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The Odyssey crew spent many successful days at sea looking for whales in the Seychelles.
Photo: Chris Johnson

January 7, 2003
Seychelles Video Report
  Real Video Report
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Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson, field education co-ordinator aboard the research vessel Odyssey.

The Odyssey left Western Australia in April of 2002, to study sperm whales in the Indian Ocean. Travelling over 5,000 miles to the Republic of Seychelles, our research took us to the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and the waters surrounding the Chagos Archipelago.

Between the months of August and December, the crew of the Odyssey surveyed Seychelles waters.

The Seychelles islands are scattered over a vast expanse of ocean, a few degrees south of the equator. The ancient inner granitic islands feature palm-fringed sandy coves, bound by giant boulders and misty mountain peaks, cloaked in luxuriant forest, while the outer islands consist of isolated coral atolls supporting dense bird colonies and unspoiled coral reefs. As a result of their continental past and equatorial oceanic location, the Seychelles supports an abundant and bizarre mixture of terrestrial and marine life that makes these islands so unique.

Historically a whaling nation, the Seychelles Islands, together with representatives from 16 Indian Ocean countries, proposed a plan, to declare the Indian Ocean a whale sanctuary - a concept adopted as policy in 1978 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), that remains in place today.

Over a five month period, the Odyssey crew conducted 5 research legs around the deep waters of the archipelago in search of sperm whales.

The crew encountered many large groups of sperm whales near Bird and Denis Islands, Banc Africains and near Aldabra.
Photo: Chris Johnson

Although an area rich in biodiversity, not much research on cetaceans has been conducted in Seychelles. The Ocean Alliance research vessel Odyssey was the first to perform a comprehensive study of sperm whale abundance in the region.

Dr. Roger Payne and Iain Kerr joined the research team offshore. While in port they gave presentations to government representatives and members of the public in Mahe, the Seychelles capitol, about the research being conducted and the goals of the Voyage of the Odyssey.

Roger Payne - President and Founder, Ocean Alliance -

"This is Roger Payne speaking to you from the decks of our research vessel Odyssey on its multi-year, round the world voyage of scientific discovery that is taking the world with it via the internet. At the Ocean Alliance, we work for the conservation of whales and their ocean world through research and public education. With the Voyage of the Odyssey, we are opening people's eyes to the ocean world and to the reality that they can make a difference."

Our research took us around the granitic islands and the outer atolls, including the remote Aldabran islands.

Dr. Peter Teglberg Madsen - R/V Odyssey Chief Scientist

"This is fantastic! It is 2 o'clock in the morning and we are 5 nautical miles off the coast of the World Heritage area of Aldabra. We just found a group of 5-10 sperm whales that we intend to track all night."

The Odyssey crew were able to collect 85 biopsy samples from sperm whales in Seychelles waters. These tiny tissue samples will be analysed for levels of man-made toxicants, a significant addition to an expanding data set that will assist us in evaluating the health of the world's oceans.

We found large groups of sperm whales north of Mahe, between Bird and Denis Islands and along the Amirantes Bank between Desroche and Banc Africains.

Dr. Peter Teglberg Madsen - R/V Odyssey Chief Scientist -

"Our research here in Seychelles waters has been extremely successful. Not only have we been able to document the presence of a large number of cetacean species, but also, in regards to sperm whales, we found a large number of specimens. We found large males, females and calves indicting that this is a possible breeding ground. On top of that we have been able to collect 85 tissue samples, so it has been a great success!"

Roger Payne and Iain Kerr joined the Odyssey in the Seychelles. They study bathymetric charts to plan one of the research legs in the region.
Photo: Chris Johnson

With over 250 sperm whale acoustic detections, we were able to make several recordings of clicks and codas. A valuable addition to our data set, these recordings may help us learn more about the social structure of this species. It also assists us in determining whether acoustic censusing of sperm whale populations is possible.

We had sixty-two sightings of other cetacean species including a mother/calf pair of humpback whales, we were also able to make recordings of singing males. Among the eight smaller cetacean species sighted were risso's dolphins, spinner dolphins and pan-tropical spotted dolphins.

The Odyssey received much attention while in port. The crew is always eager to share their findings with government officials and the local community.

Our educational and media outreach program was elevated to a new level with television coverage on Planet Seychelles, a national environmental television program. Local radio programs also interviewed the crew of the Odyssey.

Many teachers and students toured the R/V Odyssey, while the crew was invited to give lectures for many schools, the response from the children was overwhelming.

A Grade 10 student thanks the crew of the Odyssey at the National Education Theatre-

"We are lucky to have the crew of Odyssey in the Seychelles to teach us about not only the largest but one of the most beautiful of the marine species that we hear very little of here. To us, the Seychellois, the ocean is so important to us as it is our main source of life. We are happy to here that you have discovered whales in our ocean. This proves that the Seychelles marine life is a rich one. We would like to assure you that as we grow up, we will not forget what we have learned today. And, as a future generation of this country, we will strive hard to protect our fragile ocean including the wonderful whales."

Education is always the key to an informed community and a sustainable ocean future.

Joel Bacharia - Visiting Student - Seychelles

"I have had lots of fun and I have learned that there are so many kinds of whales and so many that are not discovered yet. (In background Genevieve asks 'Do you think it is important that we protect whales in the oceans?') yes, because everything on earth has a reason to live. I think that whales should live because they are an important part in the food chain."

Genevieve Johnson - R/V Odyssey, Field Education Co-ordinator (to camera)

"We found so many sperm whales in the Seychelles along with many other cetacean species. The enthusiasm and the awareness of the young people about the marine environment is quite inspiring and it fills us with hope that this next generation of leaders are going to make the right decisions in regards to the health of the world's oceans."

The Seychelles are a unique island group consisting of mountainous granitic islands as well as coral atoll reefs.
Photo: Chris Johnson

The crew thoroughly enjoyed their time in Seychelles. As well as meeting new friends, important additions to our global scientific data set were made.

The Ocean Alliance is pleased to report that Seychelles waters contain a large number of cetaceans and a rich diversity of species. Perhaps most importantly, the Seychelles Government cited our findings as a reason to continue supporting the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary.

Minister Ronny Jumeau - Minister for Environment - Seychelles

"Well, when I first read about you [the Odyssey] coming over here [to the Seychelles], I was quite excited because all of the Seychelles is environmentally conscious and has a world reputation for protecting thei r environment. I must admit that when it comes to whales, and the [ Indian Ocean ] whale sanctuary, that this is one of the least researched parts of our environmental protections program."

Maurice Loustau-Lalanne - Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Seychelles

"I think that we are very excited. As you know, the Seychelles championed the cause of the International Whaling Commission, way, way back and we created this as a whale sanctuary back in the early 1970's... We have seen something quite remarkable that you have discovered here last week and I think that in itself makes it [ the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary ] all more worthwhile and I think we should keep it that way."

Continuing support for the Indian Ocean Whale Sanctuary will provide all cetaceans with an increased opportunity to recover. In addition, it allows projects such as the Voyage of the Odyssey to continue innovative research, assisting in revealing new information of global significance about cetaceans in the Indian Ocean.

Written and Narrated by Genevieve Johnson
Video Filmed & Directed by Chris Johnson

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