The perfect season

The RSDP has set sail on the 10th of June (which feels like ages ago) and engines were turned off only a few days ago in Hamata, after more than 40 days spent navigating the Southern Egyptian Red Sea. For the very first time, we managed to cover all our planned routes, recording more than 80 encounters with cetacean species. The expedition was divided into four 10-day legs: numerous volunteers, students and interns  joined the team throughout the summer. We would like to thank them for their endless enthusiasm and proactive involvement in all aspects of the research, the RSDP would not exist without them!

The cruises have been the usual mix of intense work, numberless sunrises and sunsets spent observing the sea (retina-burning glare!), snorkeling in popular as well as unexplored coral reefs, (in)formal educational activities – would this be a photo show to identify reef fish species, a lecture on marine mammals adaptation to marine environment or a conversational briefing on birds- and screening of enlightening documentaries such as “The Cove” and “The End of the Line”.  Of course, this agenda would only be a sterile protocol if not fuelled by individuals participation: it is hard to explain, but each team eventually resembled a spontaneous recipe made up by a creative chef who experimented mix of flavors and tastes. The diversity was so intense that..sink or swim!! Luckily enough, the biodiverse crowds we had ended up enriching and elevating debates and discussions, as different generations, cultures and backgrounds always provide different perspectives.

It is not easy to bring you in on what happened during the expeditions, we made an effort and tried to put together our top 5 moments, more will be added soon.

#5 : Private space

Private Space.

You can’t hide, they will always find you. It’s not an horror movie, although…in the quietness of your 30 minutes off or while scouring the sea for jellyfish, they will always be behind you, and you will accidentally hit them while you move during a sighting. Because they are too close and do not have any respect for your privacy.

They are our Private Spaces.

“Private Space” is how Ric O’Berry and “The Cove” crew refer to one of the guardian of Taiji who constantly points the camera at them. This feeling of being continuously spied through a 20-700mm, a fish eye or any other sort of lens has followed us throughout the season. Professional photographers and videographers have joined the expeditions, willing to immortalize wildlife and landscape, but also to document the work carried out on board..they all did a great job and their shots really do justice to the beauty of the Red Sea marine life. We are not easy subjects and we are definitely unable to pose, apologies to the artists… On the other hand, you should also understand that we cannot have a natural smiley facial expression while jumping from the boat to the zodiac, with equipment in the hands, 2m high waves, 40° C and it is five in the morning.. We did our best, and we believe you really pictured what the RSDP is, in all its shades. Thank you all. We look forward to seeing and promoting your works.

Photo albums have been published on Facebook already. Please check:

Mohamed Gabr – MG Studio Photography
Watter Al Bahry – Watter Al Bahry Photography
Mohamed Bakier – M. Bakier Photography

More to come from Christina Rizk – http://www.christinarizk.com

Valentina Cucchiara, our 4th musketeer, has followed us in three expeditions: her awesome work is partially published on the RSDP fb page, the rest will come soon. She is just terrific. Have a look at http://www.liquidjungle.tv.

#4 Nursery at risk

Miniatures.
By Valentina Cucchiara (Liquid Jungle Productions)

What you surely do not expect while climbing the ladder after 1h spent snorkeling is to find out that the show was going on right under the boat! Well, this happened in Abu Fandira which is anyway a reef of enchanting beauty..but the ecosystem “propellers” was offering something we have never observed before! Clouds of miniatures were swimming there: mini Red Sea banner fish, mini triggerfish and butterflyfish, miniscule and funny representations of the adults were there, close to the blades of our propellers, hiding inside whenever we approached them. Absolutely cute. And absolutely promising. Although the Red Sea is a poor fishing ground, it is thought to be largely overfished, with consequences that will affect all our marine ecosystems. We take the chance to remind everybody that it is strictly forbidden by law to fish on coral reefs and their proximity! No nets, lines, cages, spear guns, knives nor other fishing gears are allowed! Respect the law and report violations to HEPCA.

#3 Stampede!!!

Dolphin stampede.
Copyright HEPCA.

