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Caleb and Genevieve lower the sails as the Odyssey approaches the port of Victoria on the island of Mahe.
Photo: Chris Johnson

August 7, 2002
Seychelles Arrival
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in the Western Indian Ocean.

After sailing west over 1110 miles in the last forteen days, the Research Vessel Odyssey has arrived in the Seychelles, a spectacular cluster of islands east of the African continent situated between the northernmost tip of Madagascar and the equator.

Only twenty-four hours after entering the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Seychelles, we detected our first sperm whale - a wonderful way to begin our research around the archipelago. The faint 'click train' of echolocation clicks produced by the whale, steadily increased in intensity until they were clearly visible on our direction finding computer program Rainbow Click. After 45 minutes, the crew of the Odyssey spotted the sperm whale as it logged (rested) on the calm ocean surface. It was huge therefore probably a mature male or bull. The researchers took a small tissue sample from the animal then moved on to our next destination, Mahe Island.

As the sun rose this morning, the crew stood on the decks of the Odyssey with a glowing excitement visible on everyone's face. The silhouettes of three large granite islands emerged over the horizon. The highest peaks penetrating the clouds and giving us a site we haven't seen since Papua New Guinea - large mountains rising from the sea. Around noon, under full sail with the wind at our stern, we arrived in Mahe. After a short quarantine and customs check, we anchored in Victoria Harbor under the shadow of Mount Blanc, the largest peak on Mahe. Victoria is the capital city of the Seychelles, the major port, and largest town. All other settlements in the Seychelles are small villages. With a population of 70,000 people known collectively as the 'Seychellois' Victoria is one of the smallest capitol cities in the world, even though its population is ninety seven percent of the total Seychelles population. Founded by a mixture of French and English people who first arrived on the islands only 250 years ago, many of today's, citizens are decendants of slaves brought in from Africa to work on the plantations. Slavery was abolished in 1830, but it took almost another 150 years before the Seychelles gained independence from England (1976). Today, a rich and diverse blend of African, Indian and French influences, foster a unique Creole cultural identity. Incredibly, all Seychelloise including the children, speak three languages, French, English and Creole.

'Seychellois' children greet the crew.
Photo: Chris Johnson

The Seychelles consist of 115 tiny islands, 41 are granite (pre-Cambrian) islands and 74 are coral atolls. They rise up from the Seychelles Bank, a broad undersea platform one to two miles shallower than the surrounding seafloor, and approximately 60,000 square miles in area. This bank separated from the Indian tectonic plate when the mega-continent of Gondwanaland broke into several pieces, each on its own tectonic plate, which then moved apart. Because the Sechelles Bank moved the least it was left alone when India headed North and Madagascar South, 65 million years ago.

Other oceanic islands including Hawaii, Polynesia, the Azores and Iceland, all began life as undersea volcanoes. The Seychelles, however, are not volcanic, they're granitic. The fact that they are made of granite rather than lava indicates that they are pieces of a continent. It is this feature that is so fascinating to geologists. The allure does not lie in their nature as oceanic islands. On the contrary, it is their very un-oceanic nature that makes them so interesting. The ocean floor is a short-lived evanescent thing that waxes and wanes, comes and goes, is laid down as lava and later subsumed in ocean trenches when tectonic plates override each other, whereas continents are far thicker and made largely of granite. When they split into pieces that get pushed around by volcanic action, the pieces are not subducted into ocean trenches and destroyed the way ocean floor is, but may later accrete with larger continental slabs floating on the molten magma beneath the earth's crust. Inasmuch as the presence of granite is indicative of a continental fragment it is not entirely incorrect to think of the Seychelles with their total land area of only 455 square kilometres as the World's smallest continent.

The Odyssey crew is spending the next three months in the Seychelles and we are eager to search the vast expanse of sea around the islands for sperm whales. With bathymetric features conducive to sperm whale feeding, plus a long history of whaling in the region, we have high hopes of finding many animals.

A replica of 'Big Ben' in the center of Victoria, one of the smallest capital cities in the world.
Photo: Chris Johnson

Conservation both on land and in the sea is a high priority to the Seychellois. Environmental legislation is strict, with increasing emphasis on environmental values. These islands have not escaped the usual introduction of alien species and the accompanying die offs of native animals. Yet, compared to most of the world's tropical islands the Seychelles Archipelago somehow fared better than most and today boasts some of the world's rarest and most exquisite species of flora and fauna. The result of its evolution in total isolation has been a profusion of endemic birds, the rare Coco de mer palm tree and, of course, the giant land tortoises. With four marine National Parks, pristine reefs skirting every island and a rich, healthy, blue-water habitat, the crew is looking forward to researching here and sharing our experiences with you over the next three months.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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