A Journey South! by Anthony Crook

13th February 2015


My name is Anthony Crook, I am an ex Newcastle University student having studied BSc Marine Zoology and then MSc Ecological Consultancy in the fine city of Newcastle Upon Tyne. During my time at Newcastle I have been fortunate enough to study marine biology in many different countries and in a range of ecosystems including such delights as the rocky intertidal in Millport, Scotland and Monte Clerigo, Portugal and coral reefs in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia.  Now I find myself, a ‘southerner’ by nature, having journeyed further south than most! I am studying benthic marine invertebrates in the coldest, driest, highest and windiest continent on Earth….Antarctica!

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I have just arrived in Rothera, at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Research Station, located on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula (67° 34.5’ S, 68° 07.0’ W). I started my adventure in my hometown of Eastbourne, where on the morning of my departure I visited the house of the great Antarctic explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. As I walked down the path from his house, I was literally walking in his footsteps! My journey here took 38 hours of continuous travel on 5 different airplanes! Still slightly quicker than Shackletons’ voyage I imagine!

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After an incredible final flight over the Antarctic Peninsula from Chile, the first thing that struck me on arrival to the station, besides the stunning views of icebergs and snowy mountains, was the smell of the elephant seals!  Around 6 adolescent males were piled up seeking shelter next to the sewage treatment plant ironically. Immediately the resident plumber blamed the smell on the seals, but I’m not sure as the sewage system was apparently experiencing some technical difficulties!

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My purpose

I am working as a research assistant for my previous tutor (Ben Wigham) who has an on-going research project with BAS. The research will go towards the Rothera Oceanographic and Biological Time-Series (RaTS) which is a key component of the BAS Ecosystems Programme and has been collecting data on seasonal and interannual variability in reproductive biology and feeding activity of selected marine invertebrates since 1997.

Whilst there has been a lot of research related to food-web structure in Antarctic shallow-water benthic communities there has been less research focused on the trophic relationships and linkages within these benthic communities especially with regard to specific isotopic turnover rates for these often endemic organisms. Understanding carbon flow and trophic linkages in the context of a food-web is a fundamental requisite in determining future ecosystem-wide changes to community structure and function.

The Science-y bit!

I am in charge of running a 45 day long diet-switch laboratory experiment to determine the isotopic turnover rate in the tissues of two functionally different taxa, Laternula elliptica (Clam – suspension feeder) and Odontaster validus (Starfish – predator/scavenger). I have 72 individuals of each species in aquarium tanks in the state of the art marine laboratory down here in Rothera. I am feeding the Odontaster on a diet of tinned ham and the Laternula on a diet of phytoplankton. At specific time intervals (5d, 10d, 15d, 20d, 30d, 40d, 45d) 6 animals of each species will be sacrificed, specific tissues will be dissected and frozen. These frozen tissues samples will then be shipped back to the UK where they will undergo stable isotope analysis. By knowing the isotopic signature of the diets it is possible to infer the isotopic turnover rates of the different tissues in the organisms.

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The dive team have already hand-selected my specimens from the local dive sites and the marine assistant has set up my experiment layout in the aquarium, so the 2-day acclimatisation process is well underway! I will be dissecting my control (day 0) specimens later on today!

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Next update will be about what it is like to live in Antarctica on a scientific research station and reports of my progress with the experiment!

Hope all is well up North!

Ant(arctica) Crook

Blog 3- Seals seals seals


With the pup count on the Islands already over 1600 this year with just a few weeks left, we are already above last year’s total of 1575. Pups have been arriving at some rate, peaking around mid-November and beginning to tail off now. However once the pups leave their mothers at around 3 weeks of age they begin to moult.

Pups at this stage are known as moleys, they become inquisitive, playful and highly entertaining to watch. With newly stored fat layers, weighing an average of 45kg and looking like mini seal Michelin men, they also find it difficult to move and even groom themselves.

Bob-hunt3-01 With more pups weaning, more moleys start to appear and congregate in moley groups or crèches around the outskirts of haul outs. They stay away from the aggressive nature of bulls and protective mothers. They stick together and appear to just relax and take in new aspects of life including the taste of grass…… (No they don’t eat grass)

Bob-hunt3-02They stay together sometimes in groups of more than 20 at times, for an estimated 2 weeks before venturing off into the water and the big wide world.

