Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The party is over - the fat lad was singing !

It seems that most of the humpbacks have left the sheltered waters around Baia de Sal Rei which has been our main hunting ground the last few weeks.  After a day off ashore on Sunday we had no sightings yesterday (Monday) or today (Tuesday), and no sightings from the whalewatching boats either.  Today we went back to Santa Monica Bay to the south and although there were no sightings we did record a singer ! He (presumably a male) stopped singing after 3-4 minutes but did not surface near us and was never seen, or heard, again.

Darren and Pedrin
So many thanks to José, Juan and Natura but especially Pedro López-Suárez, our host who has looked after us so well. Another successful campaign, especially by Conor and Darren who put the time and effort in and justly got there deserves.  As the humpback whales head north to Iceland, Norway (and maybe Ireland !!) we wonder what will wait them in Cape Verde on there return.  Tourism development is still developing fast, with the hotel at Lacacao (below) now open since I was here last year and a huge 5 star hotel starting to be built at Santa Monica with 2,000 beds !!

We hope the people of Boavista and Cape Verde can make room for the humpback whales and other magnificent and often unique wildlife in the Cape Verde Islands and provide a 5 star wildlife watching experience to visitors to Cape Verde so many can experience the amazing spectacles we have witnessed during our research.
Humpback waving goodbye !!!

Simon Berrow

Friday, May 11, 2012

Breaching Manta Ray - whatever next !

The weather was pretty good and we battered up north of Ponto do Sol for a "furthest north". At one point I thought I saw the mountains of Sao Nicolau in the distance but it must have been the swell.  We made good progress to a breaching whale which was also pec slapping and when we arrived found two adult whales.  They gave us the run around but eventually we obtained good dorsal fin images and one fluke shot. The fluking whale was well known but had a reputation of being evasive and the second whale was a new one but both were candidates for biopsy sampling. Unfortunately as we tried to get close enough we never managed to get samples despite some hopeful long distance shots.  Good news is the crossbow worked after our home-made fix yesterday.  
The fixed crossbow with foot strap cut and fashioned into two braces
In the afternoon we located the same two whales again but they had two whalewatching vessels with them and we still very evasive having been harrassed for hours at this stage.  One more distant blow in the afternoon but no sightings, images or biopsies.
Breaching Manta Ray (upside down) (Darren Craig)
In the morning we did have a lovely encounter with around 12-15 rough-toothed dolphin swhich seemed to follow the whales and Darren got an image of a breaching Manta Ray on its second breach - great shot Darren ! Maybe tommorrow we will have better luck with the whales - we need it !!

Simon Berrow

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The good, the bad and the broken.

There was another choppy day on the water had by all yesterday. It seems the whales show up when conditions are less than ideal. We got onto a single animal yesterday morning with regular down times but with quick surfacing. As we concurred that we had not sampled this animal before, we tried  following it closely. But unfortunately the whale got the better of us and sneaked away south.
Then, there was a breacher in the distance that we attempted to track. However, it also eluded us after the weather deteriorated to an even worse state. We were soaked head to toe by the time we started to head for port. It wasn’t all bad. On the way home, we were joined by approx. five rough tooted dolphins. A nice addition to the cetacean species list.
A better weather day today did not translate to better sightings/ biopsies. Only one whale was spotted and we had already biopsied ‘Pat the singer’ this year and last year. So we decided to leave the poor fella alone this time. A bit of a hic cup with the cross-bow this morning meant we had to come in early. After myself and Simon worked on it for the afternoon, we have mended it (hopefully!) and ready for action again. We took a trip out to give it a trial run, but of course there were no whales to test it on.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Happy Birthday Sally

Having missed a biopsy shot at a humpback whale yesterday, and suffering a sleepless night thinking about the miss, how, why and what can I do to improve my shooting, it was nice to get a second chance today !! Despite strong winds and a big swell (3-4m) we finally caught up with two adults and a calf off Ponto do Sol to the north of Sal Rei. We would never had found them if it wasn't for the calf breaching continuously over and over agan. It does seem the high seas brings out the aerial behaviour of humpback whales.

After mighty driving from Darren we finally got close enough for a biopsy attempt and got a skin sample from the escort which surfaced closer to the calf than the mother (as determined from a previous encounter with this mother-calf pair on 1 May).

