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.

Update from our volunteer vacation / conservation holiday protecting whales, dolphins and turtles around the Azores archipelago

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