What am I doing out here and why?

I am here researching and observing behavioural data between mothers and pups. I’m looking into multiple parameters surrounding this behaviour which will be crucial in understanding the population dynamics.

Behavioural work hasn’t actually been conducted on the Islands since the 1950’s so the work on this grey seal colony will be important not only for the U.K, but for the worldwide population.

Behaviours such as, grooming, nursing, aggression, playing, resting and bathing are being recorded for individual mother pup pairs throughout the whole lactation period.

Pups across the Islands are sprayed dyed with non-harmful paint. This allows accurate counts as new colours are used each pup count so after a couple weeks we have a rainbow pup filled Island. The pups I am following are specially marked with double colours or patterns to be able to re sight individual pups each day in a non-intrusive manner.

Bob-hunt3-03Observations are carried out at a safe and appropriate distance so no disturbance or disruption is caused to any of the seals. This is not only important for the bonding process of the pups but also to get accurate behavioural research.

You may think that substrate or shore exposure may play the biggest role in site selection for mothers before giving birth. However, water sources such as ponds, pools and the sea shore actually have the largest influence on site choice. Multiple sites are being compared to measure the differences in behaviour and the reasons surrounding it between different water sources and timing in the season.

A lot more research is being carried out within the study period, such as the amount of parental separation time where mothers will go off to bathe, not feed. Mortality measurements and time lapse camera footage of whole populations as well as energy transfer between mother and pups through nursing times will also be recorded.


The findings of this project will provide better understanding of the factors affecting the population dynamics and behaviour of m/p relations on the Farne Islands and how this compares with the research currently around other populations. The project will also give advice on management and future projections for this population and further study needed to understand and maintain this population. Bob-hunt3-05For more information please contact:
Robert (Bob) Hunt
Email:  r.hunt@ncl.ac.uk
Marine Science MPhil Student







Farne Blog #2 – 28/10/1

Blown Away!

Huge winds arrived last week, with the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo hitting on Tuesday.  We were ready and waiting. The island embraced the weather and so did the seals, some better than others.

Female seals have been gathering on and around the Islands all week, with our FIRST pups being born. 124 pups were counted across the outer group on 24th October with 5 on Brownsman; sadly 2 were stillborn, a common occurrence throughout the season.  Another 10 pups have since been born on Brownsman and pilot behavioral studies have been carried out over the last few days. The main study of the new pups will begin Wednesday 29th October.

Bob-hunt2-01  Where are the Farne Islands?

The Farnes are situated in Northumberland off the coast of Seahouses (south of Berwick upon Tweed). The islands are spread out across 3 miles of the North Sea with the Inner Farnes closest to shore at 2 miles from Seahouses harbour.  A further 1 mile seaward you will reach the outer group.

These islands are home to the majority of pups (94% in the 2013 season being born North and South Wamses, Staple and Brownsman Island). I am situated on Brownsman Island, living in an old decommissioned lighthouse, once occupied by Grace Darling, with 3 National Trust rangers.

Bob-hunt2-02 Bob-hunt2-03

The Grey Seals

The seals come ashore once a year to breed and mate in large fairly dense colonies. The two species of seals found round the coast of Britain are harbour (common) seals and grey seals. The distribution of grey seals in the U.K is mainly concentrated in Scotland, the Scottish Isles and the East coast of England.

Grey seals come ashore October to late December to give birth, nurse and mate. The breeding season is very short, lasting only three weeks, compared to other species. Mothers feed throughout the summer and then fast during the whole nursing time while still providing incredibly fatty milk.


This short period means every interaction between mother and pups is incredibly important in the survival of the pups. Throughout this research I will be looking into this in considerable depth.

The Farne island grey seals are an extremely important population not only for the U.K. but for the worldwide population of this species. Averaging an estimate of 5000 seals and in 2013 a pup count of 1575 was recorded. The 2013 mortality rate was 26%, although in bad storm years the rate can exceed 50%. I will be monitoring the mortality closely and hoping for a good year. Bob-hunt2-05

Both Dr Per Berggren, School of Marine Science & Technology and Dr Richard Bevan, School of Biology, supervise my research and assist with ideas and guidance throughout my time on the islands.

