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Pan Tropical Spotted Dolphins captured by the BOWCAM.

Watch underwater video footage of these remarkable dolphins.
  Real Audio Report
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January 13, 2003
Arrival in the Maldives
  Real Audio Report

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Maldives just north of the equator in the central Indian Ocean.

Our 1,200 nautical mile journey from the Seychelles was calm and untroubled. A peaceful Holidays at sea included encounters with sea birds, humpback whales and several oceanic dolphin species, among them the effervescent pan-tropical spotted dolphins. These small whales made almost daily appearances. Since entering the Indian Ocean over a year ago now, representatives from this dolphin species have accompanied us more often than any other. Distributed widely among the tropical and subtropical waters of the globe, it is probably among the ocean's most common cetacean species.

The other day, as the Odyssey crew was only 25 miles from Male, we spotted a blaze of turbulent white water caused by the vigorous leaps of about one hundred dolphins. The group turned abruptly and within seconds were beneath the Odyssey's bow. It was a large group of Pan-tropical spotted dolphins The sea conditions were perfect for viewing dolphins from the bowsprit and the crew enjoyed their last interaction with oceanic wildlife until our first research leg begins in Maldives waters.

We could distinguish between the adults that are covered in spots, and the young animals on which the spots are virtually absent. Pan tropical spotted dolphins are extremely energetic swimmers as can be seen by the footage captured on Odyssey's bowcam.

Outside the fish market in Male.
Photo: Chris Johnson

A few hours later, the Odyssey pulled into the port of Male, the Maldives capitol. The Maldives are a series of over 1,100 small, low lying coral islands grouped together to form twenty-six atolls perched on top of a submerged mountain range. The land is dry, relatively infertile and supports a limited array of flora and fauna. As a tiny island nation in a huge ocean, the combined area of dry land makes up only 0.4%of the country. With a population of some 300,000, the growth rate is not particularly steep, though it is hard to imagine where more people could possibly fit on Male.

It is known as the world's flattest nation, with no area of natural land higher than 2.4 meters. Interestingly, it could also be viewed as one of the most mountainous regions. At over 2,000 kilometers long and 5,000 meters high, this ancient volcanic mountain range reveals peaks capped not with snow, but with coral.

A few days ago, the crew had their first opportunity in nearly two weeks to stretch their legs over a distance greater than 93 feet - the length of Odyssey. It is always exciting to arrive in a country for the first time. There are towns, streets and markets to explore, people to meet and new cultures to experience. As with every country we have worked in throughout the voyage so far, the Maldives are distinctive and diverse in their own way. The Maldivian people share a mixed Indian, Arabic and African ancestry. Male is a bustling metropolis built on a relatively tiny speck of coral sand in the middle of the ocean. A walk through town is intriguing, with mosques, markets and motorbikes - the later flying around a maze of narrow brightly colored streets. Many buildings are modern and there is much construction work underway, but the city retains many of its historic and traditional charms including old coral-stone houses. The practice of mining coral as building material has thankfully been banned.

Every afternoon, the local fishing boats or 'dhonis' return to port from their daily fishing expeditions to unload their catch and sell their goods at the market, a vibrant, noisy epicentre of activity and bargaining. The dhonis are built in many shapes and sizes, but all display a distinctive, tall, curved prow that transform them from the kinds of boats we expect to see to distinctively, regal Maldivian craft.

A Maldivian 'dhonis' boat.
Photo: Chris Johnson

It is refreshing to learn that net fishing and trawling is prohibited in Maldivian waters to seventy-five nautical miles from land. Inside this area, all fishing is done by pole and line with over 75% of the catch being tuna. This 'no nets' policy limits the amount of fish taken and it significantly reduces bycatch. The Maldivian's seem keenly aware of the need to protect their marine environment for future generations.

With a Muslim culture steeped in tradition, a unique island geography and an astoundingly rich underwater environment, all of us aboard the Odyssey are looking forward to exploring on land and to researching the waters of the Maldives.

Written by Genevieve Johnson

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