September 30, 2014
Spotted Surfers at the Shelf
- as seen by -Tim Collins
Gabon is home to a rich diversity of tropical cetacean species. As with many countries in central and West Africa, we don’t know a lot about them. Current management decisions are based on small datasets and a large measure of guesswork. Together with the Government of Gabon and other NGO and university partners, the Wildlife Conservation Society is actively working to improve the information baseline for cetaceans and other marine fauna.
As part of this effort, WCS, in collaboration with Tullow Oil, is currently engaged in a series of large-scale surveys of the coastal and continental shelf waters of Gabon. These surveys make use of a large survey vessel (a catamaran named El Condor) and a dedicated survey crew. The team is based in the coastal city of Port Gentil, situated on the large peninsula of Cap Lopez. Port Gentil is the hub of the offshore oil-industry in Gabon. It’s also an active and expanding port and the site of a former whaling station.
In addition to developing baseline assessments of the distribution and abundance of cetacean species, the team is also working to develop a mitigation strategy for the port area. Ships and other industrial activities in these areas can impact cetaceans. They can be hit, harmed by the large amounts of noise, or displaced from important habitats.
These spotted dolphins were encountered in continental shelf waters about 30 km southwest of Cap Lopez. The group was large; we estimated it to contain over 350 individuals. They seemed to relish swimming beneath and between the paired hulls of the El Condor. I count this encounter amongst my favorites. Laying on the front deck with my face over the bow, as the boat pitched and ploughed through gentle swells, I found myself, at times, inches from similarly curious dolphins. The surveys have yielded sightings of six species so far.
Canon EOS 7D