THE HUMPBACK WHALES OF CAPE VERDE
"Where do they go when they leave?" the small boy asked Simon as they sat watching the humpback whale off West Cork. It was a question that started marine biologist and explorer Dr Berrow on a decade long adventure, taking him from Western Europe to Western Africa. And in pursuit of his answer, leading him on to a grand surprise.
Sitting in his Kilrush office in West Clare, the light fading outside on a warm autumnal evening, Simon scratches his head and sighs. Stressful and all as it makes him feel, the Cape Verde archipelago in September is a gamble he knows he must take. It flies against all logic of course; you travel to Cape Verde off West Africa in the spring to see and study the humpback whales, not in the autumn. Four times they have done it that way over the last decade. But something about that narrative now jars.
Twelve months later the 40ft catamaran Equinox sails out around the volcanic headlands of Mindelo harbour. It's the first morning of the 2014 CVI Expedition. Dr Simon Berrow, the expedition leader, looks around at the faces etched with excitement. Pedrin smiles at him. He smiles confidently back. Inside, he wonders will his gamble pay off.
* * *
Simon Berrow is a hugely experienced marine biologist and former member of the British Antarctic Survey. He has been leading Irish expeditions to Cape Verde for over a decade. Always in the spring, between February and April, when the humpback whales gather to breed. For twelve years he has photographed, filmed and biopsied the whales, trying to understand their world. Trying to prove a link to feeding grounds to the north, to Ireland.
There are easier places to study mega-fauna than this small group of volcanic islands dotted on the Atlantic, some 570km off the coast of Western Africa.
Not many venture to do research here. A semi-desert landscape, big seas and strong trade winds see to that.
* * *
The agreed philosophy was simple enough: northern hemisphere humpback whales travel south to Cape Verde to breed in its warm waters and sheltered bays in the spring and then return north to rich feeding grounds right up to the higher latitudes of the artic.
Then the reports started. Reports of humpback whales in Cape Verde in September. And October. That didn't make sense. Though anecdotal, the reports were too many to ignore. What was going on? What were they missing? Were these sightings an anomaly or was there something more fundamental at work?
* * *
Against the odds, Simon and his assembled team of marine scientists from Switzerland, Spain and Ireland voyage to an extraordinary discovery. One that will change our understanding of humpback whale behaviour.
'Only by risking failure can we hope to achieve.'
Simon Berrow : The Humpback Whales of Cape Verde
We filmed the The Humpback Whales of Cape Verde across the Sotavento and Barlavento islands of the Cape Verde archipelago in September 2014. We also filmed on location in Malta and Ireland in 2015. The support of the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group, the Karl Myer Foundation and the Island Foundation was integral to getting this film made.
The Humpback Whales of Cape Verde was broadcast on TG4 in Ireland in 2016.
Outside of Ireland you can watch our film on VOD. Click HERE