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  • Fadia Al Abbar

All or nothing

The month of July was a month of extremes. As we experienced in May and June, the bad weather continued to challenge us. What, in "normal"years would be considered the most stable month weather wise, was quite the opposite this year: rough, cold, humid/wet, and unstable. This strange weather stayed until the 20th of July, when summer suddenly hit us out of nowhere.....

From almost no trips to everyday trips

The hot summery weather came with no wind and perfect sea conditions. We went from joining the land based team more frequently with unfavourable weather conditions for boat-based surveys, to a sudden heat wave and perfect weather conditions with boat-based surveys almost every day! With these beautiful flat (ocean) days, we went out to the land-based station in the early mornings (630am) in search of dolphins, we headed out with the boat upon sighting of common dolphins, and returned to land after filming them. During lunchtime we would download the data that was collected and we charged the batteries. Finally, we ended up going out again in the afternoon for a second trip if the weather still permitted this. This often resulted in late nights due to the logistics of trip planning for the next day, more battery charging, and data downloading/sorting before we would wake up at 5am again the next day. Try all that, 7 days in a row, with only 1 day off! We can't complain, it's been awesome.

Special guests

Do you remember our former Msc. student from last year Luana Clementino? She is now a graduate from the University of Exeter, marine bio-acoustician at WavEc, and is still involved as our acoustic project leader. She visited the island for a week! We had a good weather window and managed to take her out on a trip. The acoustic device that Luana arranged from Seiche is currently on the way, so you will hear more about this side of the project soon!

We also hosted an ocean cinematographer Kyle Roepke on board, who works together with our collaborator Martina Trepczyk; an artist, film director, and underwater filmmaker. They have both travelled the world making stunning underwater shots and sharing stories in documentaries about people who are saving our oceans. Check out Martina's and Kyle's instagram profiles! Also, check out Kyle's footage of the day he came out with us on the boat here, taken with some pretty nice gear, see camera in the photo.

The Land based team continues to shine

The land based team continued to impress us with their skills and enthusiasm, consistently finding whales and/or dolphins at 7am SHARP (that's less than 15 minutes of scanning/searching with binoculars). We also had new members strengthening the team on land and at sea! Pablo Varona, a naturalist/birder, wildlife photographer, and ornithologist, joined us for the whole month of July! (see photo below: first photo). Check out his photography on his instagram. In return for his help, we helped him with a documentary on the Priolo, which is an endemic bird (a type of bullfinch) on São Miguel, Azores, Portugal. We will share this once his documentary is published! Additionally, Oriol, our friend who went with us to the look-out last year, has returned to the island and also helped us save the day with common dolphins! (Picture below, second photo, and no, they are not looking at each other ;)).

We have said goodbye to Pablo, as well as our 2 Msc. students Anne Lodder and Maria Rosas, who will continue to write their master theses with the Azores delphis project data.

The land-based team has been such a success and of great value to the project, that we have decided to continue with the efforts on land. To take over their land-based tasks, we have new members who are working for MONICET for our co-founder Laura Gonzalez. Meet Lisa (photo above, lower right), Laura, and Paula (photo above, lower left), welcome to the team!

If you are interested in joining us on land, we could use all the help we can get! You can either contact us, or meet us directly at the land-based station on São Miguel, Azores, in Ponta Garça called "Vigia da Furada". Make sure you visit on a day that we are surveying!

The Sea team is also shining

So how are we doing at sea? Besides the many days in a row, we've been lucky to find common dolphins on every trip that we went out. The pods have been relatively small, and we have not been having many groups with calves and neonates. As massive pods of spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) have been covering the ocean these days, which is the most sighted migratory dolphin species this time of the year (+/- June-September), it was quite an achievement to find our species of interest!

We could not have done this without our students on land, and without the help of the look outs from Terra Azul and Picos de Aventura, as well as all the marine biologists who have been willing to notify us about what is going out at sea, so thank you all for this incredible help!!!!! We love you! The boat boat-based team has been doing great as well. Lorenzo Fiori and I are drone pilots with hundreds of flights logged and, till now, sharing the airspace has been incredibly smoothly. Furthermore, skipper Nuno Pimentel has driven boats for over 20 years and has also become a drone catching expert. So far, We managed to handle every single type of common dolphin pod/group, despite them being a very difficult species to study. They are often too fast to keep up with and split/merge a LOT. Luckily this species stays at the surface most of the time, and makes relatively short shallow dives, so we can still follow them with the drone even when they are underwater. Unfortunately, our eldest drone which we named Beluga had a bit too much of sea/mountain operations (read salt/dust!) and needed a gimbal replacement despite being fully serviced before we started this season. Once again, thanks to our collaboration with Terra Azul, we were able to borrow their drone and still continue with our set up! Thank you Tiago Batista for arranging this for us! Beluga is currently being shipped back to us by UPS and we expect to be using it again by the first week of August, fingers crossed.

An Ocean full of life

On one of our trips, whilst following a pod a common dolphins, we stumbled across this MASSIVE Mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus)! We turned off the engine hoping to do not disturb it, and the shark gained interest in the vessel (perhaps it thought we were a fishing vessel dropping fish discards?). It circled the boat and gave a good look at us with its massive black eye it before to dive back into the deep blue. This individual was about 2 meters in length! Isn't it a beauty?

On a much rougher day we saw a Sicklefin Devil Ray (Mobula Tarapacana). This is the best shot we got, as the sea was too rough

to get more than this glimpse of it. You can see the foam/bubbles shaped at the surface by the rough waves. We normally would have gotten a Photo ID shot for our collaborator Manta Catalogue Azores! But this individual disappeared too soon. Sorry Ana Filipa Sobral!

On the last 3 fieldwork days we stumbled across multiple Sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) that were most likely foraging. Their dives lasted long and their surfacing was random. Tons of birds were following the Sei whales, so it was a spectacular sight. The cherry on the cake was this lucky sighting on our way back from filming common dolphins, a Sei whale mother and calf slowly travelling South.

Fieldwork is funded by KNAW Ecologie

Author: Fadia Al Abbar


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