Day 1 (17th Aug. 2017): After my arrival at Ponta do Ouro, I was first greeted by Sabrina (another Dolphin Encountours volunteer from Cape Town) when I walked into the lodge, the same lodge where I’ll stay for the next two months. After introducing ourselves, Sabrina took me to meet Dolphin Encountours owner, Angie Gullan, for a briefing on the volunteer tasks assigned to certain days of the week. Most of the mornings are for data work and skeleton analysis (if available), while other activities are dependent on weather condition, such as the boat launches. Weekday afternoons are primarily for land-based surveys.
By the time afternoon rolled in, Sabrina had led me along the path to the beachfront for a land-based survey for whales and dolphins. Unfortunately both the weather and sea conditions were so bad I easily mistook a wave’s spray for a whale blow. Two hours past and we had no luck. In the end we headed back to the lodge.
Day 5 (21st Aug. 2017): The weather was kind enough to grant us my first boat launch after a few days of poorer conditions. We had four clients registered for the tour and were ready to set off after a talk about Dolphin Encountours and what they are all about. Our first sighting was of a pod of approximately 5 bottlenose dolphins; the moment the boat stopped Angie gently dove in and soon everyone followed her in a close group, as part of the safety protocol. However it seemed the dolphins were not in the mood for socialising and they soon headed to their desired destination. The tour resumed after everyone had returned to the boat after the dolphins’ departure; as we continued on we were greeted with the sight of a humpback whale breaching offshore.
To our surprise, another humpback whale appeared tail-slapping on the opposite side of the boat, while three more whales (one of which was probably a calf judging by the size of the other two) were seen travelling close by. I was able to get some great photos seeing how close they were in comparison to the one breaching further away.
Day 7 (23rd Aug. 2017): In the morning I resumed work on the data entry of the boat logs. During the afternoon’s land-based survey we spotted quite a lot of humpback whale activity offshore; however it was hard to keep track as to whether it was the same pod we had seen earlier or a new one, due to how dispersed the group was. Despite this we gave it our best and always kept an eye out for any new sightings. We noted a lot of vessel activity as well, including a number of jet-skis, one commercial boat heading south, and a white yacht heading north. I could only imagine the amount of noise all these vessels were making underneath the sea’s surface.
Day 8 (24th Aug. 2017): Sabrina and I were introduced to skeleton work today, more specifically a young Subantarctic fur seal found last year after it stranded on Ponta do Ouro. From the reports at the time, the seal was in a weak and deteriorated condition and would not have been able to survive the strong winds and currents. Unfortunately the poor thing passed away before it could be transferred to the South African seal recovery department.
Now we have the skeletal remains in the laboratory room, with its vertebrae and rib structure complete and already set up hanging on the wire by previous volunteers. We haven’t started on any assembling work since we wanted to familiarise ourselves with the bones first. However the moment we laid eyes on the assembled parts of the pelvic region, something looked off. While the tibia and fibula were correctly paired, it seemed the pelvic piece (innominate) was glued to the “knee joints” of the seal and the femur was incorrectly attached to the wrong side of the innominate. We were completely puzzled (by both the bizarrely glued pelvic region bones and by the sheer number of other bone parts that we have to work with) and spoke with Angie about the bone dilemma. For now we will have to wait for the verdict until Angie gets further information from a specialist more familiar with skeletal structure of seals.