Kenyas Mystical Marine Mammals: The Call of the Humpback

Latest update July 30, 2019 Started on February 1, 2019

Join us on this first of a kind mission where we plan to use new technology to film and record humpback whales off the coast of Kenya, to make a artistic educational film to help raise awareness about these mystical marine mammals.

February 1, 2019
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The Humpback whales are known for their song, in fact it was their haunting calls first recorded by Roger Payne in the 1960's that helped kick off the Save the Whale campaign, which led to the ban on whale hunting. Our Humpback Whale film would not be complete with out this incredible soundtrack, so we are very excited that our hydrophone has arrived and will allow us to record the whales to make our very own soundtrack!

Being able to share this sound, especially with local communities will help us raise awareness of these gentle giants. Most people along the coast rarely even see the whales from the surface, let alone get to here them under water. Even the fisherman who dive for their catch seldom hear them as the water are often too rough to fish when the whales visit our shores. Being able to record their song will have a huge impact on our film.

We can barely wait to test out the hydrophone, however as we are currently experiencing Kenyan winter in the highlands it will probably have to wait till we get to the coast and some warm water!

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It's been the season for travelling and conferences and I have just come back from the 2019 Nature, Environment and Wildlife Filmmakers Conference (NEWF) which is an amazing congress in Durban, South Africa, trying to promote African voices in the wildlife filmmaking world and inspire a new generation of African storytellers, Scientists and Environmentalists. This year I was there as part of the National Geographic Storytelling Explorers panel with some inspiring storytellers.

The congress brings together all sorts of wonderful people and I met with the whale project coordinator for Wild Oceans, who study the humpback migration off the east coast of Africa and we're going to see how our project here in Kenya can tie into the greater West Indian Ocean Research! There are some incredible stats about the whale numbers and we're very excited to be able to have our project be more than just a film but actually contribute to the whale data for Kenya. You can read more about their amazing work here recently published by National Geographic:

After the congress we were treated to a small safari and on one of the days we went out whale watching and from the short clip below you can see how lucky we were! Hopefully this is a good omen for our project and excited to get out and filming off Kenya.



We are excited to be working on this project with Mike Mwang'ombe, from the Watamu Marine Association. He is the only Kenyan whale expert and has been researching, monitoring and documenting the Humpback Whale Migration in Kenya, working to get more information about the whales that visit our coastline and why they travel this far north.

Mike is currently in Florida undergoing an internship on Dolphin welfare at the Sarasota Dolphin Research Centre. Where he will be learning valuable techniques which he can transfer to his study on the Humpback Whales in Kenya. We are hoping that his work with us on this project will give him valuable time out on the water to document this gentle giants.

So we are very proud to share this episode of Paula Kahumbu's TV show Wildlife Warriors as it highlights the great work Mike is doing, check it out!


Hi all,

Just wanted to write a quick post as there is some exciting news! Yesterday I arrived back in Kenya from Washington DC where I attended the National Geographic Explorers Festival and what an experience that was! Met some of the most incredible explorers, the wonderful people working at National Geographic and some of my idols in the underwater world including Sylvia Earle and Brian Skerry. The week of workshops and presentations was incredibly inspiring and has given me more of a focus for this project and where we can take it.

So I'm back and energized and then yesterday we got news from the Watamu Marine Association and Kenya Marine Mammal Network that there has been the first sighting of a Humpback Whales two days ago off the Watamu Banks... They are here and early!!

We will be in Nairobi for a while, waiting for some more filming gear and the hydrophone to arrive. Excitedly we have have also applied for the Trident Underwater Drone. If we do get one it would be a huge help on this expedition, as to be able to use it as a first method of assessing the water visibility will be invaluable for our water safety before getting in to film (if conditions are right). It will also be an alternative to capture the first shots of the whales in a more unobtrusive way for the whales. Those are just two ways the drone will be useful but I can think of a whole lot more so fingers crossed we are successful!

Thats the little update for now, we'll be back with more soon.



Meet the Team!

