From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/sumatra)

All staff are now in Pekanbaru. On the picture they are from left to right Wishnu, Elma & Febri (from WWF) and Matthias and Anthony (from Biosphere Expeditions). Ronald is not behind the camera, because he’s ill in bed. Something from another expedition seems to have caught up with him, but he is now on the mend, we hope. Get well soon!

team

With Ronald on rest, rice, potatoes and water, the rest of the team organised the rest of the paperwork and shopping. No matter how early you arrive, there is always more to do, so we will be putting in long hours before the expedition starts on 3 May. Some fruits of our labours of interest to participants (such as the field manual, datasheets, the grid for the GPS units, etc.) are now on https://app.box.com/s/k3o7v6mlvpfeh84mx5gemaj1im0911zq. Have a look and study them now. As always, the more you know and the more you put in, the more you will get out of the expedition.

Some more admin stuff: Rubber boots are available locally only between sizes 42 and 38. If you need bigger or smaller sizes, please bring them with you. Sun cream is also not available locally (this is clearly not a tourist place and in fact we have not seen a foreign face all week).

The weather has been a very constant 32 – 35 deg C all week. It’s humid and there is the odd thunderstorm and rainfall. No need to pack your woolly jumpers 😉


From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday with tigers in Sumatra, Indonesia

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

Sunday was finally a sunny day with calm seas and almost no wind. The first time this week!

The lookout on Pico Island had spotted some blows of sperm whales in the south. So accompanied by a school of common dolphins, we headed out. Pico’s summit was cloudless and gave a beautiful background to the calm sea.

The sperm whales surprised us and kept us busy the whole day counting their blow rates, taking ID photographs of their flukes and milling around while waiting for them to resurface after their deep dives – up to 45 minutes.

Two beautiful loggerhead turtles were seen, but they dived away before we could even get close to catch them for tagging.

Finally Blue Monday and with it the last day of the expedition arrived. I am not about to break into the New Order classic but these two words perfectly summed up the.

The first whale of the day was blue, and so was the second, and then the third. By midday it was already a remarkable day. However, three fin whales, at least four sperms whales and three more…yes, three more blue whales followed. Six blues in one day…it was one hell of a finale to the expedition.

And the best was saved until last, as our very last sighting was a fluking blue whale. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the synchronised double fluking sperm whales earlier in the afternoon.

This was a fine reward for our team. Patience was tested over the last few days, with difficult sea conditions, challenging weather and sightings not always easy to come by!

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But today the whale gods smiled on us. After a tense first hour, the sightings just didn’t stop, all day. This is the great thing about expeditions; they will always test you and then reward you in ways you don’t expect.

So we ended as we started, with blue whales. Yes this is great data, but also a humbling experience. Sharing the same piece of ocean with the largest creature that has ever graced our planet, can’t fail to stir the emotions.

So huge thanks to both teams, our scientist, Lisa, my two assistant leaders (Anthony & Chris) and our skippers (Nuno & Gyro). It has been a great expedition and we look forward to doing it all again next year.

So long

Craig Turner
Expedition leader


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

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/sumatra)

Hello everyone, this is Anthony. Ronald and I made it to Pekanbaru safe and sound, and after a stopover at the WWF headquarters in the city, set off to the Subayang field base with Febri, our scientist and some other members of the team. The drive took us into the night and we eventually got to the end of the road in a small village on the Subayang River. The longboat journey took us into almost complete darkness, with only dim torch light from the driver as he approached the bends, and flashes of lightning in the distance silhouetting the silent grandeur of the rainforest. Once at Subayang base our camp helpers, who were eager to help us on shore, greeted us. We made our way up the path and saw the magnificent wooden building. We laid out our beds and mosquito nets in the large communal living room upstairs. The house is as much a part of nature than anywhere I could think of or have been before. When the generator falls silent, the rainforest you can hear the noise and excitement of the local inhabitants, from the high pitched din of the insects to the distant howls of the gibbons. It took a while, but eventually the room seemed to cool down and gradually everyone went off to sleep.

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There’s a week to go and plenty of work for us to perpare for your arrival on Sunday. Having spent the last few days here, I can say for myself that I need not have brought the extra pullovers as it’s so warm and humid, but am glad I’ve both my walking boots and rubber boots for the different terrains we’ve covered so far. We’re working hard to have everything ready for the arrival of group 1 and are looking forward to meeting you at the Tune Hotel (now actually called Red Planet Hotel) assembly point next Sunday at 08:00.

