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  • Fadia Al Abbar

COVID: High or low tourism?

Updated: Jun 2, 2022

The first official field-work season was about to begin. It was April 2021, when we started preparing for the field-season. Collaborations between whale-watching companies were being confirmed and by the end of April we had our first field-work trip.

Huge research improvements

In 2020 I received the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds to cover my stipend for the 2020 field-season. This amount was enough to cover another field-season in 2021 from April-Mid-September 2021. This was a huge relief, so a massive THANK YOU to Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds for granting us this money. The Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds also allowed us to determine in the 2020 feasibility study, that the research was in fact feasible! So, in 2021 I officially started my PhD research with the supervisors Prof.dr. Frank van Langevelde, Dr. Geert Aarts and Dr, Fleur Visser along with local collaborators at the University of the Azores, Prof. Jose Manuel Azevedo and Dr. Laura Gonzalez Garcia. In addition, drone pilot Dr. Lorenzo Fiori who piloted the drone in 2020, taught me how to pilot the drone so that I could get started with it in 2021. In addition to the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, Lucie Burgers Foundation for Comparative Behavioral Research (MASSIVE THANK YOU) and a Crowdfunding (THANK YOU to all the donors!) allowed me to acquire funding for a full research season in 2021. In contrast to last season, 2020 where the season ran from July-October, we were able to fund a season from April-End of September 2021. So in May 2021 we were ready to improve our research design. We expected tourism to increase slightly from 2020, so we were able to determine common dolphins' behavior on swim-with-dolphin activities.

Drone photo: Drone perspective of what swimming with dolphins looks like in the Azores.

The boat overtakes the dolphins at great speeds, and then the boat moves in front of the group. Then the people go into the water, and they have the opportunity to see the dolphins underwater, if the dolphins don't change their swimming direction...

Msc. Students!

This year 2 Msc. Students joined our team! Azores delphis project is keen on collaborations and taking on students for internships and Msc. thesis projects. We want to give students the opportunity to learn techniques about marine mammals in the field, and to do their own independent projects. Contact us on our website, instagram, or Fadia Al Abbar directly on the university email for enquiries.

Our first member was Luana Clementino. She was studying at the University of Exeter and for her Msc. thesis she initiated the idea of bringing a towed hydrophone to tow behind our boat. Great idea! So with the equipment from Seiche Ltd. she brought the hydrophone in May. Her aim was to look at communication changes of common dolphins in response to tourism activities.

The second Msc. student was Anne Grundlehner, a very talented student in R programming, machine learning, and MATH! She was going to study the common dolphin group structures using the drone footage. She was studying at Wageningen University in the Netherlands and arrived in June to learn some field-work skills.


To get the students ready we did some fun training activities. We practiced catching the drone and estimating the distances, so that we could all determine when the drone was "too far away from us" when at sea. We also went on land to find dolphins with the binoculars that look-outs use. To learn how look-outs find dolphins from land, refer to the blog here.

We went through the protocols at sea, to determine environmental conditions at sea, what to do, when to do what, what individual tasks are on board. etc. We even had a lecture by Dr. Lorenzo Fiori about the behaviour of dolphins and how to interpret this.

We also went through the planning, how to read weather conditions, who to contact from the whale watching companies when we use their boats, when we need the key to enter the marina, when we need life jackets, who to contact, how to reach the skippers to drive the boat, when to call the look-outs.....

On the boat with Dr. Laura Gonzalez Garcia we tested all the equipment including the acoustics instruments. We had to find a way to easily attach the hydrophone to the boat without interfering with the engine. Skippers are incredibly good at making knots, so Renato Ferreirinha helped us tie the cable of the hydrophone and it was ready to go.

We managed to do all that!

COVID: low tourism, *poof* HIGH TOURISM

Even in the beginning of 2021, we had the advantage of COVID-19: tourism was low, meaning many tourist operators did not use all of their boats. So we were allowed to use their boats to do our research, as part of our collaboration with Terra Azul and Picos de Aventura. However, from one day to the next, around Mid-June, tourist season BOOMED and all of a sudden whale-watching companies were running in (almost) full capacity, meaning, we did not have a boat anymore that we could use......So the back up plan had to be put in place.......Stay tuned, in the part #2 season-update, we will tell you more!!

Ps. YES I was worried!

Author: Fadia Al Abbar

Funders and collaborators of 2021:


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