The next blog will focus on my research, methods and aims as well as more updates on seal numbers and pup births.

For more information please contact:
Robert (Bob) Hunt
Email:  r.hunt@ncl.ac.uk
Marine Science MPhil Student


Farne Blog #1 – 18/10/14

Lots of wind, not many pups

I arrived on the island late Friday afternoon. This is my second time researching on the Farnes as I researched mother pup behavior briefly for my undergraduate degree in 2012. The research and experience from this has left me wanting more from seal research and when asked to come back to Newcastle University to study for my Masters I just had to take the opportunity to work out here again.

Bob-Hunt02 After a year researching in America the grey seal pupping seasons is here and so am I!

I was scheduled to come over a week ago but the weather has been against us. High winds and swells have meant the boat hasn’t been able to get to shore but a small weather window has allowed me to get here. Now I’m ready to research for the next 2 months.

A little background.

My initial love for nature came from my family in England and the States and especially my Dad always being so enthusiastic and knowledgeable about it.

I graduated from Newcastle University in 2013 majoring in Marine Zoology and have since lived in America for the last 9 months studying Northern fur seals during pupping season in Alaska. I also spent a month tagging killer whales along the Pacific North West coast with NOAA.

I have an avid interest in Marine Mammals and focusing my research in this area. My supervisor Dr Per Berggren has been instrumental in helping me explore and delve into my passion with marine mammals and will also be supporting me with this research.Bob-hunt01

So what will I be writing about, studying and doing out here?

I will be writing about life on the islands, accommodation, conditions, the positives and the negatives, and all the things I will be doing here with as many pictures of pups, mothers, bulls and other wildlife.  Updates on the seal population, weather, interesting animals that visit and of course the pups. I will write pieces on Grey seals themselves, their behaviour and most importantly the breeding season, but also on my research and methods.

My main focus while out here will be to see the differences in mother/ pup pair behaviour between different shore and inland exposures and substrates and also temporally, how they differ throughout the breeding season.

I will also look at population dynamics across the islands with the help of time lapse photography and use non-invasive methods of determining energy transfer from mother to pup throughout the breeding season here on the Farnes.

The Farne Island grey seal pups often have an annual high mortality rate, so specific measurements and locations will be recorded and age and sex of deceased pups to see if any conclusions can be drawn to further understand this mortality.Bob-Hunt03

High winds are expected throughout this weekend and early next week, no pups are currently on Brownsman (where I am living) but a few are already scattered across other islands. I will focus these next few days on setting up equipment and trailing methods to perfect the study once we get pups.

The next blog will give background on the island and the current seal population as well as any updates.

For more information please contact:
Robert (Bob) Hunt
Email:  r.hunt@ncl.ac.uk
Marine Science MPhil Student

Whitebeaked dolphin stranding at Newbiggin, Northumberland

Another dead white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) was reported found on the beach by Lynemouth powerstation on Sunday 27 October. Pictures indicated that the animal had likely been on the beach for about 10 days. I went to the site on Wednesday to investigate the dolphin. It was male, 2.65m long, but unfortunately too decomposed for collection and to allow a useful post mortem analysis. However, samples of skin, blubber and muscle were taken for genetic and pollution analyses, and teeth for aging. It had 26 pairs of teeth in each jaw which is consistent with the 22-28 pairs normally found in the species. The animal had significant tooth wear indicating that is was an older animal. By preparing teeth and reading growth layers it is possible to age the animal and a white-beaked dolphin may live for 40-45 years.

