"It was so exciting for me to travel the world and meet new people, experience a new culture, and do hands-on research on the cetaceans"
Nico Heyning from the USA
I just wanted to say thank you for an amazing time. It was so exciting for me to travel the world and meet new people, experience a new culture, and do hands-on research on the cetaceans that call Namibia home.
As a photographer, there were so many opportunities to capture something that I will probably never see in my life again. Some of my favourites included the Heaviside’s Dolphin, the Greater Flamingos, and the White Pelicans. One weekend, when we had the day off, I decided to take a walk along the waterfront and look at the birds. When I was near the docks, right in front of the office, I saw a huge White Pelican sitting on a ledge, with the water in the background. I took a picture of just his head and I was amazed how well it turned out. I submitted that photo to the LA Times and I just found out today that the photo received an honourable mention in the LA Times summer photo contest and was published online. Out of 100s of photographers, who could submit up to ten photographs each, that pelican photo was #16.
However, being a part of this program wasn’t about just taking photographs. It also dealt with the behaviour of the animals, something that I hope I can put into good use later in my life. The team also taught me how to analyse recordings of Bottlenose Dolphin, something that I had never even considered doing prior to coming to Namibia. And finally, I made new friends. The team stationed in Namibia were fantastic, Simon and Tess taught me more about the scientific approach, Morgan was super helpful and my fellow interns made the trip even better.
So what can I say about the project? If I had the chance, I would love to come back. My visit in Africa was amazing and the adventures that I had will be told to my friends and family for years to come. I hope that everyone has a wonderful week, have a great summer, and I hope, maybe soon, that some of you could come to California or I can come back to Africa and meet you all again.
"I learned a lot about scientific research methods"
Denise Martinkovich, Austria
I can remember the moment I arrived at the airport in Walvis Bay like it was yesterday. Although I have always wanted to travel and see the world, this internship was my first time abroad (for more than 2 weeks). I felt excited, nervous and of course still a bit tired from my flights when another intern and I first met one of our supervisors who picked us up from the airport. When we got into the car, questions like; Was this the right decision? and; What am I going to do if I don’t like it here at all? crossed my mind. But I soon found out that the answer to the first question was 100% YES!
It’s been almost two weeks since I’m back home now and I still can’t get over the amazing 6 weeks I spent down there. Although the first 2 or 3 weeks were pretty exhausting (because none of us had a routine yet and not to forget that English is not my first language), this little town soon felt like home and without noticing, we knew everything work-related by heart and work has never been more fun before in my life. We generally had two different days that alternated: One of the two days was a boat day, where we launched the boat around 7 in the morning and spent about 6 hours on the water, looking for dolphins, whales, penguins and many more interesting animals. Our main tasks were taking photos of their dorsal fins, making acoustic recordings and writing down behavioural data. On the other day, we had the chance to work on our own individual tasks and furthermore had to do bird surveys, where we had to count the local birds in the lagoon (could be worse than counting flamingos, pelicans and other cute birds, right?!). But it was not all fun and games… Even though I won’t be a marine biologist in the future, I will definitely benefit from my experience in Africa. I learned a lot about scientific research methods, including how to properly use Excel, how to publish a paper etc. not to forget about team working skills!
All in all, I’m currently sitting in my small flat back in rainy Austria and all I want to do is book a flight and come back to this stunning country with amazing people and indescribably beautiful sceneries!
"In the space of one morning we had two species of dolphin coming up to us and bow riding!"
Stefanie Rowland, UK
When I got off the plane seemingly in the middle of the desert I never dreamed that this barren land would supply some of the best experiences and memories of my life in the space of a few short weeks. On my first full day in Walvis Bay we were blessed with gorgeous weather, so headed out on the boat. The early start was a bit of a shock, but was definitely worth it, when in the space of one morning we had two species of dolphin coming up to us and bow riding! To cap it all off two humpback whales had been spotted – a mother and calf! They surfaced so close to us that I could feel the spray from their blow hole! I thought that things couldn’t possibly get better than that, but I was oh so wrong: in the space of two weeks I’ve travelled north to a national park, where we ventured into the desert to play on sand dunes; seen amazing scenery ranging from ocean to desert to scrub land; been up close to a dead humpback whale (the smell wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be!); had some practise at driving the boat; had a go at some photography; travelled south for two days (with a stopover in the capital); seen loads of wildlife including springbok, oryx, seals and a family of warthogs! It’s not all glamour though, some days can be cold on the boats and you can’t be squeamish about getting covered in all sorts, from seawater to barnacle juice, but it has most definitely been worth it, I’ve learnt so much from being here and had a lot of laughs in the process.
