Tag Archives: humpback whale

Kenya Marine Mammal Network

For those of you who have ever seen dolphins in Kenya – this will come as an exciting development! In partnership with Watamu Marine Association (WMA) and the Kenya Association of Sea Anglers (KASA); we have been able to establish a national network for reporting of all dolphin and whale sightings. This will involve sports fishing boats, dive companies, private boat owners and tourist dolphin watching trips to try and get as much information as possible about the cetaceans on the Kenyan coast.

We hope to get some new and exciting sightings, and as the reports start to come in, we are all hopeful for 2012 as a pivotal year for marine mammal conservation in Kenya. Look up WMA on facebook for more details, photographs and blogs: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Watamu-Marine-Association/275519980370.

Karibu Tena (Welcome Again!)


I’d like to start by saying I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and a merry new year!  I know we did; many of the GVI team were in Kenya over the holiday period, enjoying the festivities under the warm African sun, whilst others jetted off back home to see family and friends to slightly cooler parts of the world such as Englnd, Scotland and Portugal. 

We are all back together again however, and raring to get back out on the boat, into the forest and continue our work with the communities.  January marks the start of our first 3 month research period for 2010, and we have a rather large, brand new team of dedicated volunteers from all over the world to help us achieve the aims and objectives for this year.

2009 was an excellent year for us here on the south coast of Kenya.  Firstly, it’s always a good feeling to get another full years worth of marine and terrestrial research added to the databases.  We now have a solid 3 years of data establishing and monitoring the bottlenose and humpback dolphin populations in and around the Kisitie-Mpunguti Marine Protected Area, as well as 3 years establishing and monitoring the population of the rare subspecies of the Angolan black and white colobus monkey that is found in Shimoni’s coastal forests. 


 GVI staff, volunteers, and members of the Funzi Turtle Club 

In addition to that, we’ve got some great data recording some amazing sightings, including humpback whales with their calves (15 sightings!), rays, nesting turtles, elephant shrews and endangered birds such as the southern banded snake eagle.  And that is naming a mere handful!  If you want to have a look back at some of the blogs we’ve written about these amazing experiences, feel free to search for them in the categories section.


 Green turtle spotted in the Marine Park

2009 also saw some amazing achievements for us and the people we work with.  Just a couple of examples would include the Permanent Secretary to the Minister for Forests and Wildlife coming down to speak to the secretary of Friends of Shimoni Forest about the destruction in the forest.  Or the amazing donations made by you all on www.justgiving.co.uk/shimoni which has allowed the launch of the Friends of Shimoni Forest Scholarship Fund which will pay for local children to go to secondary school, and get them and their families involved in local conservation. 


 East African subspecies of the Angolan black and white colobus

On the marine side of things some highlights would include providing environmental education courses, one to the Funzi Turtle Conservation Group and one to the Nyuli Committee, training local guides and rangers on sea turtle biology and conservation, with over 30 people taking exams and gaining certificates.  GVI had its first ever sighting of the Pantropical spotted dolphins, and also became a member of East African Whale Watching which tracks whales travelling up and down the east African coast.  


One of the pantropical spotted dolphins

Despite all of the great things that happened last year, there is still plenty of work to do.  This stunning area and its amazing people still face many problems, some of which we aim to try and help with over the coming year.  For many of us here the start of 2010 saw the one and a half year mark since we first arrived in Shimoni and Mkwiro, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say it has been our home since we arrived, one which has won a special place in our hearts.  Personally I feel extremely lucky and privileged to step into a new decade here, and I am so excited at the thought of what can be achieved this year.

I look forward to keeping you updated on progress as things move forward, and please feel free to contact us and leave comments and messages.  We love hearing your thoughts and ideas!

Happy 2010

Best wishes

GVI Team, Kenya

Critically Endangered Bird Sighting!

So on Friday we told you about our southern-banded snake eagle sighting, and on Saturday you heard about our humpback whale.  Well I’m afraid we’re going to keep boasting about our sightings, because they don’t end there!

It was at the end of the week, and a forest team was wearily trudging back to base from a long, hot day of forest research.  We were no more than 30 metres away from the gates, when we heard a rustling in the leaf litter to our left.  We all peered in, and to the utter shock of us all we were staring straight at a spotted ground thrush!  This was one of the most exciting sightings we’ve had in months and months.  And to our utter disbelief and joy – we saw it again today!  We think it was the same one as it was in almost exactly the same spot.

