Day 12 Voyage Report

Day 12 Last Day of Survey… ohhh… (Written on Jan 30, 2013)

Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta). Photo M.Jenner

Shy Albatross (Thalassarche cauta).
Photo M.Jenner


The midnight deployment records blues and whistles in 120 metres of water, but when the RF range is poor the systems are shut down and Whale Song is quiet once more…

In the deep canyon crossed yesterday,  sperm whale foraging calls were detected.  I can imagine the targeted squid being “pulsed into submission” with their codas or foraging claps.  Sperm whale 1, Squid nil. The only expected result in that one-sided match.

High in the sky the moon shines in a patch on the water, but ambient light illuminates the total cloud cover, so the whole sky has a light appearance.   The lighthouse at Little Rame Head flashes, we are scooting along at 9 knots heading NE and making good way for Jervis Bay.

At 1032 we are 11 nm E of Merimbula Point and 18 nm NE of Eden in Twofold Bay, NSW.  Eden holds a special place in Australian cetacean and whaling history.  Old Tom, a 22 foot 6 ton male killer whale, so-named by the whalers, was the leader of a pod of around 30 whales that, over a period of 100 years, forged an unusual relationship with the whalers.  The killer whales assisted the whalers by alerting them to passing humpback whales and also assisted with intercepting and trapping humpbacks inside the bay and by pulling slaughtered humpback whales back into port.  The reward for the killer whales was the gift of the lips and the tongue, also known as The Law of the Tongue.  Old Toms’ skull, displayed at the museum in Eden, shows the harpoon-line wear marks on his teeth and as well, evidence of a tooth infection that perhaps caused his death on September 17, 1930.

The hazy blue landscape of rounded and heavily vegetated hills is peppered with sunbeams lighting rolling green fields.  Bunga Head is a cliff of granite, streaked with vegetation and edged with crashing, white-capped waves.

Two sonobuoys deployed at 1300 reveal “clicks” between 10,000 and 25,000 Hz.  We are in 112 metres of water where a cetacean is echo-locating, no doubt seeking a meal.  This is natural “seismic”, whereby sound s are made and processed upon return to the animal allowing their determination of habitat or prey size and type.

The sea is calm and grey, reflecting the >80% cloud cover and 3 albatross circle and 50 shearwaters gather.  A rolling 2, sometimes 4 metre swell from the SW rumbles along.  Also from the NE another swell line, confuses the sea.  More “clicks” are heard and now “whistles” at 8,000-13,000 Hz range.  It makes me chuckle – how could they all be so well-organised?  “No, really you go high, I’ll go low…” I imagine different species signing to each other in the Eocene!  Cetacean tones are so well-sorted across the frequencies of 10 Hz to 25,000 Hz and higher.

As we pass beautiful Mt. Dromedary near Bermagui, I reflect on the many awesome aspects of this journey.

Highlights of our Journey of the SAAP (South Australian Acoustic Profile) to the STC:

– Bottle-nosed dolphins escorting our exit from Fremantle through Challenger Passage!

-being back on the high seas again! Phew!

-hearing Common dolphins vocalising at the surface while bow-riding Whale Song

-recording Sperm whale foraging “claps”

-working with two Pygmy blue whales and looking into the blow-holes of an Antarctic blue whale south of Warnambool!

– enjoying the smells of dinner cooking while still observing on the fly-bridge in the breeze

– bright-green coloured water in the STC at 39 degrees South

-circling and ever-present albatross, especially my favourite the Lesser-Mantled Sooty Albatross

-photographing huge, gliding Wandering Albatross up close and personal

-seeing familiar land-marks, including The Otways, King Island, Wilsons Promontory and Mt. Dromedary

– enjoying the Indian Ocean, Southern Ocean and the Pacific Ocean moods

-being addicted to the sounds of the sea and the tick-mark squiggles on Ishmael

-all the tasty treats prepared by Resty,Tas, Inday and me (!)

-operating excellently as a small community

-the rousing evening washing-up playlists, to make the job easier!

-the contrast of steel-grey sea one day and bright blue, ocean the next

-moonlit nights hoping for orcas breaching…

-hearing “the aliens” in the Southern Ocean as well as the Timor Sea

-detecting Southern right whales with their distinctive 25 Hz “envelope”

-comforting lumpiness of familiar landscape

-Skipper being so happy to see the dolphins on the bow J

-Skipper being so worried about us sitting out in the cold/wind and desperately wanting us to come inside L

-arriving safe and sound at our destination, Jervis Bay.  The adventuring is oh so fun, but the safe arrival is thoroughly addictive!

As we have had email/internet coverage in the last few days regular news and information such as Google has been available.  Before this, snippets were passed by friends and family via sat email – word of another cyclone “Peta” from the boyfriend of one of our crew also named Peta and news of the line up for the Australian Open finals and the eventual results, from Liz, Dales’ wife.  It’s funny receiving news of the world to our own busy floating world… we hope it will keep turning while we slot out for a while…

On the last evening of watch we are still accompanied by albatross – phew.  Despite loving the tropics, I feel there is something very unique and special about being in the presence of albatross.  These birds are the true ocean vagrants – whose lead, perhaps unwittingly Curt and I have followed in our lives… I am physically sad at the prospect of leaving albatross country and will be glad to re-join them again.  At 2000 the final visual watch and the acoustics data collection is wrapped up.  What a huge achievement over the last twelve days!  We have hundreds of screen grabs, 526 of Pasor alone, thousands of photos of all the birds and cetaceans seen and marvellous memories of all the flavours of each ocean.

The beautiful smells of baking roast pork and all manner of roasted vegetables, perfectly prepared by Tasmin with apple sauce from Inday, are welcome for the end of the day and the end of the survey.  With lively conversation the crew recount all the fun times and the plans for the next couple of days.  Chocolate cream tart with chocolate ice cream was a good finish to an awesome journey! The crew falls into bed exhausted and happy, but especially happy at the prospect of sleeping in tomorrow!  Yahoo!

Loving the presence of albatross,












2 Responses to Day 12 Voyage Report

  1. Avatar for Dennis Ford
    Dennis Ford February 1, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Interesting documentary on the killer whales of Eden


  2. Avatar for Micheline
    Micheline April 10, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Hi Dennis,
    Thanks for the link to this documentary. It is a fascinating story and important part of our history.

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