Calf brreaching in the high seas off Ponto do Sol. Image by Pedrin
After this high sea chase we lost the whales but found two more adults at the southern end of Bais de sal Rei courtesy of a whalewatching boat. The whales also provided us with some huge breaches with belly slaps as well as the more usual back flips ! One of these whales was already sampled and was first photographed 20 years ago in 1992 off Norway during Project YONAH.  It was also recorded off Cape Verde last year (2011) but hads not been seen in the preceding 19 years - I guess it had been hiding away in Cape Verde all those years. we did not manage to get a sample of th esecond whale, which we think was the one I missed yesterday.  Ah well, there is always tommorrow !!
Adult whale demonstrating the art of a belly slap, ouch ! Image by Pedrin
This makes the total number of biopsies from Cape Verde this year to 21 from 19 new individuals. It takes my total from Cape Verde to 1; on my sisters birthday too (Happy Birthday Sally).

Simon Berrow

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Return to CVI

Despite wandering around Glasgow Airport for an hour last night looking for my hotel (wrote down reference number for booking but not the NAME of the hotel) I arrived sucessfully, and on time, to Boavista today.  Landed at 12:30 local time, cleared customs etc. at 13:30 and headed out to look for whales with Darren and Pedrin at 14:30.  Sea was as calm as I have seen it in Boavista - seastate 3-4 and very little swell but no whales seen, though the lads did see one blow this morning. So great to be back for my 4th time to Cape Verde searching for whales.  Humpbacks in CapeVerde do not give there secrets up easily so looking forward to long days at sea searching for whales to photograph and biopsy sample. Darren and Conor have already broken the back of this years fieldwork so I'm not under the same pressure they were but still have to show these young un's I still have something to contribute !!!

Simon Berrow

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Lucky Shot

Apologies for the lack of blog content over the past few days. I have been computerless since last week and therefore have temporarily lost touch with the outside world. Not much to report over Thursday and Friday as I was having some down time.
We were back at it today though. The weather has taken a turn for the better so we decided to seize the opportunity. We set out on a mission to get another biopsy sample, and we successfully obtained biopsy number 20 for this season.  It looked like it wasn’t going to work out with the two adults we were pursuing .But on the last attempt before we broke for lunch, Pedrin managed to hit the whale under the water, true skill.
A brand new species for our species list today.  A five meter manta ray was spotted at the surface about 10m away from our boat.
Humpback lounging with pec fins in the air.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chasing video footage.

Escort with calf rolling and mother rolling in the foreground.(Darren Craig)
There was a bit of a stormy patch on Monday so it was relaxing day off. Even though the forecast didn’t look great for Tuesday, we took a chance and it paid off. In the morning we set out to get some film footage for Ken O’Sullivans Sea Fever Productions. We stumbled onto a single animal who breached about 10 metres away from our boat. It was a bit of a surprise considering we were only speculating a faint blow in the area. Another two breaches and the animal was gone, very crafty.

 After getting a little tip from the whale watching boat, we got onto a mother and calf just west of the harbour entrance. We tried to get close to them but, alas, they were being evasive and soon darted off west (at least that where we think they went).

Following a spot of lunch, we set out from the harbour. Within about one and a half minutes we spotted a blow. This is great; the whales are starting to come to us now. We followed this mother, calf and escort south into Sal Rei Bay. The whales didn’t seem to bothered by our boat so we sneaked up on them and Ken slipped into the water to attempt some underwater footage. The pod stuck around the same area sub-surface for quite a while so there may have been a possibility of mating occurring. Or maybe they were just hugging, who knows?
Calf fluke. (Darren Craig

Lobtailing male. (Darren Craig)

This morning was another rough day on the water. We were lucky enough to see a couple of adults lob-tailing a number of times over approx. 30 minutes. It was difficult trying to get pictures and video footage as the weather was worsening and there was water splashing everywhere. We called it a day at lunch-time as the swell had picked up to 3 metres and the sea state was hitting a 5.

Upon our return to natura today, we were greeted by an adult red-billed tropic bird, in a cardboard box! Someone had saved the bird from being eaten and had dropped it into the office. We are off to the beach now to release it.