Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

With wind from the east on Saturday, the swell was large. We all bundled up into our Buffs and waterproofs and braced ourselves for it. As we crashed through the waves we encountered our first pod of Risso’s dolphins with their distinctive beakless faces and white markings. Duncan, our reluctant photographer for the day, managed to capture an amazing photo of a Risso’s as it turned course towards the boat.

We then moved on to a pod of huge bachelor male sperm whales, and had a whopping 26 encounters with them! We identified six different individuals. It was really difficult to document them in the rough weather, but the team did an excellent job. We returned to port cold and wet, yet very satisfied. Well done everyone!

Sunday morning was spent at base camp learning how to make use of the software Lisa employs to catalogue and match the sperm whales. We then broke into teams and did data entry, brought all the spreadsheets up to date, and ran the matching software. Team 1 made five certain matches to previous years here in the Azores, and a sixth possible one.

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A ‘match’, by the way, is when we can show by comparing fluke photos that a whale has returned to the Azores (or indeed any other place where it may have been photographed around the world and where its fluke photos have been added to an international photo database). This kind of matching information is crucial to tracing whale migration routes, which is crucial for conservation efforts – you can only protect them effectively if you know where they are and move about. And we know very little about their movements, even in this day and age of total control and data grabbing. In a way it’s comforting to know that Big Brother NSA does not know everything – where a passenger jet has gone or where the whales go. We simply can’t just ask a satellite to provide the answers – how many sperm whales are left on the planet, for example. Good, old-fashioned manual labour on the ground is required for this – taking photos, tracking movements, spotting blows, etc. And this is where you, our participants, come in. Without the input of your time and money, this work would not get done. The Physeteer would not be leaving the harbour and Lisa would not be collecting data at this time of year. No pictures would get taken, no matches would be made, no conclusions drawn, no additional piece of the puzzle would be added to the big picture. So thank you for your input everyone!

The remainder of Sunday was free time. While Cil and Ryan went diving (brrr again!), the rest of the team bundled into a hired van to tour the island together.

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Wednesday we had good weather for our first full day at sea. The lookouts told us there were sperm whales to the north of Faial, and so that’s where we headed first thing. We stayed with 8 sperm whales at least half the day, cataloging at least 5 individual whales.

We then moved on to transect work, and were lucky enough to see a pod of striped dolphins doing their characteristic carousel thing. We got lucky and their course change brought them quite close to the Physeter, and we were able to see the wee ones flying through the air alongside the adults. Kasia got a great photo.

Thursday was a shore day; half the team went diving (brrrrr!) and saw octopus and moray eels for their pains, while the other half trekked around the rim of the caldeira, then free-wheeled down the mountain on bikes – great fun!

Today was an incredible day beginning with an hour-long encounter with a true leviathan – a blue whale! It graced us with its presence so close to the boat we could almost smell the blow. It was quite the surprise to have him surface only twenty meters away.

The afternoon was spent surrounded by sperm whales. Spaced quite far apart, we stayed with a set of whales until they showed us their flukes, and then race off to the next group. Cil captured a great double fluke. In all, seven obligingly showed us their flukes and we’ve got them in the North Atlantic sperm whale catalogue now. Lisa, our scientist, was very pleased!

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Team 1 has arrived, and yesterday was our first day at sea. We were quite successful even though the first day is only a half day. We caught and tagged two loggerhead turtles – a wee one and a larger one. Scientist Lisa obviously has had a great deal of practice netting these fellows, because they both were already diving before we could get close.

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We also saw a sperm whale, a fin whale, scores of common dolphins and met the resident troupe of bottlenose dolphins. The sea was relatively calm yesterday, yet the overcast light conditions made spotting blows and spotting floating sperm whales quite difficult. We knew where the sperm whales were, and even put the hydrophone in the water to confirm it, yet somehow they eluded us. We heard at least four of them clicking away quite loudly, and yet we never saw them despite our intensive searching.

A great start, and the seas today are predicted to be the same as yesterday, so we’re off to the Physeter to catalouge whatever animals show themselves to us today.

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Greetings from Banana Manor, our base in Horta. Lisa, Catherine and I (left, right, centre) have been very busy preparing for your arrival. Base is now all set up, and we are eager to greet the first team on Monday.

Girl power (left to right: Lisa Steiner, Alisa Clickenger, Catherine Edsell)

Girl power (left to right: Lisa Steiner, Alisa Clickenger, Catherine Edsell)

You can start arriving at Banana Manor after 13:00 on start day. Training begins promptly at 14:00 so please be on time as there is a lot of information to take in during the first 24 hours of the expedition slot. (Please do not arrive at Banana Manor before 13:00 as you are likely to find it empty or in the process of being cleaned with no room for you to put yourself or your belongings in.)

