Marine Conservation Research International is a unique not-for-profit organisation conducting practical conservation projects on threatened marine wildlife and habitats, and investigating human impacts including from marine debris, underwater noise and disturbance. R/V Song of the Whale is the team’s purpose built sailing research vessel.
Cape Verde – archival acoustic recorder
Conor joined the German RV Meteor in Mindelo, Cape Verde, this week to deploy an acoustic recorder in partnership with GEOMAR (Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, Kiel) and INDP (Instituto Nacional de Desenvolvimento das Pescas), with support from International Fund for Animal Welfare. The purpose of the 18 month long deployment is to investigate the seasonality of humpback whales in the archipelago by monitoring for their distinctive songs. It is hoped that the research will also shed light on the presence of other cetacean species which remain poorly studied in the region. Conor has also met with university students and INDP staff to give a presentation on recent and future research on humpback whales in Cape Verde.
The acoustic recording device undergoing final tests on the deck of RV Meteor prior to deployment in a few days.
The porpoise of surveying up the River Thames
The Thames Estuary is home to seals, harbour porpoises and sometimes even whales and dolphins. From historic records it seems that Europe’s smallest whale, the harbour porpoise, used to be a common sight in central London. Due to extreme pollution, harbour porpoises and fish declined in the River Thames, which was declared as biologically dead in the 1950s. However, the Thames recently won awards for its good ecological status, and it is hoped that aquatic life will continue to return. With that in mind, the Song of the Whale team decided to collect visual and acoustic data for marine mammals – especially harbour porpoise during its trips up and back to St Katharine Dock, London during March / April. On the trip up the Thames two weeks ago we had no sightings or detections, however as Song of the Whale heads off to its home port of Ipswich today, the team will be up on the A frame looking out once again in the hope to see UK’s smallest whale in our biggest city.
Check out our time-lapse video, above, of SOTW coming up the River Thames.
Miranda Krestovnikoff visits SOTW in London
R/V Song of the Whale and team arrived in St Katharine Docks, London last weekend, in preparation for a busy few weeks hosting visitors and meetings.
One of our first guests was Miranda Krestovnikoff, wildlife television presenter and marine conservationist, who was keen to find out more about the work of the team and to check out the view from the crow’s nest!
Meetings are planned with a range of potential partners, individuals and organisations to discuss future projects and sponsorship opportunities.
Song of the Whale relaunched and heading for London
On 12th March, ownership of R/V Song of the Whale was transferred to MCR International from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).
The MCR/Song of the Whale Team are currently seeking support for several conservation and education projects including a climate change focused expedition to the High Arctic and designating a marine protected area for threatened humpback whales in the Cape Verde Islands. In addition to collaborating with other conservation groups and making the vessel available for expeditions and training trips, MCR continues to work in close collaboration with IFAW on a number of projects.
Song of the Whale is currently en route to London where she will be berthed until the end of March.
SOTW sits in slings about to be relaunched at Endeavour Quay, Gosport, following two months of yard work and a structural survey.
Mediterranean Cruise report and new video
The cruise report for a visual and acoustic survey for marine mammals of the Aegean Sea and Levantine Sea, eastern Mediterranean is now available to download. More detailed analysis of the data collected this summer is underway and will be available as a final report early in 2014.
A new GoPro video clip of bowriding Rough-toothed dolphins has been uploaded to the Video gallery.
New reports uploaded
The following reports have been added to the Downloads page:-
- Final report for trans-Atlantic research passages between the UK and USA via the Azores and Iceland, conducted from R/V Song of the Whale 26 March to 28 September 2012
- Final report for a cetacean research project in Iceland conducted from R/V Song of the Whale July to September 2012
- Report of a passive acoustic survey for cetaceans over Portuguese submarine canyons conducted from R/V Song of the Whale May and June 2013
New sound clips added
Spectrograms for Humpback whales and Rough-toothed dolphins have been added to the Sound clips page.
Autumn update from the team
The team are now engaged in the task of analysing the vast amount of acoustic data collected during the summer’s project in the Mediterranean and drafting the first cruise reports. Aboard Song of the Whale Mat is leading an extensive programme of maintenance, and in addition to the usual tasks, preparing the vessel for a full structural survey which is scheduled for early 2014.
