Meet Kimon! Our Assistant Research Officer

In time for a busy spring and summer period, our team grew last week as Kimon arrived, our new Assistant Research Officer. It has been a busy first week of getting the photo ID library up to date and generally getting to know the surroundings

What made you choose this project?

I wanted to learn more about doing cetacean research and develop my professional skills. During my time in Tenerife other than gaining knowledge directly related to project work, I would like to get to know the local culture and people better and make new friends.

Kimon in 3 words

“I am tired”

What is your favourite marine animal?

My favourite marine animal is the microzooplankton Oxyrrhis marina because it is greatly underappreciated especially considering its contribution to science as a model organism used in laboratories.

What is the favourite place you have been to?

My favourite place I have been to was Indonesia. I went there to do a research project on coral reefs. I loved it because of its natural beauty, the field research skills I got including scuba diving research and because I grew to really admire the local people and culture.

Which aspects of the project are you looking forward to most?

On this project I am mostly looking forward to working with species I have not encountered before since my previous experience working with cetaceans has been quite limited regarding the animals I have worked with.

What are you hoping to do after this internship?

After this internship I am hoping to continue doing cetacean research and hopefully use my newly acquired knowledge in my country, Greece, where cetacean research and conservation in general are quite limited.

How has your first week on the boats been?

My first week on the boat was nice. I encountered short-finned pilot whales which I had never seen before up-close.

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


A Day In The Snow

If you have been keeping up to date with our blog you will know we had some quite unusual weather these last couple of weeks. It started with wind and rain and then we even got snow – in the mountains that is. Don’t expect Playa de Las Americas to be covered in snow!

After hearing of road closures up in the mountain villages and the cable car to Teide being closed, the snow is now slowly melting. The surrounding peaks are already back to their usual volcanic grey and black, but El Teide is still towering white over the island.

So, after a morning in the Anaga mountains at the north of the island – another story for another time – we made our way to Teide. The north road was closed, we tried that in the morning, but from the west of the island it was accessible, so off we went. And so did a lot of other people! The amount of cars driving up the narrow roads to the national park created one long line, trying to get past the ones already stopped on the side of the road to enjoy the view.

It is the third strongest snowfall the island has ever seen and therefore, it is an attraction. Not a tourist attraction, like most things on the island, but a magnet for locals. Imagine living on one of the Canary Islands and suddenly being able to put on warm clothes, hats, gloves and go play in the snow? We had fun, the snow wet our feet through the thin summer shoes and touched our ankles (because of course we were in shorts) and we have thrown the odd snow ball. Mostly though, we enjoyed the view. The lunar landscape around El Teide looks completely different covered in snow!

Although the road up to the cable car is still closed, the roads leading up to it are slowly being reopened. Teide being in a national park, the snow has to melt away naturally before traffic is allowed back on the roads as it is forbidden to use salt to grit the roads.

The Canarians though went all out and it was amazing to see how they enjoyed the snow: Picnic blankets were out, a family played badminton with pine cones in the snow and almost everyone had a go sledding down the hills. Well, not so much sledding and no one here owns a sled, so here is a list of items to use instead: plastic bags, the sun cover for windscreens, inflatable rubber rings, bodyboards… it’s amazing how many beach accessories work in the snow!

By Claire Herbaux - Field Communications Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


The Effects of Microbeads On Our Oceans 

How many times a day do you brush your teeth? Or wash your hands with soap? Did you know that every time you brush your teeth you could be washing as many as 100, 000 micro beads into the water system?

Micro beads are tiny plastic particles found in many household products and cosmetics such as toothpaste and face scrubs.  Made of polyethene (a material which does not break down and biodegrade over time) they enter our natural water systems and this is where they will stay in one form or another...

So what’s so bad about micro plastics?

Not only do micro plastics build up in our water systems and ultimately the oceans, they are highly absorbent and can add further pesticides and other chemicals to the marine environment. This poses a problem for any form of life that relies on water…which is to say all life on Earth!  

