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Excuses to Travel: dolphin sightings

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

Nobody has been back in touch about the manatees (which I find a little rude). The expedition club has been in touch—fingers crossed that some members will be interested! 😀

A large population of Irrawaddy dolphins has been discovered around the Sundarbans. The only relative refuge for this species which I was previously aware of (aside from a very sparse distribution in rivers in Cambodia, Indonesia and the Phillippines and along coastal areas in SE Asia) was in the Chilka lake in Orissa. The population in the Songkhla lake in Thailand has dwindled significantly.

With Platanista gangetica apparently thriving right around Dhaka (I’ve previously suspected that they are scavengers) a visit to Bangladesh may well be on the cards next winter.

A Day of Sunshine and Shadow

Saturday, January 13th, 2007


The grey clouds lifted as the catamaran pulled up at the jetty of the Tangalooma Wild Dolphin Resort. A rainbow-coloured paraglider painted a stark contrast against the blue sky. The beach fringing the green shore extended for miles, right up to the rusty skeletons of shipwrecks which were stranded at the end of the bay. They provide shelter for thousands of tropical fish to be marvelled at by snorkelers. But we would do that later. First, we entered the Marine Research and Education Centre.

When John pointed at the sign next to the reception desk, the clouds drew back in. A shadow would hang over this day, which should have been our best yet, and one of the highlights of the trip.

On January 4th, Lipotes vexillifer, the Yangtze river dolphin, became the first species of cetacean to be declared officially extinct.

It feels like the loss of an old friend. I thought about the scientist in Wuhan with whom Boris and I briefly exchanged letters in 1985. About thirty years of intense conservation effort ending in dismal failure because there was no room for the dolphin in the busy and intensely polluted river, and attempts to construct a functional reserve remained fruitless. How do you protect a species about which you know next to nothing?

I’m upset. John is too, because we both remember Venezuela.

We picked listlessly at our huge BBQ platters and then I walked along the beach to snorkle, experiencing a wreck dive without the need to submerge myself. The fish took my mind off things for a while, but when I nearly collided with a group of about a dozen other snokelers, I decided to head back.


Walking over the blazing sand, I wondered who else mourned a little known Chinese dolphin.

Still, it was a good day. As it got dark, we gathered at the jetty. I swept the horizon with my binoculars, willing to be the first to spot a distant fin, only for the dolphins to appear as if from nowhere, right next to the beach.


But that’s another story.

I may be off blogging for a few days as we head north, becoming stranded in a tiny seaside backwater on the way.

Qeqertarsuaq, ‘The Big Island’

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

20th August 2006

When the sun comes out, with the clouds still hanging low in the sky, the light of the arctic summer is unique. The sky shimmers with mother-of-pearl shades of baby-blue, light turquoise and just a hint of gold. It is the same light we sometimes see just after dawn, but it had just turned 9am, and it was already full daylight.

We were approaching Disko Island on the Najaaraq Ittuk and I stood on deck, rubbing my mittens and looking out for humpback whales.
[read on]

A Whale of a Day

Monday, August 14th, 2006

The ship was equipped with a giant, 101 person life raft which can inflate in seconds. Passengers glide down a sort of rubber chute; at no time does anyone come into contact with the water. Just to make absolutely sure, they don’t just wear life jackets, they don ‘full immersion survival suits’—think membrane drysuit with fluorescent strips and a whistle.

This is Geenland, land of extremes.
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Whales might fly

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

I had to check the date upon seeing the above headline in this week’s New Scientist, but it is definitely not April 1st.

Grey whales (Eschrichtius robustus) have been hunted to extinction in the Atlantic in the early 1700s, but now two researchers at the University of Central Lanarkshire in Perth have come up with the bright idea to re-introduce them to Scottish waters in an effort to boost the whalewatching industry.

Whales aren’t cattle. Pacific grey whales may not be adapted to life in the Atlantic, may not be able to locate sufficient food and, being migratory animals, will most probably end up thoroughly disoriented. We have no idea what comprises a viable breeding population and the north coast of Scotland is a far cry from the balmy waters of Bajia California where they calve.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the stress inflicted by handling these animals endangers their health and could even kill them. It is laughable to refer to the two scientists involved, Andrew Ramsey and Dr Owen Nevin, as ‘conservationists’.

Maybe it can be done—we have sperm whales breeding in the Bay of Biscay now—but it isn’t worth the risk and potential suffering inflicted on the whales.

Whale watching in the Bay of Biscay

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

(>1500 words)

I emerged from my stifling dark cabin at five thirty in the morning, surprised to find it already light outside. Eagerly, I climbed the stairs to the observation deck. When I pushed open the doors, the air was sucked out by a gale that nearly whipped the jacket out of my arms. I threw it on hastily and made my way to starboard. The sky looked ominously grey with the sun still under the horizon, but the sea which had been choppy and flecked with white yesterday lay motionless like a flat, grey carpet. Perfect conditions for whalewatching. The grey outline of hills signified that we were already too close to shore to see the fabled beaked whales that inhabit the continental shelf and deepwater canons in the Bay of Biscay, but we would come this way again.
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Green-eyed Monster thoughts

Friday, May 20th, 2005

So what about whale watching in Biscay?

For several days now I have walked around in the happy afterglow of a dream day at sea, but I haven’t yet found the right words to describe it (I plunged almost straight back into more mundane writing tasks which I keep putting off, playing too much Sudoku instead). Now, on top of my happy memories, the old bitterness keeps creeping back irrevocably. It is a minor, minor feeling but it has been gnawing at me for so long that it eventually found its way to the fore, just as I woke up yesterday morning. So I might as well write about that instead, perhaps then it will go away and I can return to my dreams.
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Whales in the Bay of Biscay

Thursday, May 12th, 2005

With its varied habitats (continental shelf, deep water, trench), a great variety of cetaceans inhabit the waters in the Bay of Biscay. 23 species have been encountered so far, making these waters nearly as diverse for cetaceans as those off Sri Lanka.

The underwater canons of Sandander trench are a particularly suitable habitat for the elusive beaked whales. The Bay of Biscay is the location where a living True’s Beaked Whale was photographed for the first time.

Whale Watching in the Bay of Biscay

Tuesday, May 10th, 2005

Hurrah, hurrah, I’m off whale watching in the Bay of Biscay tomorrow! That is if I catch the ferry which I should do—it leaves at 20:45. Portsmouth is only just over an hour away from here. The whales are practically on our doorstep!

I’ll be back with an update on Sunday or Monday. Can’t wait!

Lost in the Floodplains, Aguaro-Guariquito National Park, Venezuela

Sunday, February 6th, 2005

I’m looking through some old journals, trying to piece together another story for BootsNall, purely to keep with the travel writing game while also working on my other blog. This one is from notes for a story which I never got around to writing for the wilderness women submission call. It follows on from an earlier entry on this blog (with better pictures).

The Llanos del Orinoco region is a vast area right in the centre of Venezuela, large swathes of which are flooded during the rainy season. We kind of stumbled across it.

(ca. 1700 words)
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