This may not sound that exciting, until we tell you that it is a critically endangered species with very restricted distributions.  It is under serious threat from habitat loss, and Shimoni forest is one of the few places left in the world that it can still be seen.

It is a medium sized (about 8 inches) terrestrial forest thrush that is difficult to observe.  This is mainly due to it being well camouflaged, silent and shy.  It tends to freeze motionless when disturbed or surprised.  It lives mainly in deeply shaded areas with deep leaf litter, where it feeds on seeds, fruits and invertebrates. 


(zimmerman et al, 1999)

This is only the third and fourth sighting we’ve had of this species in almost a year, which when you imagine we are in the forest almost every single day, highlights the rarity of this sighting.  There is action being taken however, consisting mainly of a partnership between Birdlife International and Nature Kenya, plus other organisations in several countries, who are working together to gather data and information about this species.  They are then using this information to produce conservation management strategies to safeguard the future of this wonderful bird.    

Whales, Dolphins And Tourists: The Tensions

The start of GVI’s marine research this October was certainly an incredible one. As part of the daily dolphin survey we were heading through Funzi Bay towards the Wasini Channel when Nick (our conservation intern/staff) excitedly drew our attention to a potential sighting. To our amazement it was a humpback whale and her calf.


There had been anticipation in the air that such a sighting may occur since the whales were migrating South from the warmer waters of the East African coast where humpback whales breed (during July and August), but no one could have expected it so early; we had been on board for a mere hour and a half.


While the sighting was spectacular, the events that followed demonstrated the challenges of marine conservation in popular tourist areas and the importance of GVI’s work. With minutes two tourist boats had also spotted the whales and, as one would expect, they wanted to get the best view possible. This attention clearly agitated the mother and her calf and they diverted their course away from Wasini Channel. Although it was incredible to have seen such an animal, it was sobering to have seen at first hand the direct impact of tourist traffic on marine mammals. Our humpback whale sighting was not the only sighting of the day to illustrate this…

Not long after having left the mother and calf, we encountered a group of bottlenose dolphins travelling through Kiste Mpunguti Marine Park. Again, we were exposed to the impact tourism is having in the area and the difficulty of balancing much-needed tourism with equally important conservation. We witnessed tourists jumping from their tour boat directing in amongst the group of dolphins. Of course, the possibility of swimming with dolphins is an excellent means of generating custom for the tour operators, but it is detrimental to the dolphins and indeed, it is prohibited by the KMMPA Code of Conduct.


These two sightings were an amazing start to the season’s marine research, but the experience was a stark reminder of the tensions that exist between the need for income gained through tourism and ecological conservation; both of which are vital to the local area and economy. In turn, these tensions demonstrate the necessity of GVI’s work and the value of the data it provides which is used by local organisations to develop solutions to such problems.

A Real Welcome Back

Well hello everyone!

First of all, apologies for the lack of blog action over the last few weeks or so.  We have had a month long break in research, and all of us here at GVI have had a well deserved holiday!  We’re back now, for another 3 month research period that will bring us up to December. 

We’ve kicked off with an amazing first week for both the marine and terrestrial research programs, with plenty of exciting sightings.  I’ll begin today with a bit about the terrestrial action, and then will fill you all in tomorrow about our humpback whale sighting on marine!

Wednesday saw the first exciting sighting for one of the groups in the forest.  We were on transect 6 (our northern most transect) doing a primate community survey.  We had stopped to observe two troops of colobus monkeys that were having a verbal disagreement.  The two dominant males were producing a barrage of croaking roars, aimed at each other.  Male colobus monkeys have an enlarged larynx which allows them to produce this sound – a territorial vocalisation.  It is an awesome sound to hear, and we were standing in the middle of these two going all out!

As we were watching the colobus, a huge shadow passed over us as gazing upwards we were presented with a spectacular view of a southern-banded snake eagle! It had obviously been disturbed by the noise, and flew so low over our head we got a perfect look at it, allowing for a 100% identification.  We are all trained on the identification of the rare, threatened or endangered bird species in Shimoni forest, specifically for opportunities such as this.


(Stevenson, Fanshawe 2004)

The southern banded-snake eagle is a threatened species, and we have only sighted it a few times over the last year.  It is a stunning eagle, and we were all gibbering with excitement for hours afterwards! 


