08 Jan Volunteer experience with Raggy Charters
When we arrived in Port Elizabeth, South Africa on a windy and rainy week in early November 2017 to volunteer with Raggy Charters , we didn’t know what to expect. Our reasons for coming here were mainly because of Raggy Charters reputation in the conservation field, their partnership with the World Cetacean Alliance and their connection with the local community. We stayed for more than 6 weeks and learnt about their conservation programme and their involvement with environmental education programmes focused on marine wildlife. But to be honest, we also went to enjoy great weather and to see tons of animals, which we did!
During our frequent trips to St. Croix and Bird Island, we saw many humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on their migration route to Antarctica, where they spend the austral (southern hemisphere) summer feeding. This meant lots of mother-calf pairs leaping, breaching, lob-tailing and displaying all kind of imaginable tricks (a pleasure for anyone passionate about wildlife).
Apart from humpback whales, we saw many other species of cetaceans, including mega-pods of long-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus capensis), Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), a rare encounter right next to port of a sei whale (Balaenoptera borealis), plus Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei) and minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata).
Raggy Charters is the only whale watching operator in Algoa Bay, and run trips to help fund their conservation projects. Thanks to those trips we were lucky not only to have very close encounters with cetaceans but also to see the world biggest colony of African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) on St. Croix. Here we had fun watching these little ones trying to reach the island from the water. Next to Bird Island there is a colony of Cape fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus), cute and comical mammals, but cattle-smelly-like when you get closer to them! Besides penguins, the bird life made a huge impression on us: Cape gannets (Morus capensis), gulls, terns, petrels, cormorants and a very polite heron who would say “good morning” to you every single day in the harbour.
As well as all this, we were involved in a few research projects such as fish and seabird surveys which can feel like they last forever! We also undertook beach surveys, getting permission to drive onto the protected beaches of Alexandria Dune Fields and Maitland in order to collect data from dead animals like seabirds or stranded cetaceans and even to save a dying turtle! Thanks to the collaboration between Raggy Charters, University and Port Elizabeth Museum, we assisted with a few necropsies of cape fur seals, sub-Antarctic seals (Arctophoca tropicalis) and an elephant seal (Mirounga leonine). It was amazing and we learnt a lot, but the smell was….irresistible!).
But not everything was about “work”. We spent time discovering this incredible land, visiting game reserves, national parks (giraffes, zebras, elephants, rhinos, lions, cheetahs and ostriches among many others animals that crossed our path). We have been amazed by the huge biodiversity in this corner of the planet. Not only that we spent time experiencing South African culture, with special reference to “Braais” (those people who have made a whole culture around BBQ, which is a great experience itself).
To sum up, it was an incredible experience thanks to people like James, Jake, Kerry, Greg and Lloyd, and we have enjoyed of all it! Now, we have a load of stories to tell and a nice tan to make our friends jealous back in cold Europe. See you soon!
Rodrigo is a Spanish environmentalist with a Masters in Ecosystem Restoration. He is passionate about wildlife, photography and especially about environmental education. Rodrigo is now working as a naturalist with a whale watching company based in Iceland, and is always looking forward to improving his knowledge and learning from nature.
Ewa is Animal Science engineer from Poland with a passion for all kinds of animals and nature. Believing that everything is connected, from leaves on the trees, through feathers on bird’s wings, to fish in the depth of oceans. Ewa is passionate about spending her time trying to learn more about the environment and spreading her knowledge by working as a naturalist and guide on whale watching tours.