Being so tiny it is frighteningly easy to imagine how micro beads can be ingested by a variety of species and can build up in the food chain.  These particles and the associated harmful chemicals can even be found in food prepared for human consumption and also in human tissue.  

Most people have heard of marine animals mistakenly eating plastic waste such as carrier bags; in the water they can look like jellyfish to unsuspecting turtles, or ingesting large volumes of plastic debris and fishing equipment which can effectively block their digestion system perhaps preventing them from feeding efficiently or rupturing their stomachs to their extreme injury and sometimes their death. Imagine then the risk of not only ingesting plastics that we can see but also millions of micro beads that are so minute we can’t!

Take for example the short-finned pilot whale, a resident species here in the waters of Tenerife which provides so much joy to many visitors and supports a thriving tourism industry. Their main food sources are cephalopods, such as squid, which in turn are filter feeders.  Filter feeders sort through the water they are swallowing and can extract tiny pelagic species such as zooplankton. If I told you micro beads are approximately the same size as many of these zooplankton organisms can you see where the problems begin?  

Filter feeders cannot filter out all of the micro beads and separate them from the zooplankton.  Later an unsuspecting pilot whale thinks he has found a tasty squid for dinner and will continue to prey on his favourite food throughout his lifetime.  After 10/20/50 years how many micro beads do you think he will have ingested? Is it good for him? As well as affecting the digestive system it is possible the build-up of these particles and chemicals could negatively affect the reproductive and nervous systems too.  

As well as losing individuals and eventually entire populations and species through deaths caused directly by plastic damage, strandings and poisoning, the build-up of micro plastics in their bodies could mean that they cannot reproduce effectively and sustain their populations or ultimately the existence of their species.

The US and Canada have now banned the use of micro beads in cosmetics and several EU countries have lobbied to impose a similar ban throughout the Union but until then what are we going to do?

By Cara Donald - Whale and Dolphin Conservation Project

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Top 5 Tips Against Sea Sickness

It happens, some of us feel a little queasy when we get on boats. Sometimes it’s the waves, sometimes the walking around, but there are times when it is more than our stomachs can handle. In our case, when we are on the whale watching boats, we don’t simply look out onto the sea, but take notes, look up GPS coordinates, focus on writing and walk around; it can make you feel dizzy.

The boat crew makes it part of their safety briefing: Let them know, ask for a plastic bag, DO NOT go inside or downstairs to the bathrooms – it is hard to handle when you are unwell.

It is not the best of feelings, but in order to enjoy the trips, it is worth looking into how to avoid sea sickness the next time. Look online and you will find a myriad of tips and tricks, some helpful, some not, some not applicable. Avoid going? That would mean missing out on great experiences! Lie down? See above. Buy motion sickness tablets which make you drowsy? Do I need to repeat that we want to be aware of our surroundings?

Here are the best ways to survive a boat trip and actually see the whales, take part in the project, and enjoy it.

Step 1: Have a good breakfast and also bring a snack. There is a bit of time between breakfast and the trip, so make sure you don’t go on an empty stomach.

Step 2: Sea sickness tablets. Find the kind with caffeine or ginger, and ideally one which allows for two tablets. This way, you take one before getting on, and if you feel unwell, you can take a second.

Step 3:
Listen carefully to the crew. They will remind you where and how to sit, where not to go, and they will make you feel at ease. It’s true when they say they have probably dealt with worse. After all, you have already followed steps 1 and 2, so you are ahead of those who went on not knowing.

Step 4:
Enjoy the journey! Don’t think about whether you might get sick, it won’t help. The more distracted you are – looking for whales and at the scenery for example – the less you will think about the uncomfortable truths of sea sickness. Bring a hat or sit in the shade. Having the heat of the sun burn on your head won’t make you feel any better and neither will staring at a phone, book, or anything which distracts you from looking at the horizon.

