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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

GVI Up close with humpback whales!

Today started like any other day on marine however this was no ordinary day.

The research crew were Shafii (our Captain), Jon, Rachel, Luke, Sophie, Jo and Siri. We left base at 7:30am, carried all the gear onto Squirrel (our transporting boat), and hopped onto Barden (our research boat), which was anchored offshore.

Within a matter of minutes, Captain Shafii found the groove in his seat, we all took our positions and we set off from Wasini Island for another day of GVI marine research! Sophie and Jo were frolicking about, Rachel was busy admiring Jon’s tan, and Luke and Siri were struggling to stand while the waves crashed into the front of the boat.

The morning continued with us heading out into deep water to hopefully spot some bottlenose dolphin groups, but unfortunately had no luck. Undeterred the team continued on into the marine park, towards transect 7 which we planned to snorkel for a reef fish and mega fauna survey. We were inside the marine park and the clock was about to tick over to 10am, when Rachel curiously mentioned that she had spotted a large splash about 300 metres away. Our ears pricked up instantly, so we slowed the boat down and all had a look to make sure Rachel wasn’t letting us on. There were a lot of white caps breaking in the distance which made distinguishing splashes or anything surfacing out of the water quite difficult. We would come to learn that Rachel actually has super human eye sight! With nothing in sight the decision was made to continue on in hope to see a dolphin soon. The four spotters at the front of the boat were desperately trying to scan the open sea, when Jon suddenly yelled “I think I saw a whale”?

The crew on lookout for whales.

This got everyone’s attention and even had eagle eye Shafii on the case. The air then filled with the sound of raw excitement and energy as we watched in amazement as a humpback whale surfaced in front of us. It was only a glimpse and we wanted more. The whale dived and we waited patiently which felt like an eternity but in reality was only about 10 minutes. We thought we had lost them, hoping desperately, however she surfaced again this time with a calf at her side. The privilege of enjoying their company, and hearing them breathing as they surfaced was unforgettable and a pleasure to watch for a whole hour! We still managed to record the necessary data, GPS, and behaviour and we were given a farewell by the mother as she surfaced one last time lifting her tail fluke in the air and waved us goodbye. But wait, there’s more.

The mother humback surfacing about 40m from our boat.

The day continued on and we reached transect 7 but unfortunately no turtle sightings although we managed to get a good collection of reef fish data for the day. Due to the long whale sighting we ran out of time to do a second turtle transect so starting making our way back to base. We were about 30 minutes into our journey back home and were near Kisite Island when we spotted the whales again for a second time! Two whale sightings in a day I can’t be serious can I? Yes I can!

This time, they were very close and at one point were surfacing about 40 meters from us. Jon decided to put the underwater camera to good use to try and capture some footage from a different angle. Now comes the best part of the day. Although humpback whales are known for being active at the surface, the calf was in a particularly playful mood and breached out of the water in all its’ glory and came crashing back down into the water! The first time completely took us all by surprise, but not to worry, our cameras were now ready and willing just in case it happened again. Fortunately it breached about a dozen more times after that leaping out of the water as we watched in awe.

Calf breaching out of the water!

It was truly a sight to be seen. To top it off, a pod of three dolphins travelled in between us and the humpback whales surfacing five meters from the boat. They must have thought it would be nice to tease us all as they passed by. The excitement was too much for some and we all couldn’t believe what we were witnessing, AWESOME!

Calf leaping out again!

We collected all the necessary data once again and enjoyed their company for another hour, eventually losing sight of them. Afterwards it was back to base with the journey involving lots of smiles and reflecting on what was a remarkable day on marine, and one that will be remembered for many years to come.

Luke and the GVI Team.