So as we prepare at this end, please can you do some more preparation too. In addition to studying the dossier, have a look at the “Methods & equipment” playlist. The bits that are relevant to the expedition are GPS, compass & map, Garmin etrex 20, PBLs, camera trapping, binoculars, Hennessy Hammock (for those of you wanting to use those), matchete use, and the methodology from the previous diary entry. Enjoy!


From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday with tigers in Sumatra, Indonesia

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

It may be the weekend but that is of no relevance to us. We have been back out to sea, and despite the seemingly ever present swell and winds, the team are happiest on the boat (mostly!).

Our main pursuit was tracking a couple of sperm whales, who periodically disappeared between the wave sets. Persistence does, however, pay off, and we were rewarded with a double fluke. Our other records of the day were common dolphins.

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Working on the Azores project gives you a new sense of perspective on your reality, when seeing a couple of sperm whales and some common dolphins seems like a below average day…maybe only in a data collection sense.

Our slightly earlier return to the harbour, did give the team a chance to leave their lasting mark on Horta – completing the Biosphere Expeditions harbour painting (started by the first group). It seems tradition that every boat crew coming in or out of this harbour leaves a painting to mark their presence, and every surface is covered by a range of talents!

With our art completed, it is back to the science on Sunday.


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

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

We have been reluctant land lubbers for the past three days but that routine has now been broken. Today we returned to the sea. The weather is not ideal – winds too strong and waves too high. This all makes sighting cetaceans harder than normal. Such are the joys of fieldwork!

With our movements restricted to the calmer waters of the channel between the islands of Pico and Faial, the sum of the reward for the day’s efforts was a few encounters with small groups of common dolphins.

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The conditions did also give us chance to enjoy some of the aerial acrobats, such as the Cory’s shearwaters, who are one of the targets for the bird surveys. Our feathered friends can get over-looked on ‘busier’ days, but they still form an important component of the surveys.

So a better than being stranded on land all day day. Birds + dolphins = data, which also means a happy team.

We’ll just have to try again tomorrow and hope our perseverance is rewarded.


 

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

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/sumatra)

Febri, Ronald and Anthony are now at Subayang base, setting things up for the start of our expedition.

Subayang base

Subayang base

Our young scientist Febri

is still working on the exact activities, but they should look something like this

We will be working in a jungle landscape,

using a grid method that will be very similar to what we are using on our snow leopard expedition in Tien Shan (as explained below).

The grid we will be using is this

and the more you know about this methodology, the better, so have a look at the manual for it. That folder also contains the .gtm file for Sumatra. If you are a tech person, then you can upload the file to your GPS using freeware TrackMaker and then use your own GPS on site, if you would like to (we’ll supply GPS units too, of course).

Enough methodology for now. Let’s see what tales Ronald and Anthony will bring from the ground in a day or so….


 

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday with tigers in Sumatra, Indonesia

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

Bad weather has stopped play. High winds, rain and large waves have temporarily halted our progress on the water.

Consequently, Tuesday presented the opportunity for most of the team to explore Horta and Faial – by foot, bike, moped and car! On Wednesday, the team were back at the scientific ‘coal face’ sorting data, organising photographs and matching images.

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The great news is we have ‘matches’. At least four (possibly five) matches of sperm whales, identified from their fluke images taken by slot 1 on the 14th April this year. These individuals were previously recorded on multiple occasions as far back as 2004, when Biosphere Expeditions first worked in the Azores. It is great when all the hard work pays off and you can link the data points collected between the different expeditions.

So whilst we would have preferred to celebrate Earth Day out on the water, documenting new encounters with false killer whales, bottlenose dolphins and sperm whales, the team were able to join some data dots and complete another piece of the cetacean puzzle.

Our only whale of the day came in the form of a birthday cake for John – Happy Birthday.


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

From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday in Indonesia (http://www.biosphere-expeditions.org/sumatra)

The time has come for our Sumatra tiger expedition. After many years of discussions and many months of preparation, Ronald, your expedition leader for groups 1 – 3, has left Europe and is now en route to Pekanbaru. With him is Anthony, who will be there for group 1 and then groups 4 – 6. A few days behind them is Dr. Matthias Hammer, our founder and Executive Director. Waiting in Pekanbaru is Febri Anggriawan Widodo, our scientist from local partner WWF Indonesia. And in the field is the Batu Dingding community, who will host us at Subayang research station, and, hidden in the jungle somewhere for us to track, photograph and find out about as much as we can, is Panthera tigris.

