We are highly unlikely to observe any mammals during our expedition. Most marine mammals spend the majority of their time nearer to land. We have a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) on board who monitors the ocean closely to sight marine mammals, the Bridge also look out for dolphins and whales. The Bridge did inform us that they sighted whales to the starboard quarter of the ship on the day that we sailed out of Cape Verde, the other likely time we are to see whales or dolphins is when we sail into Trinidad and Tobago. For most of our voyage whales are not expected. A few tiny flying fish and teeny tiny squid but no marine mammals.
Nonetheless every care is taken to ensure that our expedition does not impact upon any marine mammals that may happen to be nearby. A 60 page document – The Environmental Impact Assessment- Mitigation Strategy for Sensitive Fauna – is put together prior to the voyage. The scientists conform to all JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) guidelines.
The scientists adhere to every part of these guidelines rigidly. Before the airguns are started up the MMO watches the waters for at least an hour. She looks for blow – a shoot of water, dorsal fins, species jumping out of the water and even listens out for whale noises. The blow can be seen for miles even to the horizon on a clear day. The marine mammals must be further than 500m away before the airguns can be started up. Once the waters have been assessed as cleared then a soft start of the airguns begins. The airguns are started up at a decreased strength. This gives time for mammals to swim away should they hear the airguns at the frequency used by scientists. The airguns must take at least 20 minutes to reach full power but no longer than 40 minutes – otherwise the scientists have to start again. On this expedition starting up the airguns will only happen in daylight; once started we do not stop unless there is a repair needed to an airgun. Every time we start up the airguns there is an hour watch for the marine mammals and a soft start where the airguns are not at full strength. I am hoping that we some mammals but it is most likely to be in the final day or two as we sail into port.
An Egret has taken residence on the deck. The egret looks rather thin and unwell – probably drinking salt water. The crew have been trying to feed the bird with bits of flying fish and fresh water. The prognosis for the egret is not good. They can be viscous and peck at human eyes if they are well. This bird is just hopping around the deck. I’ll let you know how he gets on.