By Claire Herbaux - Field Communications Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Tenerife Weather

The Island of Tenerife is known as The Island of Eternal Spring.

First, let’s define “spring” though, because when I think of spring I think of quite a few days of rain, with the odd dry day in between. Lately, winter has been going well into February and sometimes March, so spring can also mean cold and or snow. Towards the end of spring, that’s when the sun comes out and temperatures go up. There is still the odd day of rain though.

That’s Tenerife. The second half. Minus the rain. The weather is very predictable, 18 to 24 degrees in “winter”, 24 to 28 in “summer” and maybe a rainy day a month in those cold winter days. Especially in the south of the island, the weather is mild; the north gets colder temperature, more wind, and more rain.

So here we go, that’s how simple it is. And then came last week! You may have noticed an increase of weather-related posts on social media – well, that’s because suddenly we had three seasons in a week!

It has been rather windy lately, we even skipped a boat trip when we saw the choppiness of the sea from our house. We thought we would be better off doing some Photo ID than trying to spot cetaceans in between the strong waves.

Suddenly, as we were getting ready to go on the boat (in the afternoon this time), it started to rain! Yes, one of our two rainy days of the year came last week! So we decided to stay in, there is always the next day to see the whales. And so we waited for the rain to pass. It took 15 minutes. That’s Southern Tenerife for you.

Not that it ended there. The next day – sunny and warm again and rain left far behind – we did leave to go on the whale watching boats and as we were on the bus, we saw the mountain peaks covered in snow. Because Teide is at 3.718m altitude, it gets much colder temperatures than the coastal towns and for the past three days we have been enjoying the view of white mountaintops and blue skies while sitting in warm twenty to twenty-two degrees in the sun on the balcony or by the beach. Who knew we would have notices on hiking trails saying “closed due to heavy snowfall” in Tenerife?!?

By Claire Herbaux - Field Communications Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


The Species You Can Experience On The Project

I came to Tenerife as part of my work experience for college and on my boat trips I saw five different types of cetaceans! Here is a little more about the species found around Tenerife:

The most common cetaceans in the Canary Islands are the sperm whales, bottlenose dolphins, short-finned pilot whales and Risso’s dolphin.

Short-finned pilot whales are the most common species found around Tenerife. They are around 4.7-7.3m in length and 1-3 tonnes in weight, their diet consists of giant squid and a variety of fish (they will chase the giant squid up to depths of 1000m at high speeds), the females can live for up to 60+ years whereas the males only live for around 45. The best ways to tell that it is a pilot whale is by their bulbous head and because their dorsal fin is positioned far forward on the back, curved towards the tail.

Sperm whales are the resident species of Santa Cruz. The males are around 17-18m long and the females are around 15m long, they weigh around 20-57 tonnes and they feed on deep water squid, octopus and large fish. The most interesting thing is they can dive deeper and longer than any other mammal.

Bottlenose dolphins are much smaller, around 3-4.2m in length and weigh 0.5 tonnes. Their diet consists of fish, squid and octopus. The best way to recognise a bottlenose dolphin is by their short beak with their sloping forehead and a high dorsal fin (the fin at the top). They also rear their calves up to the age of 3-4 years old; then the males will leave in pairs. The dolphins live in female groups of 20-30 animals.

Risso’s dolphins are resident on the west coast and are around 2.6-3m long and weigh 300-500kg. They live off squid, octopus, fish and crustaceans. They start off in life as a dark grey colour and their whiteness colour develops due to the build-up of scars over their lifetime through fights with each other and they are also known to be aggressive towards other cetacean species.

A few of the behaviours shown by the whales when we were on the boats is the ‘spy hop’, when the whale rises vertically towards the surface with its head out of the water. The ‘tail slap’ this is when they raise their tail flukes and slap them forcefully on the surface of the water. And finally ‘breach’ this is an acrobatic display where the whales use their tails to launch themselves out of the water and then land back on the surface with a splash!

