Monk seals - Greece - 2018March 1 2018
The Mediterranean monk seal is on the “endangered species” section of the IUCN’s red list since 1986. Its population is down to only a few hundred individuals, mainly concentrated in Greece and Turkey.
This marine mammal has occupied Mare Nostrum since the Antiquity. Yet, it’s still one of the least known and studied seals in the world. The Octopus Foundation joins a program aimed at better understanding this key species.
During our 2018 expedition in Greece, we heavily relied on our fleet of aerial drones.
With approx. 30min flight time, they are ideal to explore hard-to-access coastlines, spot animals and follow them without bothering their daily habits.
While exploring a little island not far from Fiskardo, we spotted two monk seals playing in underwater tunnels. It has probably been their playground since they were pups, as they constantly disappeared only to reappear in odd places. That particular piece of coast must be like Swiss cheese, with holes and tunnels leading everywhere.
It was a blessing to see these two seals together, as it's a species that is on the brink of extinction and thus the sightings are very rare.
Two months ago, we installed our autonomous surveillance system in two zones that are visited by monk seals.
Apart from a couple of minor bugs, they are working marvellously well, and sending their pictures like clockwork.
It has already been over 25'000 photos that have been sent and analysed. Unfortunately, still no monk seal, but plenty of human activity.
Before coming to Greece, our two main goals were set:
1) install independent and autonomous camera systems in two different caves, to monitor the comings and goings of monk seals. They are both up and running, and have been fully autonomous for the past 4 days. We are now monitoring their evolution, along with our scientific partners: MOm, Archipelagos and Fiskardo Divers
2) actually find specimens of monk seals (the most endangered species of marine mammals !), filming and photographing them from the land, the water and the air. Over the past 48 hours, we were able to photograph 3 if not 4 different seals while testing new ways of using the aerial drone for that matter. The results are absolutely stunning (here are a few examples), and these images will help to raise awareness on the Mediterranean monk seal's dire situation.
We are very excited to present our first underwater footage of a monk seal ! And it's all thanks to our faithful Trident.
It was a very stressful adventure, but it all ended well. We had been told that a particular cave/crack of the island of Kefalonia was inhabited by a monk seal. This cave is quite long, with depths that vary from 8 to 4 meters deep. Never have divers dared to explore it until the very bottom. With our 100m long tether, we accepted the challenge.
After about 70 meters in the long, narrow and fully submerged cave, we ended up face to face with a 2-2.5m female monk seal. She only let us film her for a few seconds, before exiting the cave and waiting for us to leave right on the outside.
The pilot decided to head back out, but things didn't exactly go as planned. While in the cave, the tether floated to the ceiling and got all tangled up in the roughness of the rock. A few meters from the exit, the Trident was 100% stuck.
Luckily, two professional divers we able to enter the cave, retrieve the long tether and free our poor Trident.
This was our first exploration of an underwater cave, and first monk seal footage of the 2018 Greek mission. Here are a few snapshots of the video to be edited.
SUCCESS !! Our fully autonomous camera system (solar panel, battery, two cameras, 100m cable, raspberry pi and 4G router) is installed and broadcasting.
This is a great win for the team that had to really work together to make this happen. And now, we have a week left to detect any bugs and fix them before the system is left untouched for 6 months, a year, two years ?
Here are a few pictures of the installation, with its results:
Sorry for the last post, I forgot to click on "next stage". The mission has definitely been under way for the past 5 days.
The road is long and full of obstacles, but fortunately it is getting shorter by the day.
Our autonomous camera system is almost fully functional, and fixed it in a piece of particularly inhospitable coastline. We are faced with a final difficulty, and it's a little comical because we hadn't anticipated this crippling bug. The two major challenges we had expected were easily taken care of in a matter of 48 hours. Thanks to our awesome team who work like crazy from sunrise to sunset.
We still haven't seen the famous but elusive monk seals of the Mediterranean, but first we need to fix the cameras, and we'll later go looking for them. Our aerial and underwater drones are slowly getting impatient. More to come in the next few days.
Great first two days in Greece !
We sailed from Lefkada to Fiskardo, where we met the whole team.
We spent the last 24 hours testing all the gear that had traveled from far away. The various drones (aerial DJI and underwater Trident) all work perfectly, and we already have stunning footage from secret spots.
More to come in the next few days.
One of the highlight is that our autonomous camera system is fully functional. Now, we need to select the best spot to deploy it and test it during the next 10 days. Stay tuned !
Two weeks before our 2018 expedition to Greece.
We currently are in the final preparation stage, where the equipment is dispatched between the team members. We have A LOT of stuff, and some of it is fragile and needs proper protection from plane voyage.
With the help of the Hackuarium in Renens (Switzerland) and Octanis in Lausanne (Switzerland), we are currently working hard to develop and test a fully autonomous camera.
Not only will the camera take pictures (in and out of a cave visited by monk seals), it will also send the images to a server via 3G/4G network. Everything needs to be solar powered, and weather resistant. It's not easy, but luckily we have great support !
We know there still are a few specimens of monk seal in the Mediterranean. But what is the exact state of the species as a whole ?
Although numerous studies have been conducted these past 20 years, nobody is able to answer this question today.
In some specific places in Greece, these solitary animals are regularly seen patrolling the waters. Sightings have also been reported in Italy, Croatia, Slovenia and Turkey. It's not unlikely that the populations of Mediterranean monk seal have actually spread further than previously thought. In order to validate this theory, the crew of the Octopus Foundation will use the Ionian Islands to deploy various tools and methods aimed at gathering data. Custom-made autonomous cameras have been purchased and developed by the technical team. They will be installed in different caves that are regularly visited by monk seals, as confirmed by Greek biologists on location.
Once validated, these tools will be replicated under the supervision of the IUCN, to be deployed in all of the Mediterranean basin.
In addition to the financial and logistical support, the Octopus Foundation will develop mainstream media to raise awareness on this emblematic and threatened animal. These media will also help to understand the seal’s behaviour, biology, the threats it is facing and what solutions can be developed to help its species thrive.
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