Lisa, Catherine and I will be at Peter’s Café at 11:30 on Monday morning, so if anyone would like to join us we’d be happy to see you. This is an informal pre-expedition lunch and is self-pay, but since we are eager to meet you and we have to eat too, we’ll socialize there and then walk back to Banana Manor. We’ve organised luggage transportation from Peter’s to base camp, so feel free to come to Peter’s straight from your flight or other hotel if you’ve already been on the island and you won’t have to worry about rolling your luggage a couple of kms to base. Walkers get Alisa’s 2 cent tour of downtown Horta.

If we don’t see you at Peter’s, then we’ll meet you at the official meeting time between 13.00 and 14.00 at Banana Manor. Expedition briefing will start promptly at 14:00.

It’s not a cushy holiday, but if you’re still packing your things, it might be a good idea to bring some cushy house slippers. They’re not official expedition kit list, but they might make base camp life more comfortable since Banana Manor is a stone and tile building. If your slippers are in the shape of cetaceans, you’ll get a star for the day ;)

I hope you all have good journeys and if you need to contact me before we meet, I confirm that my Portuguese mobile number is xxx. Please call me if you are going to miss the assembly meeting at Banana Manor. I am eager to meet you all!

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Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/azores)

Hello everyone

Alisa Clickenger here. I’ll be your expedition leader in the Azores this year. I love working in the Azores because our scientist Lisa Steiner (we like to see if you are paying attention using our given names Alisa and Lisa) is great to work with. You won’t find anyone more passionate about whales than she is, and she has the best “eyes” on the ocean for spotting cetaceans. I learn so much from her every year. There’s a video of Lisa below

I’m finishing up some things here in the States (mainly a visit with mum) and then I will arrive a few days before you volunteers in order to set up the expedition headquarters. We’ll have Catherine, Craig and Sue as expedition-leaders-in-training (see www.biosphere-eexeditions.org/about for their details) along with us on each slot (and in that order), and we’re fortunate for that. I’ll send around another message once I get on the ground in Horta and confirm my local mobile telephone number. It should be xxxxxx, but I’ll confirm it’s working when I get it out of storage on arrival. Please remember this is only for emergency use such as missing assembly.

Ah, yes, mobile phones. There’s reception on Faial in addition to internet here and there, but we won’t be using cell phones while we’re at sea, so I invite you all to tell everyone you are off the grid for the expedition, leave your devices at home, and soak up all this expedition experience has to offer. I’ve recently become addicted to backgammon, so if anyone has a game they’d like to bring along…

I know you’ve all been eagerly reading your expedition materials and know to bring many layers of clothing. Last year was freezing cold, and the year before that very warm. We’ll see what 2014 brings. I’ll mention now that every year we have someone arrive without waterproof pants, and they get very wet and cold and miserable, especially if they are stationed on the bow as a lookout and the weather is choppy. While you can purchase waterproofs in Horta, they are expensive on the island.

Lisa tells me that she’s already been whispering to the whales, and they are eager for your arrival. So am I. Lisa has posted some updates of cetacean activity on www.facebook.com/biosphere.expeditions1 and there is a welcome video by yours truly below, so you can meet me before you meet me, it you see what I mean.

Safe travels and see you in due course.

~Alisa

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Update from our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

Addendum:

Tomas has picked up our camera trap from Lake Blatna and this is what it showed….

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Update from our conservation holiday volunteering with lynx, wolves and wildcats in the Carpathian mountains of Slovakia (www.biosphere-expeditions.org/slovakia)

For 2014 the Slovakia expedition has come to an end. We have had a great time and it was sad to see slot two leave on the train to Bratislava on Saturday morning.

After heavy rain during the middle of last week, we were rewarded with fresh snow and sunshine on Thursday and Friday. No more bear sightings, but Jade was able to take a photo of a wild boar just crosssing the track – Tomas, the wildlife photographer, went green with envy :-)!

All in all we covered a very impressive total of 476 km of walked transects! Slot 1 covered 228 km and 41 cells, slot 2 covered 248 km and 61 cells. Over the two weeks we collected lots of different kinds of samples of wolf, lynx, bear and wildcat! Our phototrapping yielded good results too and we were able to reach, during this expedition, areas we have not been to before.

We would like to thank everyone for the genuine effort they have put in. Remember that without you, none of these data would be collected and no reports would get written up (we will let you know when the report is published in due course). You could have gone on a skiiing holiday or lazed around on the beach somewhere, but instead you chose to help Tomas and friends with his efforts – thank you for this.

Thank you also to our local friends and helpers Franitsek and others, as well as Swarovski Optik and Land Rover Austria for their support of the expedition. It is great to have all of us pulling together in support of nature and wildlife in this beautiful part of Europe.

See you next year or somewhere else on expediton!

Peter with Astrid, Milos, Tomas

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