An Epic Summer!
This year the HEPCA Red Sea Dolphin Project (RSDP) team celebrated the summer season with 40 amazing days at sea. The season was characterized lots of “firsts”. We had a new partnership, new opportunities for local people to join our expedition and in particular new species encountered.
The 2012 summer expedition marks the first time the HEPCA RSDP has collaborated with the Earthwatch Institute. Earthwatch is a prestigious international organization that connects thousands of people with reliable research projects around the world. The HEPCA RSDP is the first programme in Egypt in cooperation with Earthwatch. Thanks to Earthwatch’s support and funding, we were able to carry out our summer programme and to bring an amazing team of talented and enthusiastic local volunteers on board with us, as well! The team was made up of the three HEPCA dolphin researchers, 4 international research assistants, Earthwatch volunteers, and Earthwatch sponsored local volunteers and student interns. Several nationalities were represented including Egypt, United States, United Kingdom, Italy and Germany. All these different people from different places had one goal, contributing to the scientific effort that HEPCA has been developing since June 2010.
The survey went amazingly well, particularly due to calm sea conditions in June and beginning of July. We were able to cover 95% of the planned route and we had 85 encounters with 7 different species of cetaceans. And for the first time ever the RSDP team spotted two new Red Sea species! First a group of approximately 25 false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) was sighted offshore at Zabargad. As soon as the team recognized the species the joy was immense and everybody was so thrilled that for the first 10 minutes all data collection was suspended, leaving all to enjoy the encounter. At the end of the sighting we had 60min of sound recording, 45 min of behaviour, amazing videos and more that 1,400 pictures. But this encounter was not the most amazing of the trip. Later in the expedition, while anchored in Abu Fandira a fin was spotted outside the reef. Immediately we understood that there was something different about this animal... it was slow, it was calm and it was big, VERY big. We carefully followed the "creature" for 40min. The mysterious animal was disappearing for 10min, surfacing only 3 or 4 times quickly before diving again. But at the end we identified it! A Bryde’s whale (Balaenoptera edeni)! What a joy and what a surprise.
Later on another 4 sightings of the Bryde's whale were made by our colleague, the marine biologist and ranger of Gabal-Elba protected Area, Islam El-Sadek. It is a pleasure to report the presence of this rare whale in the Egyptian Red Sea. More great news – we also had 6 sightings of Risso’s dolphins that had not been encountered in the past year. The expedition also incuded many, many sightings of spinner, Indo-Pacific bottlenose, common bottlenose, and pantropical dolphins. Lots of sun, many cetaceans and a great team of people - the season was packed with research, and fun! The RSDP team would like to thank Earthwatch for their support and of course the amazing volunteers who shared their passion and made this expedition possible. What an epic summer!