Song of the Whale - Day 1
It has been an adventurous few days, getting to the Canary Islands and meeting up with the team from Song of the Whale.
After work on Friday, we got an overnight flight to Dublin and waited about 8 hours and got a 4 hour flight to Tenerife in the Canary Islands. We met 3 of the members of the team at the airport, Claire, a program assistant from the U.K., Olly, a research scientist from the U.K., and Nienke, a new field assistant from the Netherlands. Together we took a cab to the harbour of Santa Cruz. After accidentally leaving our international cell phone in the cab during all the excitement (which we hope to get back when we return), we boarded the boat. On the boat that night, we met Richard, our skipper from the U.K., Mat, the engineer from the U.K., Magnus, our second skipper from Sweden, Niklas, field assistant, from Sweden, and Doug, a visiting research scientist from the U.K. After a delicious dinner that Niklas made for us (thereby setting the cooking bar very high), Richard gave us a quick safety briefing (which included how to use the toilets!) and we promptly fell into our beds while the boat set sail for El Hierro.
The next morning, still a little jetlagged and slightly seasick, we got
a more thorough training and were unfortunately quite useless. Luckily,
the research had not started yet and we were not going to arrive in El
Hierro until that night. We did, however, have our first marine life
sighting! We saw a loggerhead turtle swimming next to the boat and a
flying fish (it really did look like it was flying and not just
jumping!). Even better, we saw a few spotted dolphins. Around 7:00 p.m.
we arrived in El Hierro at a small fishing harbour. Because of Mayumi's
Spanish language skills, we were sent to scout out a restaurant where
we could eat vegetarian food. Side note: SOTW has a strict vegetarian
policy. On the way back to the boat, we ran into Mark and Natasha,
scientists working at a research station on El Hierro, who have
collaborated with Doug to develop the current SOTW project. After a
nice dinner outside overlooking the harbour, we came back to the boat
and fell asleep.
This morning, we were all awake by 6:30 so that we could meet at 7:00
to hear Doug and Olly's presentation on the Beaked Whale Acoustic
Research Project. We learned a little about beaked whales and why it
can be difficult to detect them both visually and acoustically. Beaked
whales are the deepest diving whales and spend very little time at the
surface. In addition, they use high frequency clicks at great depths to
find their prey and communicate and these clicks can be difficult to
detect even with a hydrophone. They are so hard to spot, that they are
sometimes referred to as unicorns. Also during this meeting, we learned
about the rota, or watch system. Each job on the boat is rotated every
hour among the 10 of us. Since we were feeling MUCH better today, we
were ready to work! We took our turns at watching for whales on the
A-frame viewing platform with binoculars, manning the helm, and
recording the sightings. We were working with Natasha and Mark at the
shore station, where they could call us with coordinates for the whales
they saw from the high powered survey equipment. We were lucky to
sight our own beaked whale from the boat - a Cuvier's beaked whale - as
well as some pilot whales and several dolphins. After a successful
first day at work on the project, we returned to the harbour in time
for a curry dish for dinner. We are looking forward to our second day
of research tomorrow.
Beth and Mayumi