Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Humboldt Giant Mantas Exceed Expectations

Of any project, the field work is where the foundations are laid for successful data processing. Processing that data is maybe not as action packed as collecting it, but it is equally as engaging and fascinating. It is here, in the frigid blue light of a computer station that the real secrets of what we discover are revealed.

I have probably mentioned already that the start to this season was depressingly non productive. Almost a whole month without seeing a manta, but the later stages of the field work more than made up for the lull at the start. Herein lies something of a problem. Last year I chose a later field trip, but frustrated by local reports of mantas earlier in the season, in 2011 I organised an earlier field season to try to take advantage of those early mantas, and perhaps avoid the blank two weeks suffered in 2010 as the mantas left early. Our budget only stretches so far and aiming our field time to coincide with these mantas remains something of a guessing game. Unfortunately in a script written by murphy himself, the mantas arrived and left late, a complete opposite to last year.

Just as we finished the field work, some critical hardware problems caused a delay in processing of the data, but luckily our hard copy originals saved the day. Now, as our mantas are somewhere perhaps distant, and certainly a yet unknown, I am wading through gigabyte after gigabyte of data. It is going to take some time yet but early results show an increase in our year on year re-sightings. This is encouraging as previously we had only managed to capture one re-sighting. Whilst it is great to see new manta after new manta, it is important to quantify a result and simple addition is of little value for this purpose.

Another result that looks promising is that this year a greater percentage of females were recorded. Although the population remains predominantly male it is interesting to note at least one year where we captured more females than normal. There are some trends beginning to show. Our repeat sightings show some interesting patterns, and the next batch of ID’s I am working on will hopefully underline these early suggestions.

Piece by piece, my small dedicated team and I are beginning to reveal the secrets of this population. We look forward to what we will find out about them as we reach further into their unknown territory.

This post also appears on my Save Our Seas blog entry.

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