This time of year can often seem a bit of an anti-climax after the excitement of the field work, highlights of which included fantastic sightings, stunning underwater GoPro footage and the thrill of finding live porpoises in the Thracian Sea. However an initial scan through the acoustic recordings has resulted in the discovery of important detections of species we hadn’t realised we had encountered when in the field, including detections of beaked whales and harbour porpoises from areas where there has been very little previous survey work. This is really exciting, as is listening again to some of the very unusual detections of the summer, such as these strange octave-stepping whistles from rough-toothed dolphins.
The Sound clips page has recently been updated and a rough-toothed dolphin clip will be added to this shortly.
The Good, the Bad and the Amazing!
Inquisitive Rough-Toothed dolphins
As our research season draws to a close and the team is readying SOTW for the passage back to Ipswich, we look back at the last few months surveying the Eastern Mediterranean. Bow-riding pilot and false-killer whales, breaching fin whales, phosphorescent dolphin tracks, the first live free-swimming porpoises seen in the Northern Aegean Sea since the 1990s, and the first live porpoises ever documented in Turkish Aegean waters, finless bottlenose dolphins, jumping swordfish, new born dolphin calves with foetal folds, mixed dolphin species groups, turtles resting at the surface, a brief sighting of an endangered Mediterranean Monk Seal and countless flying fish were just a few of the highlights. However there were also many challenges including the rapid weather changes in the Northern Aegean, a short-lived fly infestation, the extreme heat, the many goodbyes with changing crew members, many days without any sightings and challenges with permits.
The final weeks of survey around southern Cyprus continued to present surprising and interesting sightings. We picked up a new addition to our crew, Melina Markou, a local Cypriot scientist from the Ministry of the Environment and headed off to cover our planned transects across southern Cyprus and the Eratosthenes Seamount, a proposed CIESM peace park. This area of the Eastern Mediterranean has received very little previous systematic survey effort so we were excited to be able to provide some much needed survey effort. The sightings were few and far between over the next two weeks of survey, which was somewhat expected due to the Eastern Mediterranean having lower levels of primary productivity than the western basin. The hydrophones were much quieter than they had been in the Aegean Sea, mostly filled with the sounds of passing vessels and in some areas very loud seismic pulses and the crew were getting frustrated. Two days into the survey however we had an incredible encounter with a mixed group of rough-toothed and Risso’s dolphins bowriding and milling around the SOTW. Rough-toothed dolphins, a species which was new to all of the team on board, have been documented only a few times in the Eastern Mediterranean, having originally been thought to be an immigrant to the Mediterranean from the Suez Canal, but are now thought to be resident in small numbers in this area. They spent around 40 minutes around the vessel and so we managed to document them through photographic identification images, underwater video and recorded some of their interesting octave-stepping whistles. Later in the week we also had brief sightings of more rough-toothed dolphins, false killer whales and a Mediterranean Monk seal.
Unfortunately, our survey around Cyprus was cut short. Just a few days before the end of our planned survey we developed an engine problem and all survey equipment needed to be turned off as we sailed back to harbour . After a few days in port, many phone calls and a hand-delivered engine part arriving with Andy, Mat our engineer’s brother, the engine was repaired, but only in time for a quick passage back to Rhodes and our final crew change.
Sweltering CTD, dolphins and swim stops
Within our international team we’ve enjoyed, but also struggled a bit with the intense heat between Turkey and Cyprus. On the other hand it makes the swim stops more rewarding than ever and the night watches give us the chance to cool down and be amazed by the stunning starry skies. All the discomfort is worth it; on the hydrophones all kinds of underwater noise from seismic and explosions to sperm whales, dolphins and even shrimps have been recorded. Twice a day we deploy the CTD ( to measure salinity and temperature at different depths) and make calibrated recordings of background noise throughout the Eastern Mediterranean survey area.
Miriam preparing to deploy the CTD.
After a couple of days without any sightings (except for rubbish) and without even birds sighted, I was afraid that this could be an overfished sea without much life in it. But after two very exciting encounters with Risso’s dolphins and striped dolphins, together with a lot of sperm whale clicks on the hydrophone, life in this sea was evident. The Risso’s dolphins behaved amazingly around the boat and stayed with us for a long time. It was a big group of 15-20 individuals and during their bowriding activities we were able to make a lot of photo-ID pictures and an underwater movie. It was almost the same story with the striped dolphins who appeared in a big group, one day after the Risso’s: they surfed the swell approaching the boat and then jumped out of the water while on our bow. The clear turquoise Mediterranean waters allowed the animals underwater behaviours to be easily seen and captured on video.
Tessa van Heumen