By Jodie Croft - Whale & Dolphin Conservation Project

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Almost in Rio! Carnival in Santa Cruz

Get ready… 3… 2… 1… Superman, Wonderwoman, Mickey Mouse, a few robots, some flamenco dancers, a couple of sumo ringers, Hulk, nurses, surgeons, and a crowd of men and women in flashy neon skirts and bulky hats get their hands in the air for the Y-M-C-A – it’s Carnival in Santa Cruz!

Said to be second only to Rio, the carnival in the capital of Tenerife lasts for almost two weeks. The Carnival Queen is selected on the Wednesday preceding the celebrations and the ceremony is broadcast on television. On Friday the Announcement Parade is held, followed by parties in the street until the early morning hours; it’s the official start of the carnival. The weekend is full of parades, where the queen and her bridesmaids make their way through town. The floats are pulled by cars as the opulent costumes of metal, feathers and plastic are too heavy to carry. In the evening, the streets are filled with carnival goers and music comes from the three stages around the main squares in the city.

On Ash Wednesday, the locals celebrate the burial of the sardine: A giant paper sardine is carried like in a funeral procession, with people dressed in mourning and wailing widows. Even though this is the official end of carnival, music and concerts will keep going until the following weekend.

The parties are still at the heart of the festivities. On Saturday night, it seemed the entire population of Tenerife had made its way to the capital! The bus was already crowded and we squeezed in between a devil, some cheerleaders and a monk. Suddenly our masks and face paint didn’t seem to stand out at all. On the contrary, we were almost alone wearing our everyday clothes.

Here we were, in Santa Cruz, ready to experience a real Canarian carnival. And what an experience it was! The parade and the floats were an explosion of colour, underlined by the loud sounds of the drums; each float was preceded by musical groups and dancers. The crowd cheered as they walked, little girls dressed as princesses and fairies yelled “I want to be the queen” and cameras were flashing from all sides. With each music group, a new rhythm took over, the colours of the big feathers and high hats changed and people of all ages were dancing – we could well have been in Rio! The youngest in the dance troops were sometimes six years old, taking their part in the progression with the seriousness of professional dancers.

After the last bridesmaid had made her way down the streets of Santa Cruz, the squares started to fill with people and we made our way round the stages: modern dance music, traditional live bands, and a mix of (apparently well-known) Spanish songs, 80s hits, and Spanish versions of 80s hits. Whenever we turned around, the discovered new fancy dress: a character of a comic strip, police officers of all nationalities, a wannabe Miley Circus, fruits, crisps packets, popcorn (yes, we are still talking out costumes!), Roman soldiers with slaves, clowns… And with the theme of this year’s carnival being The 80s, flower power was all over the place as well, along with popes, nuns and bishops. To mock the Catholic Church, a large amount of people dress as “dirty nuns”.

We stayed until the early morning, surrounded by people partying in a language we didn’t understand, then belting out the English tunes along with everyone else, and laughing while trying to keep up with Spanish lyrics of Gloria Gaynor.

Coming from the south of the island, where tourism dominates the daily life, we found ourselves in the midst of mainly locals and when it came to Spanish song and dance, we were out of the loop. When we made our way home, exhausted and yearning for our beds, the party was nowhere near finished. It turns out, celebrating Tenerife-style takes practice! Our first challenge was finding our way around with the limited view through the carnival mask, let alone breathing under it. It takes some getting used to, but we tried our best to blend in and take part in the festivities, and in return we got the taste of an authentic Tenerife carnival, with all its music, drums, flashy colours and feathers.  

By Claire Herbaux - Field Communications Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Meet Lorain! Our New Assistant Research Officer 

Meet Lorain, our new Assistant Research Officer who arrived in Tenerife last week. She is getting away from cold Amsterdam and helping out with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Project for three months. It has been quite an exciting first week with lots of sightings of cetaceans!

