"The best SEAFARI by far" was the slogan used by Dr. Vic Cockroft, a well known marine mammal scientist, when he launched the first legal boat based whale watching operation in South Africa in 1998.
Vic has been researching marine mammals for more than 35 years and our paths crossed for the first time in 1996 when I visited him in Port Elizabeth while I was training for a Private Pilot's Licence at a local flying school. Over the past 20 years Vic and I have remained good friends and I continued to visit him in Plettenberg Bay, where he based himself after leaving Port Elizabeth. Being a keen amateur naturalist I have always enjoyed picking Vic's brain about everything concerning whales and dolphins.
When close to the ocean and not up in the air I spend a lot of my time scanning the water in the hope of observing a whale or dolphin in it's natural environment. So it was only logical that I would start scouring the various app stores for a dedicated whale watching app that would be able to tell me instantly who has been seeing what, where and when and also allow me to share my own oberservations with like minded people.
While apps that allow users to track anything from an amoeba to an elephant are freely available nothing dedicated to marine mammals was to be found. The solution was to make my own! When I mentioned my idea to Vic he started telling me about his dugong research and the perilous state that the East African population finds itself in. With smart phones now to be found in even the remotest village along that coastline he had tried to develop a dedicated app that could be used by the local population, and especially fishermen, to record and report dugong sightings. These data could then be used to better ascertain current range and population size and ultimately aid in the development of a conservation strategy for the enigmatic dugong. With available funds barely covering the costs of the most important research Vic had been unable to commission the development of a dedicated app. So with the possibility of a "whale watching" app also being able to help in conserving the East African dugong I was more than willing to fund the SEAFARI app project.
This app allows individual users to record an animal sighting in the marine environment as well as the opportunity to view sightings recorded by other users via a simple and user friendly menu system. 3 flags representing Mozambique, Tanzania and Kenya have been placed on the home screen to aid the Portuguese and Swahili speakers participating in the dugong research project to record their dugong sightings. There is additional information including descriptions, distribution, habits and "where to view" in the "Species Info" section. The initial 20 species, with the exception of the critically endangered dugong, represented the species most likely to be encountered when out and about along the Southern African coast. While seeming to be somewhat Southern Africa centric at the moment we encourage users to record sightings from anywhere in the world. We will continue to add species to the drop down menu (currently there are 29) on the "Report Sighting" page as time goes on, the ultimate aim being to have all marine mammal species represented in the app. Being a privately funded project it wasn't feasible to include all species from the start as this would have made it too expensive.
While we have highlighted dolphin and whale species (as well as the dugong) in this app please feel free to report sightings of other interesting marine species. A vagrant southern elephant seal on a South African beach or a Cape fur seal off Durban, for example, would be very interesting sightings worth recording. And if you see something that you cannot identify but are sure that it was a whale or a dolphin then record it as "Unidentified whale" or "Unidentified dolphin" and provide as much information about the sighting as you can under "Description". Use "Other" for anything else that you saw swimming or floating in the sea and that you think is interesting. The app also allows the uploading of a picture together with a sighting report which could either be used as a help to identify an animal or just to illustrate a sighting by providing important clues of the environmental conditions at the time of the sighting. No matter the purpose, pictures are always welcome.
"Rare" and "unusual" sightings always raise the most interest but please report as many of your sightings of "common" animals as you can as this will ensure that the data generated by this app will be more balanced and that it will indeed function as a useful whale (and dolphin and...) watching aid as well as a reliable source of data for scientific research.
Thank you for downloading SEAFARI and happy spotting!