A Day in the Perth Canyon Listening to Blues! (Written on March 21, 2013)
A four member film crew from Prospero Films recently joined us for a day trip to the Perth Canyon looking for pygmy blue whales. Our day began early with the 0630am arrival of the film crew and Prof. Rob McCauley, our acoustic specialist colleague for the journey offshore past Rottnest Island.
As the day lightened, we departed the Fremantle Fishing Boat Harbour and within a few minutes the first pod of two bottlenose dolphins was sighted. A little later as we approached the Perth Canyon, a second pod of dolphins began bow-riding, this time eight striped dolphins with gorgeous markings – Skipper was in heaven! However, in contrast, most of the film crew were feeling fairly poorly by then. My apologies were extended – but I must say, this was the most en masse adverse reaction to my Safety Briefing that I have ever had!
Eventually the grey sea and grey sky gave way to some blue sky and patches of blue water which was a relief for the film crew. This small group was a truly professional team – Camera-man Mark, Sound Technician Brett (whom we had worked with in 2008 in the Kimberley), Presenter Andrew and ably led by the Director, Russell, keeping them on track despite all taking turns to feel under the weather. Remarkably they all remained stalwart about their days work.
The mischievous possibility of filling their roles for the day was not lost on the Whale Song crew, as secretly we prepared for Inday to film, Sam to record the sound, Curt and I to present and Dale to direct! Magically and with great determination, all personnel worked through their un-wellness, unknowingly saving themselves from our Plan B! Over the course of the day the “real” film crew expertly collected much filmed material including several interviews, “Pieces to Camera” by Andrew and interesting background shots of the operations and scenery on board Whale Song.
Once in the region of the Perth Canyon, sonobuoys were deployed and blue whale calls showed strong signals on the PASOR and SONIX software, in fact three at a time with varying harmonics either side of the dominant frequency. The delivery of the sounds in real-time from the sonobuoys was of great interest to all, including Prof. McCauley. We were delighted to hear at least five pygmy blue whale calls and Prof. McCauley believed this indicated the presence of at least 15 whales in the canyon. So this is where the blues have been! We have been looking for them along the south coast, but perhaps they have been here all the time?!
A main saloon sit-down lunch of cold roast chicken, salad and rustic baguette with a ham/salami & cheese platter was not taken by all. But as the sea calmed nearing Rottnest on the return journey, the Perth landscape loomed and as evening approached big appetites were in place for chicken pasta bake, green salad, coconut steamed rice and beef with Hoisin sauce with chillie & Chinese cabbage and white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake to finish!
At 1945 Whale Song returned to our pen in the Fishing Boat Harbour with an absolutely exhausted film crew but triumphant regarding all the film they had in the “can”. We heard whales and this is good enough for me! Despite not experiencing a close encounter, we are very encouraged by the audible evidence of the whales’ presence. In fact, nowadays, we have come to understand the power of acoustic detections rather than relying solely on visual observations. Naturally, we are addicted to visual encounters with cetaceans and have been for the last 25 years, but on a day when its too rough to see them, we’re thrilled to know we can still perform useful acoustic audits of ocean areas. Besides, its the way this underwater world works, its an auditory realm not a visual one!