Thank you to all of you for wanting to help with the tiger’s plight. A plight it is indeed, especially on Sumatra, and the more help we have, the more awareness we can generate and the more incentives for local people we can create, the more likely we are to succeed. You could have gone to Dubai, or to Singapore, or spent a beach holiday somewhere, but instead you have chosen to sweat it out with us in the jungle, walk the trails, get your hands dirty and your feet wet, learn from each other and see what we can do. Thank you for that, even before we have started.

We hope your preparations are going well, especially the trailblazers of group 1, only a few days away from starting their journeys. We are sure you have all realised by now that you are joining a research expedition, not a tiger watching holiday. And before we have even set foot into the reserve, we will already have made a difference with the local community. But cut them some slack, please. It’s their first time with a big group of foreigners and Indonesia works differently to Europe or North America or the Antipodes. But just like at home, things will go wrong (but you can’t have your money back ;), take a long time or not happen as planned, or even not at all. It’s all part of the experience and you will certainly have a story to tell back home.

Anyway, Ronald will check in from Pekanbaru in a few days time, when he’s been to Subayang and back and found his feet locally. He will then also share his mobile number in case of any emergencies. Stay tuned. We’ll be back…


From our Sumatran tiger conservation volunteering holiday with tigers in Sumatra, Indonesia

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

Chris, Craig’s assistant for group 2, here this time:

Blue skies, calm sea…the second day seemed promising. Fears of churning stomachs were replaced with optimism as we took off in search of the cetaceans. The question is would they be more co-operative than on Sunday?

With no information from our lookouts, it looked like the flip of a coin would decide where to go. We headed to the south of Faial, where noone was looking. Some common dolphins made a good start, surfing our bow wave. Bob got the chance to do his job with the hydrophone, in the hope to hear some ‘metronomic clicking’, which would lead us to some sperm whales. Unfortunately these toothed whales were silent, but the dolphins were singing.

With wind from the southeast, we trailed west and suddenly the shout came: “Bloooowww”. Four fin whales travelling south of Faial were kind enough to show us some of their impressive white lower jaw, blow holes and dorsal fins – identification shots were bagged. Some bottlenose dolphins also gave us a fleeting encounter.

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The faint clicking of the hydrophone suggested the sperm whales were out there, but our efforts to find them were interrupted when we suddenly ran into a school of 150 striped dolphins, jumping and racing along. Not a common sight here; and all were happy to be the first Biosphere Expeditions group this year to encounter these beautiful animals.

A sperm whale finally revealed its location by breaching with a huge splash in the far distance. Our pursuit was thwarted by rougher seas, but not before being waved goodbye by a sperm whale’s fluke. Random sightings of these mammals are rare, so also capturing the photo ID was a bonus.

While closing our circle around the island of Faial we encountered another single fin whale passing to the north. As the wind strengthened, it was time to head for the harbour. The data scores were better than yesterday, with more encounters and species. Our only zero was on the turtle front – the first time the expedition has failed to record one this year.

More to come…


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

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

After a whistle-stop weekend of introductions, briefings and training sessions, our new team were probably not expecting fish food and ‘rock ‘n’ roll’, as they set foot onto the Physeter – our research vessel.

The whales were playing ‘hard to get’, and the dolphins were a ‘no show’ for whole afternoon at sea. We eventually tracked down two fin whales, whose constant diving made them even harder to locate in the rise and fall of the large swell. As the boat pitched, rocked and rolled, any romantic notions of cetacean watching in calm sun-kissed seas quickly evaporated from the minds of many – replaced with the nauseous reality.

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Momentary distraction and the highlight of the day came in the form of a captured loggerhead turtle. This sizeable specimen was tagged (in the hope of recording future movements), vital statistics taken and returned to its ocean home.

So a tough first day ’at the office’ with cetaceans hard to find, but the silver-lining was the first turtle tagging of this year’s expedition…and the fish also got fed (more than once)!

Expeditions are about taking the rough with the smooth, and hopefully we’ll get the latter soon…

In the meantime an article about our work on the Azores has appeared in a major Portuguese newspaper http://observador.pt/2015/04/19/vida-selvagem-mergulha-nos-acores/ and we hear that supremely dim Pippa Middleton reports having eaten whale meat http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/Pippa-Middleton-whale.html#cr….


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