Why do cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins and whales) strand? There are different reasons, most likely a combination of factors, and it may differ depending on whether the animal was alive or dead when stranded. Live animals may strand due to navigational errors especially in areas with large tidal range and gently sloping beaches where the water may disappear quickly on the ebbing tide. Stormy weather and possibly magnetic anomalies may also contribute. However, it is more likely that the animal was sick or had been injured after interaction with fishing gear or a boat. If the animal is unwell and weak it may seek shelter in a shallow bay and beach itself to help keep the blow hole above water to allow it to breath. Animals found dead on beaches may have suffocated in fishing gear and then been dumped by the fisher at sea when the gear was hauled. In such cases there is usually evidence in the form of netmarks on the dorsal and/or pectoral fins, tail flukes or the snout. If the animal had been hit by a boat there is usually some form of physical trauma, an impact wound and/or bleeding.

There are also cases of mass strandings when whole groups of up to several hundred dolphins or whales strand together. Again there may be different factors responsible such as those mentioned above and others e.g. biotoxins (toxic algae blooms) that may make a whole group of animals sick and lead to stranding. Military sonar has been linked to strandings and deaths of several beaked whale species where the sonar has affected the whales’ diving behaviour and caused decompression-related problems (similar to the “bends” that can affect human divers) when they return to the surface after deep dives. In some other species e.g. pilot and sperm whales it may also be the social bonds that may contribute where perhaps one sick animal strand and several other come to the aid the sick animal and also strand in the process. In most cases it is likely a combination of factors that are the cause for the stranding.

For information on how to report strandings in England see: http://ukstrandings.org/how-to-report-a-stranding/

Information from the strandings provides a picture of what species are found in UK waters and show geographic and seasonal distribution. The animals that that undergo post-mortem analyses provide information on causes of death, disease, contaminants, reproductive patterns and diet of the cetaceans living around the UK.

We collaborate with the UK Cetaceans Strandings Investigation Programme (http://ukstrandings.org/) and acts as regional contact that can respond to strandings. Depending on the size of the animal and degree of decomposition, the dead animals are either collected, stored in the freezer room at the Dove Marine Laboratory and later post mortem analysed, or post mortem sampled on the beach.

On a more positive note, there was a live stranding of a harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) on Whitley Bay Beach in on Tuesday morning 29 October. This report came from Marcus Jackson, North Tyneside council coastal warden. The stranding was reported to the  British Divers Marine Life Rescue (http://www.bdmlr.org.uk/) who are trained in dealing live stranded cetaceans. When BDMLR came to the beach members of the public had already refloated the animal. This may have had a successful outcome for the animal but unless correct procedures are followed it is possible to cause more harm than help. So unless you have been trained as a marine mammal medic, please call for expert help if you find a live stranded cetacean.

For more information please contact: Dr Per Berggren (per.berggren@ncl.ac.uk)

Many thanks to Martin Kitching (http://www.northernexperiencewildlifetours.co.uk/) for reporting the white-beaked dolphin stranding.

Whitebeaked dolphin stranding by Alnmouth

On Tuesday morning 22 October we received a message about a dead white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) found on a beach by Alnmouth, Northumberland. The message came from the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (http://ukstrandings.org/) that monitors the UK hotline for stranded cetaceans. We participate in this work by responding to strandings that occur locally in Northumberland. After checking the exact location with those that had reported the stranding we (myself, Simon Laing, Dove Marine Lab intern and Paul Dees, Stage 3 Marine Biology student) set off in the school van with a stretcher, wheelbarrow and basic sampling kit with the intention of retrieving the whole animal. The plan was to bring the dolphin and store it in the freezer room at the Dove Marine Laboratory for a full dissection at a later date. We reached the site after an hour drive and found the animal on the beach just below the high tide mark. It was not as fresh as we had hoped and interviews with locals at the nearby caravan park told us that the animal had stranded on Saturday.

The dolphin was a 2.6m female and we soon realised that we would not be able to move her from the beach along the narrow steep access path to the van. In fact the three of us were barely able to move her at all and struggled to drag her up above the high tide mark. We were not able to weigh her but she was likely weighing 200+ kg. The size and tooth wear told us that this was a mature older female. We extracted teeth for aging and cut out skin, blubber and muscle samples for genetic, stable isotope and contaminant analyses. We also photographed the animal including pictures of the dorsal fin that we will use to match against existing catalogues of known white-beaked dolphins in the North Sea. It was by now late afternoon and we decided to leave the animal and return the next day for more comprehensive sampling.