"I will never forget the sight of a baby calf swimming alongside the boat"
Hello! My name is Caroline. I arrived here on the 1st of July from the UK. The view as I flew from Johannesburg to Walvis Bay was beautiful and consisted of miles of desert as far as the eye could see. I was met at the airport by Simon and after meeting the other interns and staff, I was soon feeling settled in and started learning how to grade dolphin photographs. This is important as only high quality photos are used to identify individual dolphins. The next day, on land survey duty, I caught a glimpse of my first bottlenose dolphin, which surfaced about 10m from shore. After teasing us with two short appearances, it then promptly disappeared. On my next land survey a few days later, we came across a whole group of bottlenose dolphins close to shore. We watched them wave riding, took as many photographs as we could and spent the next few hours tracking them from the beach to monitor their social interactions and general behaviour. This proved to be more difficult than it sounds – you don’t realise just how fast they can swim unless you are running alongside, trying to keep up with them!
On our day off, myself and the other interns went kayaking with wild seals at Pelican Point. The seals were adorable and were very intrigued by us and our brightly coloured kayaks. They were constantly swimming over to take a closer look and there were even a few attempts to steal our paddles! We saw a number of jackals as we drove through the desert and were amazed to witness a stand-off between a jackal and a fully grown seal. The jackal won the fish prize in the end but the seal didn’t give up easily!
While out on the research boat we encountered a whole group of Heaviside dolphins, including two mothers with calves. I will never forget the sight of a baby calf swimming alongside the boat right beside me. However, the highlight of my first week here has to be the sight of a humpback whale surfacing about 5m away from the back of our boat. The noise of it blowing out as it surfaced made everyone on board jump with shock, especially as we were all expecting it to come up about 500m away in a completely different direction. I have had so many incredible experiences here in just a week and I am eagerly looking forward to the next few weeks!
"Every day adds to an emerging familiarity with the environment of Namibia"
George Cambanis, Greece
The life we have been experiencing during the past week is an academic but also a social life, its novel even though we are all gradually becoming habituated with our daily lives and most importantly entertaining while everyone is at the same time serious about the project. Simon and Tess divided us newcomers into two subgroups, composed of three interns each. Our daily schedule dictates that we execute our scientific research early in the morning and once we have gathered our facts, we then “digitalise” them, that is, upload them into the computer in our comfy office in the Flamingo Cottages. Usually, one of the teams will research offshore in its quest for dolphin species and other marine mammals while the other team will examine different coastal areas of Namibia.
Our research is centred on dolphins. We therefore, photograph all of our “encounters” and try to photographically identify them once back in the office. We also examine their habitat and record everything we deem valuable, ranging from an unusually high concentration of jellyfish which can be the outcome of a potentially underlying important cause to the number of tour-boats we come across. Spending time with bottlenose and Heaviside’s dolphins we come to realise and appreciate the uniqueness of every animal.
To a further extent, every day adds to an emerging familiarity with the environment of Namibia itself. Looking for stranded animals, observing the magnificent kingdom of birds that fills the sky and using our hydrophone to listen to the “signature whistles” of dolphins we are gradually coming to terms with the harmony and magnificence of Namibian’s wildlife.
All in all, what has been offered to us is a fulfilling “life-activity”. Whether it is the observation of an anatomical operation of petrels or the knowledge that the project results in an accumulation of novel scientific data, we fill satiated, engaged and excited.
"It is always a thrilling excitement every time we encounter these animals"
Melanie Ngo, USA
The interns arrived on the 1st of June and I am one out of the six that get to experience this wonderful opportunity. For the past few weeks, we have done a lot of work on shore and on the water in Walvis Bay, Namibia. We are having an amazing time with the Heaviside dolphins and the bottlenose dolphins each time we are at sea and on land. It is and will always be a thrilling excitement every time we encounter these animals, no matter how many times we have seen them before we enjoy their company out at sea. When I see the expression on Simon’s face every time we spotted the dolphins, it reminds me of the face kids make when you bribe them with candy and he has been working with these animals for a couple of years now.
We have taken pictures of the Heaviside’s and bottlenose dolphin’s dorsal fin for photo ID, observed their behaviour in the water and on land, and observed the number of birds and bird species in certain areas on the beach to look at the impact of beach users. Most of the time, the dolphins are very friendly, socialising with us and each other, they were jumping and spy hopping, swimming alongside the boat, bow riding, swimming underneath and around the boat, overall they are having a good time in their own home. There were a few days we did not go out on the boat due to the weather, but that did not stop us from doing work around the office. We have had long days out on the boat and on land, we’ll come back exhausted, but love every minute of our time with the dolphins and that keeps our energy up for the rest of the day.