Cape Verde 2006: A Newcomer's Introduction to Cape Verde

17th Mar 2006 After three flights and a long days travelling, Fiacc O'Brolchain, Liam Lysaght, Jim Wilson and myself had finally arrived in the Cape Verde islands! As the mid-term crew change for the IWDG humpback whale expedition, our eagerness to get here had kept us going for the day and we even managed to keep our spirits up for the dubious ‘speed' in getting a Cape Verde visa, which we finally got at around 4am!

Fortunately for us, Simon was waiting at Sal international airport and we managed to get a few hours sleep in a local hotel. We were relieved to hear that Saturday was to be spent ashore, stocking up on provisions for the next leg of the expedition – none of us fancied heading straight out to sea, and it was also a great chance to have our first look at the Cape Verde islands. Certainly the heat and dryness was a big change on the hailstones I had left in Kerry the previous morning!

Early on Sunday morning we set off and headed south towards the island of Boa Vista which would be home for the next week or so. Weather conditions were good with little wind or swell – and our more experienced crewmates took great delight in telling us to enjoy it while we could, before more normal Cape Verde weather conditions arrived!

The journey south was a great introduction to sailing in the tropics as we were regularly in the company of flying fish, Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish and an assortment of birds including Cape Verde shearwaters, brown boobies and red-billed tropic-birds. It was as we neared Boa Vista that we encountered our first humpbacks, although on this occasion they proved too elusive for a tail fluke photo. This first encounter was only a foretaste of what was to come.

Since that first trip, we have been fortunate to have had regular encounters with humpbacks every day, including mother and calf pairs and singing males. We have also had two encounters with rough tooth dolphins, and it was amazing to hear these on the hydrophone with a singing humpback whale in the background.

Having seen the humpback calves swimming closely alongside their mothers, or listened to a singing male it is hard not to ponder on the slaughter that was bestowed upon these animals that brought them so near extinction. Hopefully, knowledge gained from expeditions such as this will help to protect these important humpback whale breeding grounds so that this enigmatic animal can return to its former glory.

Mick O'Connell

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