We returned on Wednesday equipped with scalpels, knives, saw and various sampling bags. We took samples from kidney and liver (for heavy metal analysis), blood (for blood chemistry) and we also took uterus and ovaries (for reproductive biology – she was not obviously pregnant) and stomach (for diet analysis). We then took the whole head for studies of the sound production organs and one of the flippers that we will clean and eventually have on display together with the skull.

The white-beaked dolphin is endemic to the Atlantic Ocean and regarded as a continental shelf species with an abundance of about 10,000 in the North Sea. It is one of the larger dolphins (1.1-1.2m at birth growing to around 2.5-3m and 200-300kg). It is characterized by its short thick white coloured beak, white or pale grey markings on the flanks, counter-shading and curved dorsal fin. They become sexually mature around 10 years of age and the lifespan is about 40 years. They feed on fish and cephalopods. There is little information about the species social structure and group size is 1-20. For more information about the abundance and distribution of white-beaked dolphins and other cetaceans in European waters please see the following recent publication: Hammond PS, Macleod K, Berggren P, et al. 2013. Cetacean abundance and distribution in European Atlantic shelf waters to inform conservation and management. Biological Conservation. 164, 107-122. Read abstract and download paper here: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/marine/research/publication/192635

You can also watch white-beaked dolphin swimming underwater filmed by Ben Burville off the Northumberland coast here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmDC2Cj_ROk

For more information please contact: Dr Per Berggren (per.berggren@ncl.ac.uk)

Greenland shark stranding by Alnwick

An unusual stranding occurred on Friday morning when a 3m Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) washed up on a beach by Dunstan Steads, outside Alnwick, Northumberland.

It was discovered by James Robertson, a local farmer, who was out surfing. James called in his observation to the local council and to Dr Per Berggren at the School of Marine Science & Technology who coordinated the recovery of the shark. It was a truly collaborative effort involving local efforts to get the animal off the beach in the late afternoon and then transported in the School van by Marine Science Technician John Knowles from The Dove Marine Laboratory. John then got help from Marine Science MPhil students Andrew Temple and Will Jolly, and Dan Gordon (Great North Hancock Museum) to get the shark into the freezer room at the Dove Marine Lab where it is now sharing the space with six porpoises and one hooded seal.

The Greenland shark is a sub-Arctic species with possibly the most northern distribution of any shark and is normally found around Iceland and Greenland. It belongs to the family “sleeper” sharks (Somniosidae) within the order dogfishes (Squaliformes) and is also sometimes called Gurry shark (due to the fact that it sometimes eat offal from fish and mammals). It inhabits inshore zones to continental shelves usually in depths of 0 to 1200 m (has been recorded at 2,200m depth). During winter months in the species occurs in the intertidal zone and at the surface in shallow bays and river mouths, moving into depths of 180 to 550 m during warmer months.

The Greenland shark is fairly barrel shaped with a short, rounded snout, small dorsal and pectoral fins, and small eyes. The gill openings are also very small in relation to the size of the species. The colour range from dark brown to pale grey and is uniform.

It is one of the largest sharks and can grow up to 7m and way 1400kg. The animal that stranded was comparatively small being 3m and about 120kg. There are no reliable estimates of the Greenland shark lifespan but tagged sharks have been recaptured 16 years later. It is thought to grow at very slow rate and may be the longest-lived vertebrate with a potential life span of over 200 years. It has placental ovoviviparous reproduction and the female can carry up to 10 young pups.

Greenland shark is an apex predator that normally feeds on fish, seabirds, seals, invertebrates and large carcasses. It has about 50 teeth in each the upper and lower jaw. The teeth of the upper jaw are thin, pointed, without serrations and act as anchor while the lower jaw does the cutting. The lower teeth are broad, square and interlocking with short cusps pointing outward. Most shark species can be identified from their teeth and for this species it is important to use teeth from both upper and lower jaw for a positive identification.

This shark is listed as Near Threatened on the basis of possible population declines and limiting life history characteristics. The Greenland shark was historically targeted by shark liver fisheries in Norway, Iceland, and Greenland that may have had a significant impact on the species. The commercial fishing of the Greenland shark for liver oil ended in 1960. Currently the species is taken as bycatch in halibut and shrimp trawl fishers and fish traps and gillnets in Greenland. It is also caught by artisanal fisheries in the Arctic.

