Whale behaviour, what's it all about?May 5 2018
I run an non-profit NGO in Guinjata Bay, Mozambique, called Love The Oceans (lovetheoceans.org). We're starting a new project to study humpback whale behaviour in our bay - something that has never been done before. By studying whale and other megafauna behaviour in our area, we can look at implementing effective conservation strategies based on habitat use and pod dynamics.
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We deployed the drone in the sea!!
Today was our first mission into the sea with our beautiful drone. We went to one of our house reefs which is really shallow (around 6m) and deployed it thinking it would be great to start off in a shallow, more controlled environment than deploying it straight into deep water.
Turns out, it's harder than you think. The actual deployment itself is pretty easy and it's easy to handle but getting to grips with the drone is tricky. If you've played lots of video games you'll have it down. Shallow water is pretty hard to work the drone in because we have quite a surge on our shallower reefs and the drone is tricky to operate in a surge. As soon as we started diving down deeper it was much easier to manoeuvre, so I would recommending that to start with.
Also, getting to grips with the compass is essential, otherwise you end up getting lost in the ocean. However, if you master a steady hand and the current isn't too bad, in theory you can follow the tether back to the boat.
All in all it was a very successful mission, filming a couple of divers and fish, and getting to grips with deployment in choppy conditions. We're taking it to a far site tomorrow with a depth of 40m so we'll see what we can find then and how being much deeper affects it. Fingers crossed it's not swallowed by a whale.
We've finally managed to get our drone to our site in Mozambique!!
Since there's no postal system in Mozambique we knew it would be a bit of a mission to get it to our base in rural Jangamo. We had it sent to South Africa where they took an AGE to clear it through customs and threatened to send it back (!) but we eventually got it through and sent to a friends house. Then we put out a message on social media and eventually found a lift for it to come up to Mozambique and we collected it from the end of our red road, where it meets the main tarmac road - the only road that covers the length of the coastline.
Now, having ensured charge, downloaded the app and harnessed our excitement we had a little play with it in the pool to get to grips with it. We were amazed at how easy it actually was to manoeuvre, especially once it's under the surface. It also moves really quickly too which will prove very useful when we get it in the ocean with the whales! We're taking it into the sea tomorrow to have a play with it in the local shallow sites and get used to operating in a current then over the weekend we'll be taking it on a longer boat ride to see what we can find at deeper sites and on the surface.
We think since it's very quiet it'll be easy to approach whales, although we're pretty nervous that a whale may swim into it, a shark eats it or a manta swims into the tether but we are crossing our fingers that won't happen, and if it does we've got to at least get some good footage!!
We'll keep you updated on our first ocean deployment. Excited doesn't even cover it!
So how did this all come about?
We're still in the preparation stage for our humpback whale research expedition but in the meantime I thought I'd explain a bit about how this all came about and why it's so important!
I've been obsessed with the marine world since I was 8 years old. My Mum took me to the London Aquarium for my 8th birthday and had to peel me off the shark tank - I was totally captivated. I then devoured Jacques Cousteau and David Attenborough (absolute heroes!) documentaries and learnt to dive when I was 13. I took to it like a duck to water and did my first professional diving qualification when I was 18 so I could share my passion with others.
When it came to choosing what to do at University for me it was a total no-brainer. I wanted to do marine biology to learn more about the oceans and went to University of Southampton (UK) because they're one of the best for it. When I was in my second year I went on holiday to Mozambique and saw my first shark killing. Now, having been obsessed with the marine world from a very young age this was very upsetting. I spent about 2 days super angry at the guys that had killed the shark before I realised my anger was directed at the wrong people. I realised these shark fishermen are just trying to make ends meet, I needed to be angry at the fin industry as a whole.
So, I went back to university and found a supervisor who would supervise me for my Master's dissertation. Ken Collins one of the whale and shark leading experts in England stepped up and helped me recruit 3 research assistants from the year below me. We then spent 4 months working with the local fishermen recording data on the catches and the state of the fin industry in Mozambique.
Back in England I was writing up my Masters and was getting the exact results you would think with the shark fin trade - it's unsustainable. But I didn't have enough data to get my stats significant which meant I couldn't publish the paper. I needed to find a way to collect more data and that is how I founded Love The Oceans, initially to try and protect the sharks in the area.
However, the more I read into successful NGO strategies the more it became apparent that we needed a multi-pronged approach to tackle the conservation issues of Mozambique. So, I developed other areas of research and an outreach program also. We now have continued to collect my initial fisheries research to prove the fishing is unsustainable but we also now collect data on coral reefs to prove that what we have is worth protecting and humpback whale data to prove the high frequency of sightings. Our mission has changed to establishing a Marine Protected Area in our location and the surrounding bays which is an umbrella aim which many other conservation goals - including stopping shark finning - fall under.
Our humpback whale research is the point of this particular mission we've set out to do and it is arguably one of the most important areas of research we're doing, its absolutely key to our success. We have so many humpback whales in our bay we can guarantee a tourist a sighting. That means if the government were to offer protection for the area and these animals, we already have a very feasible ecotourism species which would fuel a very successful ecotourism industry - the humpbacks are the financial incentive for establishing an MPA and a financial incentive is imperative to successful conservation strategies in poverty stricken areas of the world.
As well as general sightings data we're also collecting vocalisation and behavioural data. This involves taking a hydrophone out with us and dropping it in the water when we see humpbacks to record what we're seeing. Combining this with the behavioural data that we can collect using an underwater drone (if we're sponsored one!) we can work out why the humpback whales are vocalising and what they're saying. We already know it's just the males that sing and the females grunt and drum to their calves but we're yet to discover exactly why. It's a massive question, debated worldwide by the scientific community. Is it courtship? Competition? Socialisation?
This data collection will put Mozambique on the map both scientifically and, as a result, in the tourism industry. This tourism generates an alternative source of income for the fishermen which in turn reduces the shark fishing in the area, which increases tourism again - you see it's a positive spiral and it's all interlinked with humpbacks as the key!
We're SO looking forward to getting this project underway and we welcome any help! You can donate to our projects here >>>
Or give us a shout if you think you can help with our equipment!
Guinjata Bay, whilst home to a huge host of marine life, has never been studied in depth for any prolonged amount of time. Love The Oceans hopes to protect and study the diverse marine life found here, including many species of sharks, rays and the famous humpback whales. We use research, education and diving to drive action towards a more sustainable future. Our ultimate goal is to establish a Marine Protected Area for the Inhambane Province in Mozambique, achieving higher biodiversity whilst protecting endangered species.
This particular expedition relates specifically to the megafauna we have in our bay. If we can study the behaviour of different megafauna (like whales, dolphins, whale sharks & manta rays) we can draw conclusions on how they're using the bay - we have our suspicions of feeding (whale sharks, mantas & dolphins) and mating and calving (humpback whales) but we need to collect visual data on this to be able to write a scientific journal on our findings. Once we can confidently (with evidence) say why these flagship marine conservation species are so abundant in our bay, we can take precautions to protect them, using new and innovative conservation strategies in conjunction with the local community and government.