Eye to Eye Encounter – 6

Day 4 – Sharing Sea Shanties with the Whales

This morning I am itching to be back in the water with the whales, and it appears I am not alone – almost everyone is awake and raring to see the whales. By 8.00am we are all positioned on the top deck scanning the vast blue ocean from left to right on the look out for the minke whale.

By 8.25, Mark, the doctor, spots another whale (by this time Mark is certainly winning on the whale spotting front – with his eagle eye he seems to spot the faintest of blows – the competition is on!).

Once again, I was the first to jump in the water and literally straight away we had three whales approach from all angles. Before we had got into the water, we were instructed by John to try and sing to whales. When I used to work as a Dolphin Swimming Guide in New Zealand we used to instruct the tourists to do the same, if was often hard to say whether this attracted or even deter the marine mammals but one thing is for sure it certainly provided entertainment to those onboard!

I loved singing to the whales, although an avid conservationist I also have secret wannabe pop star in me – we all do right??

Anyway, I started to sing a song that my Nan used to sing and low and behold a whale came closer and closer to me – the more time you spent in the water, the more you can get a sense of those whales are going to make a close approach and those that are going to stay back. This encounter was another special one, this time it comes to the surface we are literally eye to eye. I am moved to tears – words can not do justice what I experienced.

The next few hours was action packed with whale activity, I started taking photographs and making a mental note of all the behaviours I was witnessing. At one point I was slightly distracted by the sight of small shark directly below me, the visibility was not great and it was near to impossible to positively identify it – it was fascinating watching it move through the water among a sea of whales.

Memories of my encounter with a Great White Shark in South Africa came flooding back. Sharks – they are such awe inspiring creatures!

Towards the end of the swim and when the whales were in large numbers we started to hear a strange noise, comprised of three short pulses followed by an upsweep.

You could literally feel this sound vibrate straight through your body – it was the whales, they were singing!

Typically the sounds the whales produce are low frequency grunts, moans and belches – this sound however was extra-ordinary, dubbed by the scientists as the ‘Star Wars’ sound it was like nothing I have experienced before, who knows what they were saying!

To hear a sample of the sound go to http://www.minkewhale.org/minke_whale_sounds.htm

At lunch time we all started comparing estimates of how many whales we had seen and exchanging encounters… “Did you see that one with the white patch – he was particularly friendly! How about that one with it fin totally cut off – what do you think?

Today the water clarity was not fantastic and while it was still great for individual whale encounters it wasn’t great for filming. Richard and Dean decided to spend the day retrieving data loggers, positioned around a number of the reefs in the Great Barrier Reef and are out the Coral Sea. These data loggers are essentially picking up signals from a number of radio-tagged sharks. The data will provide information on the movement and behaviours of sharks in the Great Barrier Reef and help conservation efforts to protect them.

For example, if we are looking to protect the sharks in the Coral Sea then understanding the movements of these sharks is imperative. We need to secure large areas of high protection to accommodate migratory pathways for these amazing and important creatures.

Come the end of this amazing day, we pick up Richard and Dean from their Data Logger retrieving trip.

Richard reports a near death experience trying just to retrieve the data logger with just three breaths of air left the data logger got stuck and it was a touch and go situation – oh the joys of marine research!

Before the light fades we manage to squeeze in another little snorkel at Cods Hole where we came face to face with a Potato Cod. These big guys are one of the largest members of the grouper family and are named after the potato shaped markings on its body.

These very inquisitive fellas have a huge head and mouth which means they can engulf small rays, crabs, fish and spiny lobsters, all in one go.

Unfortunately the potato cod is an endangered native Australian fish and while it is mostly safe in the Barrier Reef, its habitat in the Coral Sea remains largely unprotected.

Some of the work WWF has been supporting as part of our Coral Sea Campaign is understanding the movements and behaviours of the Potato Cod at Osprey Reef.

As we head to spend a night in the calm waters of Lizard Island and as the sun sets on the open ocean we see a dwarf minke whale jump clean of the water in the distance – a wonderful goodbye and goodnight message after a fantastic day out on the open ocean.

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