Song of the Whale

This report has been sent by Vassili Papastavrou from the mid-Atlantic.

I have been at sea since March helping to bring the research vessel Song of the Whale back from South Georgia after studying southern right whales with British Antarctic survey.

Killer whale [Photo: MCR Ltd]

I joined the boat in Montevideo and we are taking the boat to Portugal. Our longest passage was twenty-one days, between Salvador and the Cape Verdes and now we are in the mid-Atlantic just south of the Azores. This morning we saw two killer whales, which took a very brief interest in the boat before resuming their fishing. We’ve also seen several species of dolphin, sperm whales and sei whales. We are recording all whale and dolphins sightings and for most of the trip conducted an acoustic survey too. See our blog on the Marine Conservation website.

We have had the full range of weather, from 56 knot gales to days becalmed in the doldrums and from cold at the beginning to extremely hot and now cool again as we enter the Azores high. Beautiful sunsets lead to starry skies and we embrace a routine of cooking, observations, eating, sleeping and being on watch. Sometimes days go by with nothing and then spotted dolphis will leap next to the boat and bowride for an hour.

Manta trawl collecting plastic [Photo: MCR Ltd]

When I started as a whale biologist, I never imagined that I would be helping to study plastics but this what we are also now doing. We trawl for fragments in the open ocean and record rubbish sightings. Each day when the weather is calm enough we deploy our manta trawl as part of a project in collaboration with 5 Gyres. Even far south in the middle of the Atlantic we collected plastic fragments. As we head north towards Europe, plastic pollution is increasing. We are hundreds of miles from land but still we see discarded plastic products.

The effects of plastic of all sizes on marine life are known to be increasing. In the last decade fatal ingestions of marine debris have increased by 40%. Several whales have now been autopsied with their guts full of plastic and David Attenborough has drawn the attention of the world to this problem in Blue Planet 2.

Dolphins underwater – taken with camera on a pole [Photo: MCR Ltd]

The only conclusion is that we urgently need to reduce the consumption of plastics at source. As Friends of the Earth said long ago, “Think globally, act locally”.

So, anything that Sustainable Redland can do to reduce our plastics consumption locally is really important.

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