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Better Bring a Rain Coat
After spending 11 hours on the water and surveying 104 miles of open ocean, the last thing you want to wake-up to is a downpour. Then again, may be that is just the day-after remedy for a long day on the water.
I stumble out of bed at 6:45am only to be greeted by Amanda who has just returned from an early morning walk, thoroughly soaked.
“Is it raining?” I ask.
“Pouring,” she says. “I should have worn a rain coat.”
Indeed it is raining. The small creeks at the end of our drive are swollen and rushing into the sea. The visibility on the ocean is less than one mile and there are storm clouds everywhere.
What the heck, whales don’t mind being wet, so why should we? It’s a perfect day for research. Now I just need to convince Annie and Amanda.
No worries. They are busy packing lunches when I return from my morning weather check. Off we head to the harbor to fuel up and head out.
Fifteen minutes after departure we receive a radio call from Captain Terry on the ‘Reef Sprinter’. “I have whales breaching two miles north of Low Isles!” he relays excitedly.
We are only a mile away and we can see why Captain Terry is excited – whitewater and splashing abounds as we quickly change course to the NE.
We slow our approach and come to complete stop about half mile SE of ‘Reef Sprinter’. We never want to interrupt a good show for whalewatchers and patiently wait. Soon the southbound pod of two sub-adults heads our way, breaching, dual pec slapping and generally cavorting.
Suddenly they appear 75 meters from our stern, and one subbie breaches clear of the water. A quick course change, and they head right for our resting vessel. One animal rolls slowly at the surface, extends its large 5-meter long pectoral fin and gently slaps the water in front of Annie’s camera.
The pair continues southbound, surfacing every minute or so, and attracts the attention of virtually every tour vessel eastbound from Port Douglas. Our radio is alive with questions and comments.
Soon Captain Chris of ‘Pure Dive’ and Captain John of ‘Wave Length’ call with another sighting of whales some four miles to the east of us, two miles east of the Low Isles. It is a mother, calf and escort resting at the surface.
Then a call from ‘Aristocat’, they have spotted a mother calf pair just west of Pratt Rock, some ten miles to the north.
The day has begun like gangbusters. Whales abound.
As we head east in search of the mother, calf and escort pod, the weather packs in. For the next six hours we survey in poor visibility and rain. We check offshore for whales and when we are 23 miles out, Annie says, “Where are we? I just need a point of reference. I feel like we have been lost for hours.”
The rain and clouds will do that to you. Good thing we have GPS and a compass to keep us on transect.
A pod of 24 near-shore bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops adunuas) breaks the surface of the gray, gloomy sea. Then we observe a group of terns dive-bombing a feeding school of brightly colored silvery mackerel, which leap while feeding much to our delight.
The day degrades with rain flying everywhere. It is time to make for port. Fading light, pouring rain, but calm seas make for odd bedfellows.
As we pull into port, Annie sighs “Land, I can see land! It is good to be home today.”
Sometimes being on land (and all wet) is better than being at sea and not being able to see.