12 June 2011

Dolphin surveys, Senegal

Parc National du Delta du Saloum, Senegal
June 2011

The road south from Senegal's capital, Dakar, turns after several hours to red dust and more potholes than road, the traffic disappears and the plains on either side of the road stretch to the horizon, populated by the stumpy, stolid figures of giant baobab trees. Onwards, the 4x4 stumbles, through tiny villages where people sit in the shade behind little heaps of yellow mangoes, next to open stretches of dirt covered in shreds of plastic bags and tyres. Finally, arriving at the Gite de Bandiala, near to the fishing village of Missira, the screams and squawks of African starlings and occasional rustle of bushes as a lizard hides itself are the only sounds. At least, until the sun sinks and the generator starts like a tractor convention, the lights come on and we dash to plug in our fifth limbs, our laptops.

I have spent the past two weeks in the National Park of the Saloum Delta, near the northern border between Senegal and the Gambia. It is a region of mangrove creeks where the Saloum River gradually and sinuously meets the sea. After a week-long course on cetacean biology, identification, survey techniques, and discussions on threats to marine wildlife, we took to the 'bolongs', the creeks, to run some surveys for dolphins. This region is thought to be an important habitat for the Atlantic humpback dolphin, Sousa teuszii, a species about which very little is known.

Three days of surveys resulted only in one sighting, very far off, of a small group of dolphins. We saw some splashes as the animals moved away from us at speed, and didn't get a good view of any dorsal fins, suggesting that it may have been a group of the shy 'dauphin bossu' - the humpback dolphin. We also saw two green turtles during the same survey, which covered a large waterway north of Bandiala, the Djombos River.

One of the trainees had observed a stranded humpback dolphin recently, and provided the photo included here. This stranding had been found not far from Missira.

We also carried out some questionnaire surveys at a number of local fishing villages. A preliminary look at the information gathered suggests that people in this area regularly see humpback and bottlenose dolphins, and that some people have also observed common dolphins and the occasional humpback whale. After two weeks of training, it is hoped that this team will now be able to carry out regular surveys in the area and start to collect a valuable baseline on cetaceans in the region.

This work was funded by Wetlands International and WWF. Merci a Mariama Dia (Wetlands Int.), Mat Dia (WWF-Senegal/ Gambia) et aussi a Prof. Djiba, Moussa Sega Diop et l'equipe d'ecogards et agents du Parc National du Delta du Saloum.

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