Day 7 Westbound for Fremantle

Day 7 Blues Belting out the Blues… (Written on Feb 24, 2013)

Photo credit M.Jenner

Robe, South Australia, in the early morning light.
Photo credit M.Jenner

Looking at the moon held high in the sky moon on our starboard side the path of light is glassy and full of zig-zags.  The air is heavy with biological smells, and sniffing the light airs I try to work out the owner of the aroma.  I guess an algal bloom which would have bloomed with the previous windy conditions and then the light wind and warm day concentrating the smell of the dead marine plant material.  Bidding Maria and Resty goodnight at 1130pm after finishing emails and writing, I head to our cabin kindly knowing that Curt has let me off my watch since we will anchor around 1 or 2am at the seaside town of Robe in South Australia.  Fifteen minutes later, Maria detected a blue whale call booming on the acoustics – aah, they are here somewhere!

At 0230am Curt, Dale, Resty and Sam anchor Whale Song in Guichen Bay, ½ nm NE of the entrance of Lake Butler, a small fishing boat harbour, just in front of the village of Robe.

Photo credit M.Jenner

Curt whisks Pete Gill ashore in ‘Orca’.
Photo credit M.Jenner

In the morning I am up and at’em on the aft Albatross Deck taking photos of the morning light in the trees onshore but somehow miss saying goodbye to Pete as at 0720 am I see Curt whisking him to shore on our 6m tender Orca.  I was sad not to have said byes but a phone call soon fixed this as I reassured him that at least I had pictures of him leaving!  It was great to have our colleague and local expert, Dr. Pete Gill on board with us and we anticipate this will be the beginning of many such collaborative forays with Whale Song through the Bonney Upwelling, perhaps when more willing!

Just before leaving Robe, the guys investigate a rattle that had begun during the night.  We presume we may have picked up one or two of the 11,000 craypots laid on this coastline.  Putting our u/w camera over the side and viewing on a CCTV screen, Curt finds a wear mark on the port prop shaft and Sam jumps in quickly to check for lines.  Fortunately, no lines are attached and we are ready to go!  At 0830 am we up anchor, leaving Pete to be reunited with his wife, Sooze and son, Felix for a couple of lovely days relaxing in Robe.


Photo credit M.Jenner

Perfectly glassy calm water for the afternoon.
Photo credit M.Jenner

Heading from Robe we make for the 100m contour which will take about four hours before we deploy any sonobuoys.  On the fly-bridge, Sacha and I begin visual surveys beneath a grey sky and on a reflective grey sea with 5-10 knots of breeze from the NNW.  As the morning progresses, the sea calms more and more and by lunch-time as we munch on pumpkin and feta quiche, salad and salami and fruit, the wind is from the WSW and 3-5 and then Variable with 0-3 knots in places.  Greasy seas reflect the towering white cumulus clouds and at times the horizon is barely indistinguishable.  Wow, this is gorgeous… imagine finding a blue whale in these conditions.  I have made sure, as always, that my camera batteries are all charged and memory cards have been down-loaded from the three cameras that I use on a daily basis…  my finger is twitching…



Curt and Carrie monitoring the sonobuoys, ISHMAEL shows strong blue whale calls. Photo credit M.Jenner

For my entire watch from 12 until 3pm the water is like a glassy table-top.  It is truly stunning.  From mid-day we have sperm whales clacking away as they do.  The odd bangs of the “wood-pecker fish” come through as well, but then we all get excited at 1306 when strong blue whale calls of three different types are displayed really well on ISHMAEL.  In the first type, the blue whale call is centred at 70 Hz with two harmonics either side, the second has the call at 63 Hz with four harmonics below and one above and the third type features the call also at 63 Hz with four harmonics below and three above.

Photo credit M.Jenner

Blues belting out the blues.
Photo credit M.Jenner

This is very cool and as we record, we believe we have at least two whales calling these different calls, since the calls begin to overlap.  Examining the calls with the Sonix system indicates the whales are to the NE of the bouy – behind us!  Unfortunately our schedule won’t allow for another detour but at least we have some evidence that the Bonney Upwelling is productive enough for these two whales!


At 1130, we had 15 common dolphins bow-riding and leaping in the stern wake.   Our second pod of close to 50 individuals encountered at 1530 had a small tightly knit swimming group composed of three calves and three mothers jostling in the bow-wash.  Skipper is oh-so happy!  Their bodies are so strong and athletic; it is great to see them at such close range.  By 1600, our gorgeous weather has given way to SW of 15-20 knots and in fact, on the fly-bridge the wind has a cool edge making my eyes stream.  Just as well we didn’t turn around!

Photo credit M.Jenner

More joyful bow-riding of our friendly common dolphins!
Photo credit M.Jenner

We resume visual surveys from inside the wheelhouse and soon I start cooking dinner, giving Resty a well-deserved night off.  I prepare hearty dishes of spaghetti bolognaise and vegetable pasta sauce with pasta shells and dessert is home-made cinnamon apple crumble with cream… this ought to give us lots of energy for 24 hour acoustic monitoring and dawn until dusk visual monitoring until we near Thistle Island tomorrow for our Defence “Ranging” appointment the day after.

Pondering my navel, now full of apple crumble (!), I feel very privileged to be here.  The elegant patterns of nature that we as biologists try to understand are deep-set and have occurred for eons.  Listening in on the world below adds another dimension and this is truly beguiling and intriguing.  We look forward to unravelling more mysteries as we travel whale highways.

From 50 nm SE Kangaroo Island in a calm seaway,


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