Latest News From the Song of the Whale - 6.20.07
Song of the Whale. a global ambassador for IFAW's whale conservation campaigns, is a state of-the-art education and research vessel. Designed to provide a flexible working platform for whale research, public education and advocacy, the Song of the Whale team carries out studies of threatened and endangered marine mammals and their habitats, educates students, trains scientists and develops and disseminates non-invasive research techniques around the world.
This digest of recent Song of the Whale activity was written by various crew memebers...and we've added a short video report to this update as well!
Thursday 14th June 2007
Written by Andrew
We headed north towards Turkey under an amazingly starry night sky. A few boats were spotted and we were forced to turn starboard briefly to dodge one. At 02.35 local time we went off track and made a passage to the start of a new trackline, taking us south again. A second encounter with fishing gear required some hardy souls (not me, I was thankfully asleep!) to enter the water to free us again. As far as sightings were concerned, it was an uneventful day. Evelyn spotted an unidentified turtle, and we saw the splash of what we thought might be a breaching striped dolphin a fair way off. An early evening oil check and swim was followed by dinner courtesy of Joe.
Friday 15th June 2007
Written by Magnus
We’re still heading south on one of the longer legs, 167M. Unfortunately it has been an uneventful one. In the morning we reach the southernmost point which is where the Exclusive Economic Zones(EEZ) of Egypt and Cyprus meet. In the Mediterranean there is some dispute about the surrounding countries EEZ’s. Normally an EEZ goes 200M out from the country’s coast but in the Mediterranean there is not enough room for that. As we turn north towards Cyprus and to the way point by Turkey’s coast, the wind picks up and we are able to sail again. In the evening we celebrate Matt’s birthday and he looks quite spiffy with his fake designer vest and pink sunglasses!
Saturday 16th June 2007
Written by Hildur
We’re on track towards the Turkish coast. The wind dies in the middle of the night so we motor for almost the whole day. At about 09:30 beaked whales are spotted. We break from the track and head south to look for them but it seems we saw the last dive before they went further because we wait for about hour and a half without success. We have strayed a little off track so we join it again and continue towards Turkey where we plan to anchor, check the oil and take a little break.
At 16:30 we anchor in Kizillman Burna, a small bay. Magnus decides the bay is too small and windy for an oil change. Everyone welcomes the break and we swim around and snorkel. Before leaving Matt makes a delicious dinner for us. At 20:20 we leave the anchorage and make passage to the track line leading south to Cyprus.
Sunday 17th June 2007
Written by Tim
Early Sunday morning finds us back on track surveying from Turkey south towards Cyprus on what turns out to be an exciting day. The wind is favourable but is up and down making for constant sail trimming. As our track line cuts through Cyprus we have to skirt the island via the W coast to pick it up again off the S coast. As we pass the NW tip of the island we hear dolphins and soon after a number are seen approaching the bow. Glimpses of the animals show they are not the expected striped dolphins nor common nor Risso’s. We switch on the high-frequency recording equipment (capable of recording sounds up to 96 kHz – human ears can hear up to about 18 kHz) and head for the bow with cameras. Unfortunately the animals don’t bow ride for very long - they leave and are quickly replaced (or perhaps displaced) by a group of exuberant striped dolphins. What is remarkable about the striped dolphins is the number of remoras they are carrying (fish attached to the dolphins by suckers which feed on parasites on the dolphins and on passing food). Some animals carry two, or perhaps more, large fish ranging in colour from white to grey. The remoras are seen adjusting their positions as the dolphins speed through the water, sometimes changing from one side of the dolphin to the other.
After checking the photos and scattering guidebooks about the deck it becomes obvious that the dolphins we initially saw were Steno bredanensis, also known as rough-toothed dolphins. We didn’t get clear views of the heads, which if seen are quite distinctive (rather reptilian looking mouth and jaw), but photos of their backs showed a clear dark blotchy “cape” narrowing in front of the dorsal fin to form a dark hourglass shape when seen from above. This is an enigmatic species and rare in the Mediterranean (ACCOBAMS classification is that “no viable populations are known to live in the Mediterranean”), and apart from a few sightings off Israel this is the eastern most sighting of this species (we made one of the few other recorded sightings of this animal in the Mediterranean whilst surveying off the heel of Italy in 2003).
Later in the day as we are passing the SW of Cyprus, we hear whistles and very sharp high-pitched clicks and soon after catch glimpses of a dark animal, larger than a dolphin, perhaps the size of a pilot whale. This is obviously an unusual species so we break from our passage and return to where it was last seen. Luckily for us the animal seems curious and repeatedly approaches the boat, getting closer each time until it is swimming alongside and under the hull. It is joined by a second animal and acoustics show that a third is in the area too. These animals turn out to be Pseudorca crassidens or false killer whales – again a rare species for the Mediterranean (again the ACCOBAMS classification for this species is that “no viable populations are known to live in the Mediterranean” – and previous sightings are considered to be vagrants from the Atlantic or from the Indian ocean via the Suez Canal). It is certainly a species which I had not seen before. After reading that on occasions they have been seen attacking other whales (including sperm whales) Magnus postpones plans for an oil check and swim until later (and then only when nothing can be heard on the hydrophones and yours truly is on lookout in the A frame… a purely selfless act you understand). After a quick stop at dusk for the postponed oil check and swim we start on the long continuation of our survey track S towards Egypt.