The flesh of a Greenland shark is poisonous due to the presence of the trimethylamine oxide. However, it can be eaten if it is boiled in several changes of water or dried or fermented for several months to produce Hákarl. Traditionally Hákarl this was produced by burying the shark in the ground, where the shark would go through several cycles of freezing and thawing. It is considered a delicacy in Iceland and Greenland.

What will happen to the shark now? The shark will be kept frozen until a decision has been made of its fate. There is great interest for the shark and the Natural History Museum is interested in preserving the whole animal but before that the animal will be measured and sampled for biological and ecological analyses.

For more information please contact: Dr Per Berggren (per.berggren@ncl.ac.uk)

The pictures of the shark have kindly been provided by Darren Graham, Northumberland and James and Elizabeth Robertson.

Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA).

Zanzibar Shark Project Update 13/02/2013 – When tigers became makos

The excitement and anticipation of waiting for the Nungwi shark photos to see if there were great white sharks in Zanzibar ended in slight disappointment. The shark data sheets labelled white sharks turned out to be silky sharks, whilst those labelled tiger sharks were actually shortfin mako sharks. How a shortfin mako could be mistaken for a tiger shark, I haven’t got a clue! Of the 68 sharks caught in Nungwi from September to December 2012 there were: 27 shortfin makos, 14 smooth hammerheads, 8 scalloped hammerheads, 3 great hammerheads, 6 silky sharks, 3 pelagic threshers, 2 bigeye threshers, 1 white-tailed dogfish, 1 bignose shark, 1 bigeye sixgill shark, 1 blacktip shark and 1 actual tiger shark. Even though there were no white sharks and not as many tigers found as I had hoped for, the fact that shortfin mako and hammerhead sharks were present in large numbers mean that I can focus on these species groups for my dissertation.

Mako shark

Hammerhead shark

Meanwhile the system of informing myself and the research of any sharks caught here in Kizimkazi-Dimbani fish market was not working as well as I had hoped. However after discussion with Mr Pandu there was an immediate improvement. The morning after our discussion I was informed of a large catch of 11 sharks, doubling my shark total in Dimbani in one morning! The sharks were all identified as white-tailed dogfish.

Now that we have the communication sorted, I am waiting eagerly for the month of March, when shark catches are reported to be quite high in the area and catches of 11 sharks every morning may become a regular occurrence! Large numbers of sharks are obviously welcome for the study but also a concern regarding the status of the species caught. We hope that the studies now conducted will provide data for an initial shark assessment and also indicate where more research may be needed.

Tutaonana badye (see you later),

William Jolly

Newcastle University

Shark project, Zanzibar

Zanzibar Shark Project – The beginning

Zanzibar Shark Project – The beginning

The Zanzibar Shark Project was initiated in July 2012 by asking local collaborators to assist in collection of data on landed sharks in two villages, Kizimkazi-Dimbani (where we live) in the south and Nungwi in the north of Zanzibar. We provided data forms, tape measure, sample bags and a camera to record information on the sharks caught in the local fisheries.

When we arrived here in Zanzibar we met with Mr Pandu and Mr Chupe who covers the areas in the south and north, respectively. We received data on 9 sharks from the south collected between September and November 2012 (including bull, scalloped hammerhead , bronze whaler and bigeye sixgill shark). We used the photographs and identification keys to match photos to species without much problem.  It was slightly disappointing to find the catch rate low in the south, as there is very little to go on to establish what species are present.

Hammerhead shark

Bull shark

The data received from the north were more encouraging. We received records from 68 sharks caught off Nungwi. The data forms indicate that tiger and hammerhead sharks are the dominant catches in the area with some, as of yet, unidentified sharks and the possibility of great whites. All species will be confirmed with the shark identification key once we have downloaded the photos from the camera that Mr Chupe has up in Nungwi.

