February: as windy as it gets
The HEPCA Cetacean Research Unit is proud to announce that the second RSDP winter survey has been successfully completed! We sailed from Marsa Alam to Satayah Reef joined and helped by a passionate team and a great crew.
Whoever had the chance to sail out there the first half of February, would agree with us that the weather has not been clement. Days of strong wind blowing from the North alternated with humid and foggy days and wind from the South. In between, one day - only ONE day- with perfect conditions for observing the sea surface and looking for dolphins. But: nothing. Despite the mirror-like sea, we could not spot a single fin during the navigation, which is anyhow an interesting result (for us, less for our volunteers maybe). The absence of data is also data! No marine mammals in sight until we approached the more and more renowned offshore gull-wings shaped Satayah reef, South of Hamata. This 7 kilometres long reef is well known as it is often visited by spinner dolphins. In fact that’s what we found once we arrived: large groups of spinners, resting and socializing. Since last year we have started a dedicated data collection protocol which shall help us to better understand their ecology and appreciate short-term reactions to the frequent human impacts existing there, known to have detrimental effects on wild populations when not properly managed. Witnessing people and boats approaching the dolphins incorrectly (at least as common sense would suggest), we hardly believe that both animals AND visitors can actually enjoy the encounter!
The dolphins were not the only regular characters of our story. A beautiful, friendly osprey has been visiting the boat during our stay in Satatyah. If you are curious about how friendly it was, have a look at the RSDP blog.
We would like to thank the volunteers on board with us: their help, passion and astonishment kept reminding us how magic and unique the environment surrounding us really is. And their dedication, respect and abidance of the code of conduct we urged them to adhere to, convinced us even more that the key in conservation is the proper communication of values such as respect, which can lead to an enjoyable yet respectful encounter, with the satisfaction and gratification to people and a reduced disturbance for the animals.
The Cetacean Research Unit was also joined by Islam and Mahmoud undertaking their training on marine mammal research: they are marine scientists and rangers from Elba National Park. We could never thank them enough for their endless help and support.
Moreover, February research effort included also a 3-day quick survey in Samadai: we had three sightings of spinner dolphins in groups ranging from 40 up to 140 individuals, characterized by a great variety in terms of composition. We had several DOZENS (!) of adult males and spotted the first pregnancies. On the last day, we observed an injured individual with massive scars on the mend on the left side of the body: rangers from the National Park reported that the animal had already been seen by guides and tourists when the injury was more recent. If you have any pictures or videos or you have encountered this animal, please contact us!
And now we are already looking forward to the next upcoming fieldwork!