Welcome to the Marine Mammal and wildlife Research and Community Development Expedition blog where you can keep up to date with all the happenings and information from Kenya

Friday, May 1, 2009

An Epic Day Of Dolphins (And Turtles)

Keziah gives us the news from yesterday’s marine research:

I woke up 6am in Shimoni having been helping the day before with an adult teaching class, waiting to find out when the boat would come to pick me up at the jetty. With the rainy season, start times of marine surveys become a wee bit unpredictable - with one eye on the rain clouds you just have to wait for the opportunity! However, the sun was shining, there was no sign of rain and a phone call later I was jogging through Shimoni village to the boat.

We headed out towards Funzi Bay, across Nyuli Reef and to Upper Mpunguti Island when we had our first sighting of dolphins, something that has also become less predictable with the season. At first we thought there were eleven Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, but soon realised this was an underestimation. Ten on the port side, ten on the starboard side, we didn’t know quite where to look, excitedly swapping sides with a chorus of gasps and squeals from our team, and splashes and blows from the dolphins.

Several individuals were identified immediately, including one of my favourite pairs; Besty and her calf. I had the pleasure to be on the boat when we spotted Besty and her newborn calf for the first time, adorably small with the foetal folds still showing! Others including Twende and the yet to be named individual ‘063’ were also identified.

The group were at first travelling fast in a southerly direction, then their pace slowed, with a couple of individuals approaching the boat to bow ride. This enabled us to get good shots of the dorsal fins, which will be used for photo-identification in our mark-recapture study. Unfortunately we also noticed an adult and juvenile that appeared skinny compared to the rest, with their ribs visible. We hope this wasn’t a sign of illness in the population or lack of food in the area... After taking enough photos we left them to continue south to the open sea.

The dolphins had done us a service, leading us to the start of the snorkel transect our survey leader had selected for the day, by Kisite Island... and it turned out to be the perfect day to pick this transect! As we climbed out of the water to board the boat post-survey, everyone’s face was an absolute picture: 3 hawksbill turtles, 5 green turtles and 1 moray eel! Ruth and I had the pleasure of watching one of the green turtles swim slowly to the surface, stop for a few seconds and then continue to raise its head out the water, beak open for a gasp of air. This was closely followed by us both surfacing and giggling hysterically with joy having witnessed a behaviour in full that we had only seen before from above the surface as a turtle’s head appear and disappear in a second!

With the weather being on our side, we decided to return towards Funzi Bay again, but the sea was just a little too rough, so we diverted in to Wasini channel. Within 5 minutes of turning the boat around there was a shout from Katalin at the front, “DOLPHIN”, followed quickly by “HUMPBACK DOLPHIN!”. We had to wait 10 minutes for the individual to reappear, a very large Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin that seemed curiously darker than usual. We put this down to the glare of the sun, and waited for what we thought was a lone individual to resurface. Then two individuals surfaced riding a wave, both smaller than the first. Several more minutes of waiting and we were shocked to see not only the three individuals from before, but another two adults and calf!

We continued to watch them for 20 minutes as they were feeding, coming up for several breaths before peduncle dives took them under for several minutes. After surfacing for the third time, in unison they formed a compact group, changed direction and headed south, crossing the channel towards Wasini Island. We were able to compare the colouration of the first individual and yes, he was distinctly darker, not something we had seen before. The mother of the calf had a deep scar around her neck, possibly from a fishing line. Only 2 weeks ago an individual was spotted with a huge chunk out the back of its dorsal fin, the shape suggestive of a boat propeller injury. Both these wounds emphasize the humpback dolphin’s vulnerability to fishing activities, boat traffic and marine debris around coast lines. But fortunately also a resilience to injury.

All in all it was quite an epic day for our research team and for me one of complete brilliance!



Nichola said...

Sounds like an awesome day, I wish I could have been there to see them all, and turtles as well - you were spoilt!

GVI Kenya said...

Hi Nichola, Kez definitely thought it was an awesome day and to be honest everyone who wasn't on the boat that day wishes they had been. The number of turtle sightings was something of a record... but it's there to be broken!