Shark data form

As my original proposal is based upon hammerheads and considerable background research went into this group of species before leaving for Zanzibar, this is the sort of shark data I’d been hoping for. The possibility of finding juvenile great whites is also very exciting given that this species is not normally found this close to the equator but the sharks must of course be properly identified first before any conclusions are drawn.

We have now provided with additional sampling kits including scales to weigh the landed sharks. We are also adding a third sampling location at the fish market in Stone town (capital of Zanzibar) where sharks from most other areas around Zanzibar are marketed. Shark data forms, plastic vials for genetic material and glass vials for stable isotope analysis have been sent to the fish market in the hope that samples can be obtained.

Tutaonana badye (see you later),

William Jolly
Shark project, Zanzibar
Newcastle University

Week Two – Zanzibar Dolphin & Shark Research Project 2013

“After a rather barren week one it appears the dolphins have had enough of our game of hide and seek (obviously we aren’t up to their standards at that game! Hiding behind the curtains, who’d have thought?!).”

So, our transects are finalised, our provisions are ready and it’s time to really begin.

We began our research proper on Sunday and managed to get 13 transects done between then and now (Wednesday), along with a supplies trip to Stone Town. Our transects take us from the western shores of Unguja Island to the very edge of the Menai Bay Conservation Area and so vary between 5-10 nautical miles, or 5¾ – 11½  kilometres for us younger ones, travelling at 7.5knots that can feel like a lot of staring at empty water when the animals aren’t playing ball! Luckily they have been good to us this week, with sightings every day since.

Our sighting on Sunday was an unexpected one as three dark shadows snuck in from behind the boat and popped up just five meters from the port side; they took me completely by surprise, spinners. We spend all day looking for Indo-Pacific bottlenose and humpback dolphins and the first species we see is one we thought we would be lucky to see even once during our 12 weeks here!  But just like they arrived the three of them ghosted away after only a few seconds, short but sweet, I won’t forget my first ever spinner dolphin sighting.

From then our days kept getting better. Monday graced us with two different sightings; a solitary bottlenose offshore near Pungume Island, and a single humpback dolphin within 100m of shore just north of Kizimkazi-Dimbani, another first for me.

Tuesday’s sightings capped off the week, though they also served as a reminder of one of the worse sides of dolphin tourism. Our first transect of the day encountered five tourist boats a little offshore moving at breakneck speeds, this was the only clue we needed to know what was coming next. In their midst two bottlenose dolphins – a mother and her calf. The boats surrounded the animals and dumped their payload of snorkel equipped tourists practically on their heads, when you can see the splashes of the tourists hitting the water from 200m imagine what that must look like hitting the water 5m in front of you. Sad, but unfortunately this is what can happen with largely unregulated dolphin tourism activities, the guidelines go ignored. Slightly further along this transect we also bumped into another pair of bottlenose, luckily they had escaped the tourist boats attentions this time and were cruising down to Usine, one of the major hotspots for these animals here in Menai Bay. Our last sighting of the week was definitely our best so far; we found a group of 8 animals resting over an offshore reef out in the middle of the bay, with them a calf and one small, ungainly and awkwardly surfacing animal. Don’t worry that’s a good thing; it was a YOY (Young Of the Year). Between the two of them it is a great sign that the population is breeding well.

Well that brings us to Wednesday and the end of our week, but most specifically Stone Town and the Dala Dala. I can safely say, and Will’s 6’4” frame will attest to this, it’s possibly the most uncomfortable form of transport ever!!! Think 20 people and their luggage packed into the back of a milk truck for an hour and a half, now take about a foot off the headroom, cosy doesn’t quite cover it! At least Stone Town was worth it, the hustle of the city, the market and a stunning roof-top view as the back drop for lunch, not too shoddy if you ask me. Oh, and we also got to visit Omar Amir, one of Per’s old PhD students, an old friend of Stina and someone who’s work I had spent some time digesting before this trip began, who now resides at the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries.

Well that was week two in a nutshell, a good one for us and I hope it was a good one for all of you! See you next time.

Andrew Temple
Newcastle University
Zanzibar Dolphin and Shark Project 2013.

Sharky, one of the first dolphins ever identified out here some 15 years ago, actually seems to be following us! She’s been lurking in half of the bottlenose pods we have spotted.