Having a whale of a time in Mozambique!

7 September 2017

Marine Conservation & Humpback Whale Expedition, Mozambique - Latest News

July - September is humpback whale season in Mozambique, and this year has been a record for sitings of these amazing marine megafauna. At Tofo, hundreds of humpback whales aggregate every year to reproduce in the warmer waters.

This year, volunteers on our Humpback Whale Expedition and volunteers from our Marine Conservation & Research project have been focusing on the photo identification of as many individual whales as possible so individuals can be followed and monitored over the coming years.

Researchers and volunteers take photo-ID pictures of the unique pigmentation patterns on the side of the fluke and are building a database of individual whales. The researchers are also taking small samples of skin and blubber (known as biopsies), which are used for studies on genetics and pollutants. These biopsies can also be used to determine the age and sex of the animals, something which is not possible from visual observations from a boat. 

The goal this season is to take 60 biopsies by the end of September, and by the end of August, the project had reached 58!

A typical day for volunteers and the research team is to start by locating a group of whales and noting their position by GPS. The whales are observed from the boat and photo-ID pictures are taken. If the whales are resting, their songs are recorded using an underwater microphone - fun fact: only male humpback whales are known to sing. Once the whales have been photo-ID, a biopsy is attempted by the researcher.

Below are extracts from the volunteers’ diary of some of their days spent at sea.

19th July 2017

Today we biopsied our first humpback whale of the 2017 season!!!! Simple, right? Except your subject unpredictably breaches and you're aiming from a moving boat in high seas!

Enter Pierre, the resident cetacean vet, aka Marine Robin Hood. Just as the humpback breaches, Armando, our skipper, slides him into position and Pierre shoots a harmless arrow a foot below the dorsal hump to collect a 3cm sample of skin and blubber. The arrow bounces off the mammal, unfazed by the action above the surface, and the boat quickly circles back to snatch the floating arrow before it floats out of sight!

Why all the effort?? Collecting biopsies along with photo IDs of the flukes (tails!) helps to record population estimates, study interactions, record migrations, and monitor pollutants stored in blubber.

3hrs and 28km later, 1 biopsy! Only 50 more to go!

21st July 2017

Baby humpback whales playing under the drone, massive adults and babies cruising by the boat. Performing research on these incredible giants is truly amazing. We are lucky to have been joined by Pierre and his team to gain an initial understanding of these whales in Mozambican waters. Truly special for all of us volunteers.

24th July 2017

We found two surface active groups with spectacular displays and breaches. The first group was formed of 4 whales and one of them did a couple of full-spinning head breaches. The second group was composed of 6 whales and one of the whales made a couple of head breaches and tail breaches. No biopsies for today but 5 identified flukes.

17th August 2017

Yesterday we had an amazing encounter with a surface active group of 7 whales. They just stayed around our boat for 2 hours doing what they do best, competing for a female. We had one of the most incredible encounters and managed to get incredible drone footage. A very successful trip with lots of photo-ID shots and biopsy samples.

21st August 2017

Just out of Tofo bay we found a surface active group of 4 whales and managed to get some ID shots and 2 biopsies. Following them we came across a bigger group of 8 which kept us busy for the rest of the trip. In total we got 5 biopsy samples, which brings us to a total of 58 for this season. Mission almost accomplished. Keep posted for our 60 sample party!

28th August 2017

Yesterday we found a surface active group of about 8 males fighting for the right to escort a female. We then saw a mother and calf breaching together in perfect unison. They breached at least 5 times and the last breach was extremely close to our boat! We felt soooo lucky to see them!!! 

5th September 2017

An amazing day spent with a humpback mother, calf and escort. They came right past the volunteer group as we held our breath in awe! Click on the image to watch a short video showing how close they were!

 

For more information about the Humpback Whale Expedition and the Marine Conservation & Research Programme, please click on the links!

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