So as we're getting everything ready for our expedition we thought it would be best to introduce our team for this project. We've all written a little bit about ourselves so you can get to know us.

Jahawi: Hi, I'm Jahawi, a natural history film maker, photographer and music producer from Kenya specialising in wildlife and the underwater world. I grew up in Nairobi but was lucky to spend most of my school holidays on the south coast of Kenya where I spent all day on the beach, snorkelling, exploring rock pools and playing in the waves and to this day I'm happiest in the ocean. I love the underwater world and want to share this world with as many people as I can, both locally and internationally, as it's facing a lot of man made threats and needs a change in human behaviour to ensure its future alongside our own future. For this project, working alongside Mike and Elke, we want to be able to bring people in to the world of a humpback whale to see their beauty alongside supporting Mike's important research on these and other marine mammals.

Jahawi's Website - Jahawi's instagram -

Elke: Hi, I am Elke, I grew up in the ocean, on an island that makes up part of the Lamu Archipelago off the north Kenyan coast, this up bringing has shaped my life as it has nurtured my love for the underwater world and all its fascinating animals. For this project I will be working along side my husband, Jahawi, to film and photograph the whales and other exciting encounters we happen upon! I will also be helping with the blog, social media and editing, and as I am also very passionate about the stories and people involved, we will be working on the ground with local communities to find out about ancestral stories of whales and the ocean.

Elke's instagram -

Michael: My name is Michael Mwang’ombe, I grew up in Taita hills but moved to coast at a younger age and my passion for Marine life was inspired by National Geographic documentaries which drove my passion for whales and dolphins. I would like to inspire the next generation, telling ocean stories from a Kenyan perspective and to share the insight of whales and dolphins. On this project I will be partnering with Jahawi, to offer my expertise in relation to the marine mammal work we do on the Kenyan coast.

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Expedition Background

Kenya is a famed wildlife destination, known for its iconic species and wildlife reserves. With its terrestrial wildlife forever being in the spotlight, it is often forgotten that Kenya also has 563km Indian Ocean coastline stretching from Tanzania in the South to Somalia in the North. Fringed by bustling coral reefs with healthy populations of turtles and resident populations of dolphins these coastal waters are now playing a host to a new wildlife spectacle; a Humpback whale migration.

There have always been whales in Kenyas waters but as the Humpback whale numbers have increased, Kenyas shallow coastal waters is now a stopping point for humpbacks, who swim 4000kms north from the Antarctic to the equatorial waters off our coast to calve and breed. It’s a fairly new phenomenon and local knowledge about whales from people in the coastal communities is incredibly limited and with the ever increasing threats to marine life I realised it was important to raise awareness on these creatures.

So the aim of this expedition is to make an artistic and emotive short film that will not only show Kenyans the whales, highlighting this new migration, but act as an educational tool with a strong conservation message to get people to fall in love with these gentle giants.

There are a lot of negative ocean stories out there but the story of this migration, and growing humpback numbers worldwide, is a positive one and so I feel it is important to share the positive stories which encourage hope and shows natures resilience given the chance.

To tell the full story, in a way thats completely new, I not only want to use new technology to film the humpback whales underwater, but to also use drones and an ROV to get a visually different perspectives, a hydrophone to record their calls and use the recordings to create a unique pieces of music as a soundtrack.

Thanks to a grant from the National Geographic Society this will be the first project of its kind in the region combining underwater and aerial cinematography, hydrophone recording and music composition. I believe that with this approach I can create a much more powerful piece of film that can be moving and educational for the fishermen and coastal communities.

The whales start to arrive in July when ocean conditions can be quite rough so the main filming for this expedition will take place from September as the ocean conditions and visibility will start to improve however between now and then we will start gathering information, getting out into the ocean to see what else we can find as well as preparing and testing out the new gear we plan on using.

This project is part of East African Ocean Explorers; a wider project where we want to provide a platform for passionate people to be able to explore and learn more about the ocean. We need to inspire a new generation of Ocean Explorers who will champion marine conservation and and act as an inspiration to young people in their communities.

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