What made you choose this project?

This project combines my childhood dream with my dream career path!
I was one of those kids who grew up watching movies such as Free Willy and Flipper, my room was covered in dolphin posters and ornaments and I was dreaming of one day being able to help save these beautiful animals from the ‘bad guys’.

In university I mainly focused on marine biology from an interdisciplinary environmental conservation perspective but over the years I was able to guide the topics of several assignments to be about various species of dolphin. I recently graduated and the first thing I did was look for a job relating to whales and dolphins that my younger self would be proud of – that is when I found this project!

In addition, my dream career is one in which I can make the everyday person passionate about conservation and sustainable resource management, whilst also doing hands-on work in the field myself. This project contains both of these elements as you collect data by going out on boat trips,  record cetacean behaviour which will later be analysed, and by interacting with members of the public and other volunteers you have the opportunity to make people think about things they have never thought about or take for granted.

What are you looking forward to most?

Haha! This is a hard question to answer. I am seriously as excited as a little kid about seeing whales and dolphins in their natural environment. Also, this is a great way to meet new people who share the same interests as you, so I am actually really looking forward to meeting them… or rather - you! In addition, due to the natural beauty of the island there are plenty of opportunities to do extra activities such as surfing, diving, and hiking. Oh, and I must mention: I plan to eat a lot of the locally grown bananas! They are super sweet and simply scrumptious!

Favourite Quote?

Be the person you want to meet!

What are you hoping to do after this internship?

I am hoping the experience I gain from this project will help me get one step closer to obtaining my dream job. Right now I am unsure what it would look like exactly but one of the things I would like to do in the near future is work as a marine biologist at a resort. Here again it would be about connecting people to nature, making them appreciate the beauty and importance of what is around them and how their choices (both directly and indirectly) make the difference. If you can reach people in the right way they will be motivated, tell their family and friends and a ripple effect is created. Who knows how many people will get inspired! If everyone does a little we do a lot in total!  

So? How was your first trip on the boats???

Tuesday was the first day I went out on a boat to look for dolphins and whales. We received training on Monday which included a detailed description about cetaceans and data-collecting techniques such as GPS-recording, species recognition, behaviour recognition and how to take a good photo of a dorsal fin, and now it was time to put it all into action!

On the boat, our first stop was the fish-farms which are a few kilometres from the coast. The fishermen were doing maintenance work while some bottlenose dolphins hung around the nets waiting for fish to escape; basically the dolphins are using this spot as a lazy take-away food option! We constantly took pictures of the dorsal fins while we identified the species and observed their behaviour. We also noted things such as how many individuals were present, and whether they were adults or juveniles.

Then we continued further out to sea, keeping our eyes peeled. The conditions were quite calm so the water was very clear and it didn’t take long to spot a surface break in the water and the appearance of some new dorsal fins. This time they were pilot whales and although this species is mostly calm during the day they put on quite a show for us! There was a juvenile that constantly turned over on his back and showed his belly, as well as slapping the water with his tail. This same juvenile had what looked like a strange deformity hanging on its dorsal fin. We took some photos and when we came back to the house to analyse the data we actually saw that the deformity was most likely a piece of sea-weed that had attached itself to the juvenile’s fin. The group rode at the bow (front) of the boat for a while, one individual blew bubbles through its blowhole while another was very inquisitive and hung around at the front of the boat checking us out. It was truly an amazing experience and the time flew by! I cannot wait to go on the even longer boat trips later on this week!

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Menopause in Cetaceans 

Let’s talk about sex, baby. Well, sort of, reproduction really but hopefully I caught your attention. Menopause. Probably something most people don’t want to think a lot about, but biologically it is actually really interesting… at least I think so.