Whenever an observer calls a sighting of one of the Stenella species (i.e. spinner or pantropical spotted dolphins) you never know what to expect. It could be anything from a tiny elusive group of spinner dolphins, to an 80ish animals pod of both species together, to an “assault” of hundreds of them suddenly showing up around the boat. There are sightings starting with a modest group joined shortly after by more and more animals coming from all directions towards the boat, you would see them coming from various distances, some faster than others. And you would find yourself surrounded. A more entertaining version of this last scenario occurred on that day: three cameras already working on photoID on hundred dolphins around the boat, Vale filming those bow riding, volunteers and assistants hectically trying to count the animals and track all subgroups..and suddenly someone shouts “stampeeede!!!”. “Stam..what?” crosses many minds. We all turn in the direction the observers on top deck are pointing at and we see it: dozens and dozens of dolphins coming full speed jumping towards us. Spinner and pantropical spotted dolphins repeatedly leaping all together so close to the vessel! Initial shock absorbed, opened-mouth all camera lenses turned and started recording this unforgettable event.

#2 New species

Literature review and accounts from local seamen made us compile a list of regular species inhabiting the Egyptian Red Sea. We had encountered most of them during the past seasons, but two of them never came across the lenses of our cameras. Images and reports from community members and fishermen came to our desks so we were sure about their presence, just we had never personally encountered them..till the last July, when in two fortuitous situations we met them.

False Killer Whale!

Electrical issue = False Killer Whale (Pseudorca crassidens) Mid-team 3, we are in Abu Fandira and we head back to Hamata to solve an electric issue in the engine room. Hours and hours of navigation, with our observers on topdeck. We know the area between Zabargard and St.John is extremely interesting, eyes open: one of the researchers is checking a weird splash seen at the horizon when one of the volunteer shouts “Doooolphin”. A dolphin crossed his area of observation: a strip of waters 5mx3m beside the boat. The dolphin was so close, and disappeared so quickly. But we have 18 pairs of eyes alerted. We spot fins again, they are coming closer. Weird falcate black fin..pantropical spotted? No, way too big… maybe GIANT pantropical spotted? Unlikely… Bottlenose? Too black, fin too falcate.. They surface to breath and we see the head. FALSE KILLER WHALES. 2000+ pictures, countless exalted cries, joy and hugs: the effect of seeing such a majestic species for the first time.

Bryde’s whale!
Copyright HEPCA.

Little fuel = Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni) Fuel shortage has been a daily reality  in Egypt for a few months now. During our last docking in Hamata we couldn’t top up with gasoline, and left to the deep south with a few tons less than hoped. Thanks to the good weather, we managed to do most of our routes, but at some point we had to interrupt the survey and start moving north. We decided to stop in one of our favourite spots, Abu Fandira, i.e. awesome snorkeling and high chances to see dolphins (spinners, Risso’s, Indo-pacific…). We overnight there, the morning after we take our time and decide to move around noon. We have our (very) early morning Risso’s sighting in the outer reef, we enjoy reef fish on the main reef and around our propellers (see #4), the sea is flat, life is cool. The captain starts the engines and we are ready to go. “Wait, wait”, in a last check Marina sees something… big… just a few meters far from the outer reef, moving east along the reef. Eyes open. 10 minutes later it is seen again, a few seconds. What is that!? We take the zodiac and move to the spot where it was last sighted. We all think “if it is a whale shark we would be so disappointed!!”. We are there, south of Abu Fandira, melting under the sun, one of our interns fooling us several times with her laugh that sound like a blow, it is hot, perhaps we have lost it… but eventually it is there, close, and we all see it: whale. No doubt. Bryde’s whale. No doubt. We got it. Finally. Beautiful. No doubt.

#1 The team

We must confess that the most amazing feature of the RSDP 2012 was the team, indeed.

Family.
By Valentina Cucchiara (Liquid Jungle Productions).

Jackie, Gemma, Sabena and Steph, our assistants, are wonder women: active, smart, passionate, knowledgeable, open minded, friendly, funny. The colleagues and trip-mates of a lifetime! We are immensely grateful for your help and involvement in all phases of this field season and we wish you all the best with your upcoming commitments.

Our crews have been extremely helpful, nice and willing. Makharita (www.makharita.info), after this 3rd trip, is more like a family and we are extremely thankful to everybody on board for working with us, by now even independently. The blind trust in our crews allowed us to focus completely on our duties and volunteers, thanks a lot for everything.

Vale

Last but not least, an immense thanks goes to Vale, our beloved wandering biologist/video-photographer/marine guide. Your flexibility, passion, dedication and patience are irreplaceable..as well as your 5am Italian coffee!

That’s it. Another season is concluded. A great success indeed, thanks to all our helpers.

We had such a good time!

HEPCA Team

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One Response to The perfect season

  1. Thank you HEPCA team for all the precious informations! I will share hoping to spread the message…great job! BETTY

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