Latest News From the Song of the Whale - 7.24.07

Tuesday 24th July 2007
Written by Evelyn

The day starts with an early morning swim from the boat as the temperatures start to soar from sunrise. We take off east and the zodiac is deployed for Magnus, Harun and Zafer to investigate some caves along the coast. There are many beaches and a few resorts in this area so there are not many suitable caves for monk seals. Following a 30  minute lunch break, there is a team change and Tim, Volkan and Ezgi take off to survey the next section of coastline. Towards early afternoon we approach Kemer which is the eastern limit of this particular survey and there again we have another team change and Richard, Harun and Zafer explore some large caves just ahead of the town. This is a really busy spot and a steady stream of gulets pass by heading east.

Image_6764_2Having completed this part of the survey we backtrack towards Cirali Limani, a beautiful anchorage we passed earlier. This area is famous for the Chimaera or the eternal flame of Mt Olympus so after dropping the anchor and a very welcome swim, some of us headed ashore to trek up the hillside to observe this phenomenon. Following a bit of a strenuous climb in the heat we were well rewarded with the views of the Chimaera at dusk. Clusters of flames covered the hillside. According to legend, Chimaera is a mythical monster, part lion, part goat and part dragon which inhabits the hills. Chimaera was the son of Typhon was killed by Bellerophon under orders from the King of Lycia. Bellerophon killed him by mounting Pegasus and pouring molten lead into Chimaera's mouth.

Mt. Olympus with a fire in the foreground seen at right.

Wednesday 25th July 2007
Written by Tim

First thing in the morning I pick up Magnus and Zafer from the beach. They’d gone ashore very early - Magnus to trek up to the Chimaera as he’d had to stay on the boat the previous evening, and Zafer to photograph the ruins. The morning light revealed what a beautiful anchorage this was with views up the gorge to the ruins of the ancient Lycian city of Olympus scattered between the rock pinnacles and trees - a vision of arcadia.

Once onboard we weighed anchor and started on the passage west back to the Gulf of Fethiye where there remained a stretch of coast to survey. We’d left this until last as it was more accessible than the rest of the coast so if we had not had time to survey it during this trip due to weather it could be more easily surveyed at another time than the more remote stretches of the coast. On the way back we again passed close to the island of Devecitasi and again the small group of bottlenose dolphins joined us and bowrode for a while.

In the afternoon the sea was like glass, and we were able spot a couple of small groups of dolphins and quite a few Cory’s shearwaters either skimming the sea surface or rafted up in groups. With the sun setting we nosed into a small bay among the “seven capes” to the west of Patara and after a cooling swim settled down to supper under a bright moon.

Thursday 26th July 2007
Written by Tim

Image_6765The next morning we set out to cover the last few miles to the survey area to the west of the Gulf of Fethiye. As we cut across some deep water a few miles offshore Magnus spots the distinctive blow of a sperm whale not too far away. We have enough time to get  to the animal and photograph the right hand side of its back and dorsal fin before dropping behind it to catch the tail as it dives steeply with flukes raised high. A quick look at the photographs show some distinguishing marks on the fluke and a lump on the peduncle. We were very lucky to spot the animal in the first place and even luckier to have enough time to photograph it successfully before it dived. Our hydrophones are stowed on deck for this project so we would have been unable to track the animal acoustically should we have needed another go at photographing it.

We eventually reach the survey area and start the search at a cave with a submerged entrance, so Magnus, Zafer, Volcan and Ezgi explore the cave by diving - eventually emerging from a different entrance some 100 m along the coast. Once all the gear is stowed we continue with the survey from the Zodiac - the coast here is very beautiful, with isolated beaches, hidden inlets and woods coming down to the shore. Cedar trees overhang the low cliff tops and caves. During the survey we note a particularly good anchor spot and return to it at dusk. As the sun sets we drop anchor in a steep sided gully and run three lines ashore to fix the boat in position for the night.

Friday 27th July 2007
Written by Tim

A few of us swim the short distance ashore in the morning and find some fig trees behind the beach heavily laden (above goat height) with ripe figs – great for breakfast. On the way back we release our mooring lines from the cliffs and we are off again - the final day of the survey. We are heading back to Port Göçek, but there are a couple of caves on the way that need further exploration and mapping. I run Harun and Zafer out to the cave entrances and they snorkel off into the dark to map their interiors while I bob around outside. Meanwhile on SOTW further offshore they are busy taking down the Genoa and staysails from the furling gear and stowing these for the lay-over in Port Göçek. We eventually all meet up and motor the last few miles into port. In port we make a start on long list of jobs that need doing before the boat can be left, starting with making a copy of all our data and photographs to give to Harun and Zafer before they leave.

We are all extremely pleased with the results of the survey. We were incredibly lucky with the calm weather which meant we were able to survey all the coastline we had hoped to and more, and we had been able to survey it much more comprehensibly than if there had been any kind of sea. The survey allowed us to pinpoint the entrances of all potential breeding and resting caves – encouragingly more than had been anticipated – and make plans of their interiors and document important features like presence of beach, a rock-protected entrance, underwater entrance, etc. Now identified the best potential breeding caves will be monitored during the pupping season and plans will be drawn up to protect caves where man is a regular, and potentially disturbing, visitor.

For all of us the highlight of the project was seeing this incredibly endangered species in the wild. We knew that seeing one animal was extremely unlikely but to be able to see two males close together swimming around apparently unperturbed by our presence was very special. We are told that this is the first time that two adult monk seals have been photographed together along the Turkish coast – and indication of their rarity.

SOTW will now stay in Turkey for the month of August while the team take a short break from field work. Look out for our diaries that will start again at the beginning of September....

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