(Stevenson, Fanshawe 2004)

We have a bunch more exciting sightings from the rest of the week, but these shall have to wait until we’ve told you about the whale tomorrow!  We are very glad to be back, and look forward to getting into our blog again, to keep you all up to date with the progress, sightings and happenings on the beautiful south coast of Kenya.

Until tomorrow!


(Stevenson, Fanshawe 2004)

A Whale Of A Day

On Sunday we were rewarded with yet another amazing sighting of Humpback Whales. It has been the sixth sighting since the beginning of 093 Expedition. This time, a mother Humpback Whale and its young calf were socializing in the channel between Mkwiro and Shimoni, so close to our Base Camp that we were able to see them from the land.


 The mother

It didn’t take us too long to prepare the cameras and GPS and jump into the boat to spend some time watching the pair as they slowly cruised in the channel. They seemed very relaxed in this calm and shallow waters; the young calf was lying on its back showing its distinctive white pectoral fins, while the mother rubbed her body from underneath. We were just overwhelmed by the beauty and the magnificence of the moment!


The calf showing its pectoral fin  

But the main show was yet to come…after a short diving period, the calf breached more than half of its body clearly out of the water just about 30m away from our boat…Whoww! Sunny Sunday Mornings at GVI’s Mkwiro Base.  


The pair together

During the last year (2008) we had a total of 6 sightings of 15 Humpback whales inside our study area. And from the start of July 2009, GVI has already seen 14 Humpback whales in 7 sightings. We are now sharing this data with other organizations collecting data on Humpback whales (a network that involves almost 100 whale-watchers along the East African Coast, from southern Mozambique to northern Unguja Island, Zanzibar) and contributing to have a better understanding of the migration pattern of this species.

Tapping Local Knowledge

As part of GVI’s marine research programme here in Mkwiro, we conduct interviews with the local fishermen on the island.  The people here have been fishing for generations, and spend more time out on the water than anyone.  They can provide invaluable information about sightings (of dolphins, whales, turtles, dugongs etc), catches, pollution and illegal activities. A GVI volunteer Hooi Ling, tells us about her day conducting interviews.

The villagers on the island are Muslim so we made sure we had our head, shoulders and knees covered before we set off for our excursion. As usual, the children greeted us with loud, enthusiastic “Jambo! What is your name?” as we walked through Mkwiro village. Some of the faces were familiar because we were working with the community last week teaching them English and Creative Arts, and playing sports and singing songs with the children. A few of the children had learnt Mandarin phrases and it warmed my heart to hear them greet me with “Ni hao” (how are you) and “Huan yin” ( welcome).


 A sacred ibis, seen from the mangroves

After about 15 minutes, we reached the mangroves. Felicity explained the importance of mangroves for preventing soil erosion and creating a breeding and feeding ground for fishes and birds. We learnt how mangrove trees survive in salt water by growing roots, which protrude above ground for oxygen and shed leaves to discard excess salt. The trees also grow long, green seed pods which float around at high tide before setting itself in the ground at low tide. She pointed out tiny gastropods (snails and sea slugs).

Fiddler crabs fascinated me!!! The male crabs have one very enlarged chela which they use to wave in a circle to establish territory and to attract females. When lots of fiddler crabs waved together, they looked like they were doing a Mexican wave; quite comical to watch.  And the number of amazing birds you see from the mangroves is just incredible!  We saw herons, african fish eagles, a sacred ibis and a knigfisher! 

When we arrived in Wasini village, we looked for the local fishermen and found a few young men who could speak English and were willing to translate Kiswahili for us. I interviewed a 55 year old fisherman who had been fishing for over 20 years. GVI had a comprehensive interview to find out from local fishermen such things as the types of fish they had caught, fishing equipment, whether their catch had increased/decreased over the years and which fishing grounds they used. We also asked them about the dolphin and turtle population and the level of damage caused to their nets. After the interview, fishermen informed us that the local villagers had set up a committee since 2003 to protect the Wasini reef from fishing and coastal pollution.


Another beautiful sight – a western reef heron 

Annica and I ate some local food (chapatis with a nice cup of hot ginger tea) while the others (Flick, Kirsty and Mila) visited the coral gardens. The coral gardens consisted of dead corals surrounded by mangrove trees and the local women’s group has built boardwalks around the corals. My highlight of the day was when I saw four bottlenose dolphins jumping and travelling with the tourist dhows.

Although I was not out on a boat today, it has been an enjoyable day learning about the mangroves and seeing the dolphins. Asante sana Flick!