Our first day scheduled on the land dolphin study was a huge contrast to our chum trip. Since the Oceans Research internship encompasses a variety of marine studies, we had the chance to help out with assisting with a project on dolphins and whales and their use of the surrounding waters of Mossel Bay. The study site was in front of the lighthouse at the Point.
It was a full day (9am-4pm) and we used binoculars to spot dolphins (bottlenose and humpback) and whales (Southern right and humpbacks). Once spotted, we assisted with tracking them and recording data as the student used a land-based theodolite which provided co-ordinates that could be used to map the cetacean movement. We wrote down environmental data every half hour (time, wind speed and direction, sea state, cloud cover, visibility etc) and scanned the water every 10mins for any splashes from breaching or blows as the cetaceans came up for air.
We gained experience with learning how to set up the tripod, fitting the instrument on top of the tripod, fitting the air bubble over the circle so that it would be set up correctly, as well as how to read the horizontal and vertical co-ordinates. We also learnt how to tell the difference between a humpback and southern right whale blow – with the humpback being straight up and southern right being split into a v-shape.
Since it was a whole day, we had plenty of time to talk about whales and dolphins, various career paths and travel stories, and of course we were able to eat all of the snacks we packed with our lunches from campus. We had plenty of time looking out into the ocean as well, even times where we didn’t have any cetaceans so it was quite relaxing and therapeutic!
In total, we ended up seeing and collecting data on 8 humpback whales (one with a really cute calf!) and close to 100 or more bottlenose dolphins using the bay. The dolphins were often surfing the waves in groups and also with seals and often explorers walking the nearby cave walk would stop and watch them in appreciation. It was great to see so much socialising going on amongst the dolphin groups and to see them from such a high vantage point.