MISSION  40 of  2010

Name of Mission: Namibian Coastal Survey   
Date of Mission: 29th November 2010
Aircraft used: Cessna 182        
Pilot: Nico Louw                  
Beneficiary: Ruth Leeney

Objective of the Flight

To assess use of the coastal waters off Namibia, by whales, dolphins and turtles

Beneficiary’s story of the mission        By  Ruth Leeney

Are there whales using all of the coast? What habitats do Heaviside’s dolphins use, apart from Walvis Bay and Luderitz? At what time of the year do turtles start using Namibian waters? These and many other questions have crossed my mind so often since we started our research in Namibian waters in 2008. Aerial surveys are an excellent means of addressing some of these questions, so I was delighted to have my flight request accepted by The Bateleurs.

Early morning conditions were misty on 02_Southern_right_whale_calf__Photo_credit_-_Ruth_Leeneythe coast and we discussed the survey plan as we waited for the horizon to clear. Shortly after 09h00, we were on our way, with calm seas and surprisingly clear waters, as the Cessna 182 flown by Bateleurs pilot Nico Louw headed south at 300 ft.  Immediately we started to see small groups of Heaviside’s dolphins, a small dolphin species found only in the waters off South Africa, Namibia and Angola. In fact, there were a surprising number of Heaviside’s dolphins south of Walvis Bay. This is one of the focal species we study in the bay and also in Luderitz, but we have not been able to study them outside these two regions.

Today I realised that they use a far greater part of the coast than I had thought. Having refuelled in Luderitz, we set off south again and very soon afterwards sighted our first whales – a mother and calf Southern Right whale. 03_Namibian_Coastal_Survey_-_Team_Pic1Another four Right whales were seen north of the border. Further south, the coast becomes ravaged by diamond mining and is a really shocking sight.

We flew the entire coast from Walvis Bay to Oranjemund (at the border with South Africa), thus covering the southern half of the Namibian coastline. In total, we saw 63 Heaviside’s dolphins, two Dusky dolphins, six Southern Right whales and two Ocean sunfish. I was hoping to see some Leatherback turtles, since they are known to frequent Namibian coastal waters in summer months, but the water is likely still too cold for them.

05_Namibian_Coastal_Survey_-_Sightings_-_mapscaleI hope that we can carry out repeat surveys in 2011 and perhaps detect turtles later in the summer. It would also be of great interest to cover the entire coast and see whether Heaviside’s dolphins use the waters north of Walvis Bay. Many questions remain unanswered, but this flight was a wonderful opportunity to start understanding more about the diverse coastal marine life of Namibia.

Many thanks to all who made this possible:  The Bateleurs for agreeing to assist with the survey; Nico Louw for his time, flying skills and the use of his plane; and John Paterson and Francois du Toit for acting as observers.

The Namibian Dolphin Project is funded by NACOMA, the Mohammed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, the British Ecological Society and the Rufford Small Grants Foundation.