My first field trip of the year for the Moon Reef spinner dolphin project took place in late February. The study site is about a 3-hour ride from Suva and we were fortunate to have some great weather conditions during our trip. I took two assistants with me on this trip: Neema Nand, a Fisheries Officer for the Fiji Department of Fisheries (in the marine research division) and Waisea Naisilisili who is a long-term field technician for the Fiji office of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
I’ve managed to secure funding for six bi-monthly research survey trips for this project this year. On each I’ll be taking two local assistants (university staff or students, government officers, local ngo’s etc) to assist in building awareness on this work and to deliver training in cetacean research methods. We’ll be conducting standard photo-identification and behavioural observations during these surveys to address questions related to population size estimation, site-fidelity, calving patterns, population ‘closure’, annual and seasonal trends in the use of the reef, and quantification (and daily cycle) of resting behaviour. My new hydrophone should arrive in the next couple of weeks so we’ll also be adding acoustic recordings to this work soon. In addition, there will be two complimentary projects (on habitat assessment and group surfacing behaviour) that will be undertaken later in the year.
We’re also hopeful to conduct some focal follows in the late afternoon as the dolphins depart the reef so that we can try and learn more about the location of the night-time foraging grounds of this pod. We did one such follow this trip. We followed the pod south from Moon Reef and watched them playfully surf the waves for quite a while before they disappeared in the blink of an eye to their evening destination. Perhaps the new hydrophone will help us next time?
Lastly, the February trip was also particularly noteworthy as I saw the smallest spinner dolphin calf I’ve ever seen. I’d guess it to be only a month old.
Wednesday, March 17. 2010