September 21, 2018
We at Berthon thoroughly enjoy following the voyages of exceptional Marine Conservation Research Vessel, SONG OF THE WHALE (SOTW). She has certainly been kept busy since our last Blog and has had a very rewarding year so far. Our last update in February saw SOTW preparing for an epic expedition from the Falklands back to Portugal, stopping over at Punta del Este, Salvador and Cape Verde en-route.
During this 2 month expedition, this dedicated crew of professionals continued their research using hydrophones (underwater microphones) to listen and document encounters with different whale and dolphin species. SOTW has also been working in collaboration with other NGOs to study the growing problem of plastic waste in our oceans. They have been using a manta trawl to gather these harmful samples of micro-plastics from the sea. Sharing their invaluable findings helps form a comprehensive picture on the distribution of marine debris around the world. The team have also collected seawater samples close to various species for the later extraction of DNA. These samples will be used in the development of an exciting new technique where it is possible to derive information on species which inhabit or have passed through an area of the ocean by detecting their DNA low levels of their DNA in the water.
The expedition got off to a windy start from Punta del Este on 28th March, braving 56 knot winds, and then rather large 4 metre swells. They faced further trauma sailing to Cape Verde, when the main halyard broke in the dead of night following a squall. All the mayhem further resulted in hydrophone cables becoming wrapped around the rudder! It takes a strong, calm skipper to sort things out in a crisis, and SOTW certainly had one that day in Niall, who spent a fair bit of time putting things right, often 31 metres up the mast – at sea!
It is disheartening but not surprising to learn that SOTW did find micro-plastic marine debris in their trawl, right in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, so far from shore and human habitation. However, we have to hope that this diligent sampling of the waters will help us all understand more about the plastic plaguing our troubled oceans and how to find viable solutions for the future of our marine life.
Manta Trawl in Action
Whilst traversing the Pond and crossing the Equator, the team were fortunate enough to sporadically pick up frequent sperm whale vocalisations with the hydrophones and were eventually treated to glimpses of these wonderful ocean beasts. They were also lucky enough to encounter Orca and dolphins along the way, and many species of bird.
This amazing trans-Atlantic sea journey ended in mid-May, when the SOTW docked in Portugal. But not for long! Ten days or so to stock up and get ready for a new crew to board SOTW for further exploration of the Mediterranean. This is where she has been spending the summer months, departing Portugal to survey the seas around Morocco, Malaga, Sardinia, Mallorca and Monaco, welcoming guests along the way.
SOTW is currently one of several vessels involved in the ACCOBAMS Survey Initiative (ASI), studying the abundance of Mediterranean cetacean species, focusing particularly on deep-diving species, such as sperm whales and beaked whales. She sailed from Vilamoura on 28th May, welcoming Moroccan scientists on board to be part of this important work in the Alboràn Sea.
Welcoming Moroccan Scientists…
…and later Algerian Scientists
In Malaga, SOTW celebrated World Ocean’s Day with the official launch of the ACCOBAMS Survey Initiative and by becoming a floating classroom to a group of young scientists from a local school. After educating the researchers of the future, the team set sail once more, hosting their second group of scientists from Algeria.
R/V SOTW has continued to accommodate local scientists as they travel the Mediterranean from West to East. They have had numerous encounters, visual and acoustic, with a variety of species from striped, bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins, as well as pilot whales, sperm and beaked whales. Unfortunately, ongoing research with the manta trawl have produced samples rich with small plastic particles.
R/V SOTW will be having a well deserved maintenance rest in the autumn, before heading to the US East Coast to study the distribution of deep diving species, in particular beaked whales. Future plans also include a winter trans-Atlantic voyage, with opportunities for hardy adventurers to join the team. We will keep you posted on details we receive about this trip of a life time.
In the meantime, MCR continue to seek funding to support the valuable work of the team.