IFAW finding a way to conduct whale research
After weeks of increasingly frenzied activity, boat maintenance, construction and testing of hydrophones, R/V Song of the Whale (SOTW) set sail from Ipswich on Thursday 23rd May.
We are currently a crew of seven, bound for Corsica: skipper Brian, engineer Mat, mate Edd, deck hand Nicola, scientists Anna, Luke and myself. My name is Conor Ryan, and I’ve recently joined the SOTW team. I come from Cork, Ireland and recently finished my PhD in Galway on baleen whales in the Celtic Sea.
So far on our passage we have been treated to sightings of a single harbour porpoise and a grey seal (off Felixstowe docks) and a pod of 9-12 bottlenose dolphins (to the north of the Channel Islands). Also, Anna recorded a harbour porpoise acoustic detection on the hydrophone in the approaches to the busy shipping channel in the Straits of Dover.
For the first few days we have been settling into our 24 hour routine of navigating, monitoring the hydrophone and carrying out domestic tasks including taking turns cooking.
En route to the Mediterranean, we will investigate some deep-water canyons off Portugal, which may be prime habitat for beaked whales, before passing through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean and on to Corsica for a crew change.
The primary aim this summer is to cover some poorly surveyed waters of the Eastern Mediterranean, including the Aegean Sea in search of elusive harbour porpoises and sperm whales in particular, then on to the Levantine Basin and Egyptian waters for cetacean surveys in waters that have never been previously studied.
We will also be collecting noise and vessel traffic data which will be used in an effort to reduce the effects of ship-noise on cetaceans, and to contribute to efforts to reduce ship-strikes.
Luke who has just graduated from St Andrew’s University in Scotland is volunteering with the SOTW team, and is hoping to have a chance to trial a new technique for collecting blow samples using a remote-controlled helicopter in order to investigate hormone levels in large whales, which can be used to determine pregnancy and stress levels.
But for now we push on through the cold grey English Channel in the hopes of hearing and seeing more cetaceans (and less rubbish!) in the coming days.