Day 1: 28 April 2015 (Tuesday): 2 pods of Irrawaddy dolphins spotted!
by Dr Alfonso Lopez
Day One of the ‘Save The Irrawaddy Dolphin Project’ and we’re raring to go! After months of planning, Dr Komsin and I are so excited to join the rest of the team in Thailand and start the search for the Songkhla Lake Irrawaddy dolphins!
Joined by representatives from Chulalongkorn University and Thailand’s Department of Marine and Coastal Resources, we made our way eagerly to the water’s edge to board the long-tail boats.
At 7am, the team of 25 gathered for a morning briefing to review the action plan. We had conducted a thorough briefing the night before, led by Mr Somchai Mananansap, Director of Songklha Lake Centre (from the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources), to review the survey pattern and our positions.
We loaded the five boats with all of our survey equipment, which included cameras, binoculars and GPS trackers, and off we went! Simultaneously the plane set off to conduct the aerial survey.
Despite the overcast skies and light rain, our spirits were not dampened and we remained enthusiastic in the hope of a sighting. By 10am the weather cleared and we were greeted by blue skies.
As we followed the pre-determined transects we searched for signs of disturbance in the murky water.
Irrawaddy dolphins are easy to identify: they have a round melon, short beak and small rounded dorsal fin. Interestingly, their scientific name is Orcaella brevirostris and the word ‘brevirostris’ actually comes from the Latin meaning short-beaked.
Their colouration is typically a uniform dark blue-grey to medium grey or pale blue, with a paler underside. However, some individuals can be lighter all over. As marine mammals they must come to the surface to breathe, which presents the perfect opportunity to record a sighting in these muddy waters.
After hours of searching, we spotted a small pod of Irrawaddy dolphins!
This species of dolphins are known to be shy of boats and generally dive when alarmed, so we made sure that we kept our distance and recorded all of the information we required. They are relatively slow moving but can sometimes be seen spyhopping (poking its head vertically out of the water), rolling to one side while waving a flipper, and occasionally breaching.
Only 500 metres away, we spotted another pod. Setting our excitement aside for one moment, we made sure that we recorded as much information as possible. We aim to note details such as the total number in the group, the number of calves present (if any) and their behaviour.
In addition the team is recording environmental parameters as well as other human activities being carried out on the lake. Every piece of information can help create a clearer picture of the remaining sub-population of Irrawaddy dolphins in Songkhla Lake.
We were very fortunate to have had two successful sightings on day one. The team from the Songkhla Lake Centre was especially excited, as they have tried searching for dolphins on previous surveys and have never seen them.
Let’s hope we will be as successful tomorrow. I will be sure to keep you all updated on our progress.
Follow the team on their trip
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 1
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 2
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 3
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 4
- Save the Irrawaddy Dolphin Project: Day 5