Entries in #research (9)

Tuesday
May162017

Tenerife - Reconnect With  Nature

“Keep close to nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean” - John Muir

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Thursday
Oct132016

My First Week As Assistant Research Officer 

Rachel, our new Assistant Research Officer on the project has recently started and tells us about how she has been getting on in her first week

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Wednesday
Aug032016

Top 5 Foods Of The Frontier House 

What is your favourite dish? Mac and cheese, omelette, a Sunday roast? Now imagine trying to cook this for 35 people, in a normal sized kitchen.

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Tuesday
Jun212016

What We Do On The Boats 

Being out surveying cetaceans is obviously our main goal when we are out on the whale watching boats, but it is not the only thing we do! These are tourist boats we are on, so every time we go out we also have a group of ten to 60 passengers with us.

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Wednesday
May042016

Conscious Cetaceans: The Intelligence of Non-human Persons

We base our understanding of animal intelligence on human intelligence. But what is intelligence? Could a species be superior to humans?

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Monday
Mar142016

Dolphin Watching: Benefits and Future

Dolphin watching has grown to be one of the most successful types of tourism in the world, offering economic returns as well as educational, research, and conservation benefits. It has shown a growth rate 3 to 4 times higher than other forms of tourism and has transformed many communities. It does however beg the question: Can this industry remain sustainable and continue to have the benefits, economic and ecological, for the communities?

In addition to the obvious direct economic benefits to the local communities that come hand-in-hand with increased tourism, dolphin watching can help provide indirect benefits such as an alternative source of income and a diversification in business for competing local stakeholders. A solid example of such stakeholders are local fisheries. Fisheries are known to be impacted by dolphin populations not only through competition for fish stocks but also through the inadvertent destruction of fishing equipment by the animals. In many cases dolphin populations have even been known to be actively culled because of it. A dolphin watching industry in which people who would otherwise be competitors are employed, instantly transforms them into allies with a vested interest in protecting cetaceans.

The goal however of high quality, sustainable dolphin watching is not just for it to be commercially successful and sustainable. Dolphin watching has as a main mission to educate people about the sea and the need for its conservation. The appeal of dolphins can in a way be “used” as a flagship species to promote a more general biophilic sense in urban humans and inspire them to preserve and protect the marine environment.

Reducing ones “footprint” is a key concept in the provision of high quality dolphin watching. This would include (among others) limitations such as reducing the time and area in which whale watching boats can be active which can massively help with reducing the ecological impact the industry may have, limitations in the distance that must be maintained when approaching the animals, the number of boats that can approach a group of animals at any given time, the time they can remain in their vicinity and the times a particular group can be repeatedly visited.

To judge the success of the industry, one has to weigh the benefits of the industry against its disadvantages. The key elements in achieving the desired outcome, as defined by Erich Hoyt in “A Blueprint for Dolphin and Whale Watching Development, are the following:
•    Good long-term management
•    Strict and regular scientific input
•    Attention to the values of conservation
•    Investment in people, both local and visiting, good customer care and community relations
•    Educational input and output


For such strategies to work there is however a need for a strong legal component with regulations, enforcement, and education as well as close cooperation between dolphin-watching operations, government agencies, NGOs and researchers.

As a conclusion, dolphin-watching can be massively beneficial both economically and with respect to conservation and education, however considering the growth rate of the industry, the success or failure in this endeavor currently balances on the tip on the knife and depends on highly controlled ethical and responsible management and practice informed by scientific research.

By Kimon - Assistant Reseacrch 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.

Tuesday
Mar082016

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.

Tuesday
Feb022016

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.

Tuesday
Jan192016

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.