Day 1 Westbound for Fremantle

Day 1 Hooroo to Jervis Bay and Happy Birthday Maria!  (Written on Feb 16, 2013)

At 0750 we drop the last line at our stern and back out slowly as Curt toots the horn three times, the mariners signal indicating “I am moving astern”.  He loves this air-horn, and as I am positioned on the fly-bridge capturing our exit from HMAS Creswell on camera, I flinch as the horn erupts in “blarps” at my waist.  I shan’t let him know this startled me – this would just encourage him!

We have had a very successful time during the last week based alongside at HMAS Creswell, the Royal Australian Naval Officers College.  Participating in a variety of activities at sea with Defence and Navy and we have thoroughly enjoyed the professional work and surroundings of Jervis Bay.  Also we have especially appreciated Scott Corson’s logistical help.

On one day about 15 nm outside the bay during one of the activities, Curt spotted a pod of 4 or 5 Risso’s dolphins and immediately Rodney and Chris (from L-3 Oceanica) deployed another OMNI sonobuoy to monitor their calls.  We are building a library of cetacean sounds and with this opportunistic sighting of Risso’s dolphins, we add yet another!

Thousands of photographs have caught the bay in its’ moods, ranging from dark-grey sombre cloudy skies to bright blue cloud-punctuated, true summers’ days.  A fast-paddling polite pelican, a myriad of cormorants perched wings out-stretched on the rock wall beside us, common diving petrels fluttering and feeding bottlenose dolphins visiting the harbour and beach adjacent, made for gorgeous wildlife sightings everyday and at any time of day.  The clarity of the water in this Marine Reserve is outstanding and a testament to “good practice” by the inhabitants of Creswell.  The surrounding National Park is owned and run by the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Corporation and also operate as good custodians of the land.

Travelling through the bay we realise it is a Saturday morning.  A myriad of small runabouts dot the seaway bristling with fishing rods, all hoping for tonight’s dinner.  At 0825 we turn south bidding Point Perpendicular adieu and look past lovely green Bowen Island to the pretty settlement of Creswell on the edge of Jervis Bay.  The sea is blue, the sky is blue – scattered with white cumulus clouds and we have a SE breeze of 10-12 knots.  Ahh, we are underway again!  I love the feel of the sea beneath my feet!

Surprisingly, Jervis Bay, shown on the chart is in the ACT, and as such, is a coastal suburb of Canberra!  A very fast travelling air force jet leaving an impressive vapour trail appeared to have lifted off from the Canberra region and travelled south past us far more quickly than any commercial jet.  As we move southwards, Sam calls on the UHF radio from the fly-bridge to show us the jet trail.  At that time Canberra was only 75 nm inland from us, a distance covered in a sneeze in such an aircraft.

At 1020 we have the first Mr. Albert Ross fly by, this one a Shy Albatross and later two more that had settled on the surface take off near the bow on our approach.  The slightly panicked look of one bird over it’s left wing towards us, is priceless!

Today we have commenced the SAAP (Southern Australian Acoustic Profile) Part 2, which is the westbound leg travelling from Jervis Bay to Fremantle, with stops for cetaceans all the way!  We are a crew of 9, the “Usual Suspects Five” that are the Marine Crew being Curt, Dale, Resty, Sam and myself and the Science Crew, including Curt and I, as well as Maria, Carrie, Sacha and Peta.  Inday is a bridesmaid in her best-friends’ wedding today, so is back in Perth and sadly missed by the Whale Song crew, but will rejoin us in a week.

Today we will celebrate Maria’s birthday, and as such, the request for a chocolate cake does not go unanswered.  Baking the cake and preparing the “icing”, three chocolate bars are used!  This will be a “Death by Chocolate Cake” for Miss. Maria!

After lunch of pasta bake and salad we begin setting up all the systems in the wheelhouse, the SONIX, PASOR and ISHMAEL computers and CWR Logger.  Meanwhile, throughout the afternoon and early evening Curt finds three pods of animals, a body and a blow (a pilot whale), a tail-slapping individual pilot whale and a mixed pod of around 50 pilot whales and about 10 bottlenose dolphins.  Photos are taken of the second and third pods which are confirmed to be pilot whales.

Resty prepares dinner from 4pm and while we are on deck we can smell the yumminess of garlic and veggies frying as well as the cooking of the tasty pork meatballs.  Steamed rice, baked vinegar potatoes and salad complete Maria’s delicious birthday meal which is eaten in stages by all crew as there is still a couple more hours of daylight for visual watch and animals are all around.  In the wheelhouse, Carrie is having her first acoustics session with Maria of real-time capture of the interesting sounds the pilot whales are making.  Carrie is clearly excited, taking lots of screen-grabs, now thrilled to be a part of the collection of this data, not just the analysis of terabytes worth.  The calls are in a frequency range from 8,000-13,000 Hz, making cicada type noises, but different from the “aliens”, a sound we have heard a few times at Scott Reef and now along the south coast.

At the end of observations at 2000 the table is laid for a birthday cake covered with candles and colourful paper umbrellas!  At the end of our rousing Happy Birthday song, with a deep breath Maria manages to blow out all the candles and we let the tasting begin!  Cream and vanilla or chocolate ice-cream a company this chocolate experience.  After two of these cakes in almost as many days, I decide I’ll take the stairs two-by-two tomorrow!  A poem written today for Maria is read and hand-crafted cards by Sacha, Peta and Carrie are shared.  What a great start to the day, pilot whales and dolphins visually detected and acoustically captured and a birthday to boot too!  Thanks Maria for a great excuse to celebrate our first day of research!

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