had just applied to go. After a few months of preparation, excitement, and 48 hours of flying I found myself landing in the middle of an African desert to be filed into a hut of an airport. The thoughts started popping into my head of what in the heck did I just get myself into?

Soon after getting settled into the cottage I realized my ideology of Africa was completely wrong. The views from the back porch were of a beautiful lagoon teeming with wildlife. The only thing that really puzzled me was the weather. Was I in Walvis Bay, Namibia? Or Seattle, Washington? Thank goodness I brought my winter clothes (basically every jacket I own). The first week we unfortunately couldn’t get on the water due to the high winds and misty mornings, but soon after being trained and getting some formal background we were finally able to get some good research in. Boat days consisted of early, cold mornings waiting or the mist to clear, but once it did we got to see some amazing things.

My first boat day I was absolutely amazed with the high jumping Heaviside’s Dolphins. We just happened to catch them at a time when they were full of energy and doing some awesome tricks (not so easy to photo ID). A few boat days had gone by and they kept promising that bottlenose would be around soon, but I seemed to be having no luck. Until my first encounter came about. This happened to be another extremely impressive day where the bottlenose were very energetic and fortunately not only did I get some good photo ID, but also got some really cool jumping pictures. These guys were not like the smaller cousins in the Florida panhandle. They were huge! I was blown away by the size of them, especially when they would jump right next to the boat.

From this internship I gained a lot of very useful knowledge and research experience. The team members here taught me the basic techniques of photo identification, some in depth acoustics data interpretation, as well as some boat and life skills. A huge thanks to everyone for being patient and very helpful with us interns and giving us some ground to get our careers under our feet!   

Jeff taking some photos of dolphins in Namibia

A wonderful unexpected journey

By Simone Fick

Travelling to Namibia I had no idea what was in store for me. Even though it’s not so far from home, I had never been there, so it was going to be a whole new experience. When you hear about Namibia, you think desert, lots of sand and hot days, but I was greeted with so much more! Misty mornings and the Moon landscape, Sossusvlei with canyons, Naukluft Nature reserve with waterfalls and green mountain trails, and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of everything this beautiful country has to offer. One other big thing that made this journey amazing was the people in the community and the project. I travel around a lot and constantly meet new people and the small communities always amaze me. Almost everyone is friendly and willing to help which really contributes to your experience, whether it be canoeing with seals, driving through the dunes, joining the wildlife cruises to collect data tour boats and travelling on a glassy ocean while working.

Even though I’ve worked previously on projects with marine mammals, there’s always something new to learn. If it’s your first project and you’re lucky enough to do it with the Namibian DolphinProject, I would say it’s an excellent choice. They teach you the valuable skills used in the industry and it definitely is a life changing experience. Early, misty morning starts for boat launches to find the Heaviside’s and Bottlenose dolphins, collecting photo-ID and behavioural data, the odd penguin or Mola mola showing itself now and again, seals providing entertainment every day and if you’re in the right season, whales! You come to love photo ID matching and to see how individuals change over the years. You might have to save a seal or dolphin now and again, where you can feel the difference you make by saving that animals life! All this research makes a difference to animals and nature, and you can be a part of it. Again, these are just a few of the many wonderful things you can learn, skills you build up and life changing experiences you get from joining the project.

I can honestly say it was an unexpected wonderful journey, made possible by people with the same love for animals and science. Some of the team members I only know from friendly emails and then Barry, the only Irish I know in Walvis Bay, who showed me all they do and how to do it, thank you for the skills and memories. I hope to work with this Project in the future again.