Thursday, 10 May 2012

And may the odds be ever in our favour!

After a long day and a short night on Tuesday, the pressure was starting to build on the C-CATS team. A promising good weather window was on the radar but our days in New Quay were numbered and with little time to spare, every one of our waking hours was planned to the second.

Clear skies and calm seas
The cliff team was up at the first light of dawn on Wednesday and barely had a dolphin free moment to catch their breathe in since sunrise. Both Islander and the hydrophone array, however, were still grounded on dry land and the latter was still in the tender loving care of Jens and Felix who were working tirelessly to ensure there would be no repeat of the previous night's accident. Spurred on by the cliff team's promise of dolphins, however, the array was back on Islander sooner than anticipated and the remaining team headed, hopeful and excited, towards Bird Rock. The cliff team who had kept a watchful eye on the dolphins in the meanwhile, however, had detected a worrying trend. The group of dolphins they were tracking was slowly but surely heading offshore and by the time Islander was in position and ready to record, they were nowhere to be seen. While this was a little bit dispiriting at first, the weather was still on our side and gave us the opportunity to continue working on both omnidirectional and directional playback directed at both the hydrophone array and another 'triPOD', Jemima 2.0.  Marta - with the help of  Magnus, the directional hydrophone- soon became an accomplished porpoise imitator and with not only low winds but also a bit of illusive Welsh sunshine on our side, the day was nevertheless a success!

Heading out to Islander
Wednesday was to mark the beginning of our change of fortune! Whether it was the increased determination or the C-CATS team or simply that the weather was now on our side, or a combination of the two, the following days brought many more successes.

Deploying the array
Thursday we set out with renewed determination, we had good playback data from both the array and Jemima, which in itself was something to be proud of but we were determined to record real live cetaceans. And we did. With only one or two days to spare, everything finally came together. Islander was fixed and both cliff and boat teams headed out first thing in the morning. The cliff team was in position first and did not disappoint, spotting dolphins close to the coast soon after. This time there was no delay with the array and when Islander came around the corner, the dolphins were still there. As one of the dolphins passed the boat with the deployed array for the first time, both teams erupted in the celebration, yells of triumph echoing from the New Quay cliff. After nearly three weeks of field work, everything came together in just over half an hour and even when the dolphins left eventually, the exhilaration of that one moment stayed with the team the rest of the day! Although there was a strong case for a late night celebrating, everyone voluntarily opted for an early night in order to make the most of the last day of calm weather on Friday morning!

Islander viewed from the cliff observation site
With little time to spare, and having missed out on early morning recordings during the previous days, the C-CATS team was determined to be up before the dolphins the next day in order to get as much recording time as possible. Unfortunately the dolphins either did not get that message or did not care as they did not turn up at all until later that morning. When they did arrive, however, they were cooperative and we were prepared! Two dolphins remained foraging in the bay for the most part of the morning and early afternoon, on several occasions making close passes at the boat, surfacing metres away from the array and providing us with textbook quality recordings of echolocation scans! Within a couple of hours and only a day away from the completion of the project, we recorded all the data -and more- that we could have hoped for!
Now it was only a matter of dismantling everything, getting the PODs back in, packing the van in preparation for the drive to Germany and downloading all the data, a daunting amount of work squeezed into just under one and half days - but after the success of the project hanging by a fragile - and weather dependent- thread and this exhilarating turn of events, everyone was more than ready to give it their all! At least after a well deserved lie in and sneak peak at the data on Saturday....

First glimpse of the data!
After a well deserved rest and a first glance at some textbook examples of dolphin clicks and a brief introduction by Jens as to how these can be used to localise animals in the water, the C-CATS team was invigorated and gripped anew with determination to get all the remaining jobs done in the very limited time that was given to us. We had just under a day before Jens and Felix were headed back to Germany but after all the adversities we had faced during the past few weeks, all of us were confident we could pull it off- and once again we did. Although it took us a while to get it all done, finally all the PODs were cleaned, packed, data were downloaded, saved, backed up (again and again and again) and baggage was packed before midnight on Saturday-and we still found time for a very important celebratory barbecue!

Relaxing after a successful end to the project
As exhausting and frustrating as the project had been at times, we were all sorry to pack up and leave New Quay, but as Jens pointed out, this is only the start and nine tenths of the work is still to come! So stay tuned and keep checking back, the real results are still to come!

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