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Surveying the marine ecosystem in Mozambique with R/V Dr. Fridtjof Nansen

With a new crew and many new scientists onboard “Dr. Fridtjof Nansen” left Maputo and headed northwards late afternoon 11 October. The local time in Mozambique is two hours behind UTC time, but due to its eastern location it gets dark around 6 am and not before long the sight of the beautiful Mozambiquan coast disappeared in the night.

With a new crew and many new scientists onboard “Dr. Fridtjof Nansen” left Maputo and headed northwards late afternoon 11 October. The local time in Mozambique is two hours behind UTC time, but due to its eastern location it gets dark around six o'clock and not before long the sight of the beautiful Mozambiquan coast disappeared in the night.

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Kentrocaprus rosapinto

The next morning the swell waves made the first hours unpleasant for many of us newcomers. However, the feeling of sea-sickness was moderated by the view of a large number of humpback whales, some with calves, swimming in groups along the coast. During the first morning we observed at least 30 animals, and many more sightings were made during the following days when the vessel was close to the shore. Sometimes we could also hear the characteristics long and complex songs of the humpback whales.
 
Humpback whales (Megaptera novaengliae) are baleen whales that migrate seasonally between feeding grounds in high latitudes of both hemispheres to winter breeding grounds in tropical or subtropical waters where they also calve. Calving takes place in shallow coastal waters along continental shelves and off some oceanic islands. It is known that high densities of humpback whales are distributed along the Mozambiquan coast during late winter through early spring, which our whale sightings indeed confirmed (see movie of a humpback whale swimming next to “Dr. Fridtjof Nansen”, 13 October, 2007 (YouTube)).

The impressive size of the humpback whales swimming near the vessel is in large contrast to the small sized fish caught in the trawl. Still, in spite of the relatively small quantity of fish the high diversity and species richness is remarkable. Daily, we see a large range of different shaped fishes, from fast swimming torpedoes to small sphere shaped fishes, with a large assortment of colours which is typical for fish in tropical waters. One of the most fancy specimen (see picture) was caught on Saturday, and clearly this fish (Kentrocaprus rosapinto) was prepared for the party at the reef. Beautiful red lips and a chic mixture of blue, silver and yellow shells which made it, without doubt, to The Queen of the Party – or as it was a male - The Drag Queen of the Party.    

By Espen Johnsen