Let’s think about it a bit, what is menopause? Well essentially it is just a female living on for many years after losing her ability to reproduce. It doesn’t sound like much, but from a biological perspective the entire purpose of any organism is to pass its genetic material on to the next generation, so once an individual loses its ability to do that, their existence becomes unnecessary. If a female can’t produce and raise offspring is survival really worth it? So it isn’t really surprising that very few species have long female survival periods after stopping reproduction, yet a few species do. Humans, of course, is the obvious one, but it also occurs in killer whales, possibly in elephants, and… you guessed it – short-finned pilot whales, the star of the Tenerife show!

Since I’ve told you menopause is actually biologically unusual, you may wonder why it happens at all. It may help you to know that both killer whales and short-finned pilot whales exist in what are known as matrilines, or matriarchal societies. Here, female offspring will stay with their mother throughout their life, with in turn their female offspring remaining, forming a group of closely related females. Males tend to leave the group, at least partly, in order to reproduce with females they aren’t related to. Female short-finned pilot whales will not reproduce after the age of 40, yet they can live to around 65 years old, so there must be a good reason for sticking around for another quarter of a century!

Granny, Grandma, Nanny, whatever you call her, everyone loves their Grandmother right? But think about how much knowledge she has, how many years of life experience she can pass on to her children and her children’s children. I’m sure if you think about it you’ve learned something from your Grandmother, even if it’s just the secret family recipe for the world’s best apple pie! Just as in humans, older female short-finned pilot whales hold a wealth of information which can help their offspring to survive and reproduce successfully. So even though she may no longer be producing more of her own offspring, her years of knowledge are ensuring that her genetic material that’s already out there is getting the best possible chance of surviving in to another generation. Let’s hear it for Granny pilot whale!

By Bryony Manley - Assistant Research Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.


Photo-Identification In Cetaceans

It’s been a quiet week this week, so I’ve used the time to get on with the less glamorous side of scientific research – hours in front of the computer. It’s a necessary evil and one which I enjoy, in its own way, almost as much as the data collection in the field… almost.

I’ve been spending some time working on an aspect of research which is used the world over, and is one of the most powerful tools available to those studying cetaceans – photo-identification.

As with almost any animal, no two individuals will ever look exactly the same, there will be some unique feature which marks them apart from others and can be used for recognising that individual. The idea with photo-identification is to take a clear photograph of that feature in order for it to be recognised again in the future. In some species this will be easier to identify and photograph than others, and the biggest problem with cetaceans is that they spend the majority of their time underwater and out of sight. The fact that they are mammals comes to our aid though, they must return to the surface at least occasionally to breathe, so we can use this opportunity to photograph them.

Different body features are used in identifying different species. In the giant blue whale, the pattern of spots along the side of the body is used, in right whales it is the unique clusters of white markings, or ‘callosities’ on their head, and in humpback whales it is the distinctive black and white patterning on the underside of the tail flukes. Here in Tenerife we are focusing on the resident species of short-finned pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins, both of which are recognised by their dorsal fins. Each dorsal fin is a slightly different shape, but this alone is not distinctive enough. Over the course of their life an animal will acquire nicks, notches, and scratches on the fin which make each one as unique as our fingerprints.

One set of photographs of ten different pilot whales will not give you much information – other than that you saw ten different individuals. But hundreds of sets of photographs of pilot whales, taken over years of research, becomes an incredibly powerful research tool. Not only can you say how many different individuals you have ever seen, but you can also say how many times each individual has been seen, if they have ever been seen with a calf indicating they are female, if they are always seen with the same other individuals suggesting a social structure, what times of day or year they are seen showing patterns in behaviour, where they are seen indicating important locations… the list goes on and on.

It is still very early days in our photo-identification of the cetaceans here in Tenerife, but every data set has to start somewhere. Over the coming months and years the photographs you take as volunteers on this project will contribute to a catalogue of images which will be able to tell us a lot about these amazing animals.

By Bryony Manley - Assistant Research Officer

Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.