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Getting by with a little help from our Friends
Before we dive into today’s Notes, I want to revisit our interaction with the dead “eel-like fish thing” that was found on the stern of our boat. Being the curious science types and not happy with our definition of this odd stinky creature, we decided to source some local knowledge. As we fuel this morning we are given a lesson in local ichthyology. The offending foul smelling fish is apparently called (locally) “a crocodile face longtom – part of the gar family,” Captain Terry cheerfully informs us. “If you found it dead in your boat then it was likely being chased by that large ‘barra’ (barracuda) that lives near where your boat is moored.”
According to those who know (and care) there are 18 varieties of Longtom (Belonidaeundifferentiated) in Australia including the barred Longtom, blackfinned Longtom, crocodile Longtom, flat tail Longtom, freshwater Longtom, reef Longtom, slender Longtom and stout Longtom. They are all long, slender fish that can skip over the water for long distances. They belong to the same family as garfish and flying fish and some can reach 3 kilos (7 lbs) and almost two meters (6.5’) in length. Apparently they are good sashimi fish too (provided they are not rotten).
Ok, enough of the fish lesson, on to cetaceans.
As predicted today turns out to be a ‘stunner’, flat seas, little winds (5-10 SE) and heaps of whales. Within minutes of departing port, our radio is abuzz with calls from our friends on board “Poseidon,” “Calypso,” “Aristorcat.” “Norseman,” “Silversonic,” and “Wavelength,” they all have spotted whales. The challenge is they all are heading in different directions, which means the distances between whales varies from 10 miles to 30 miles. We need to choose wisely.
We have whales 3 miles east of Snapper, pod of 3 headed south, another pod near Snapper moving west, a mother with a new-born calf and escort in the shallow waters of Batt Reef, another mother and calf off North Opal Reef, a pair just west of Pratt Rock, and more calls pour in. When the day is done we have covered 120 miles of survey.
Two notable encounters occur: one off Cape Tribulation and later in the day south of Opal Reef (some 29 miles out of Port Douglas). The first group, a pod of six sub-adults is cruising northwest some 4.5 kts. Cavorting, with whitewater and foam at every surfacing, the pod gives us a fluke-up show. Shortly after we encounter the pod, we have all their IDs. A dream pod for any whale researcher.
We break, and Annie says “we deserved that pod as reward for our Good Samaritan efforts yesterday.”
What is more spectacular is the vista and backdrop behind the fluking whales – the Daintree Rainforest. I have studied whales all over the world, but I must admit when it is clear, sunny and calm this region of the world can leave your tongue wagging. The Daintree Rainforest is over one hundred and thirty-five million years old – the oldest in the world, contains 30% of frog, marsupial and reptile species in Australia, and 65% of Australia's bat and butterfly species. Also 18% of bird species in the country can be found in this area. There are also over 12000 species of insects. Today we get a chance to see one of the ocean’s older creatures back dropped against the world’s oldest rainforest. Amazing.
Later in the day we encounter a sub-adult and a yearling humpback swimming southeast along the inner edge of Tongue Reef. To watch whales cruise near the Great Barrier Reef is really a thrill of a lifetime. To see them wind their way through tiny openings and cruise near huge coral heads in less than 5 meters of water leaves you wondering anew just how they find their way through the world’s oceans.
It is after four, and we receive a call from Tim North, owner of ‘Reef Magic’ a whalewatch and snorkel boat out of Cairns. He has located Migaloo (the world’s only all-white humpback whale) some 2 miles NW of Green Island. We are excited but 35 miles too far north. Tim tells us Migaloo is slowly headed northwest. Last year we found Migaloo off Snapper Island on August 13. He re-appears south of us this year off Cairns on August 14th.
We cross our fingers that Migaloo is headed north and we make plans to launch early tomorrow in hopes of finding our old friend again – with some help from our new friends.
PS: the sub-adult in our pod near the GBR decided to get curious and began swimming laps around the boat. Check out the 'mugging' we received here: http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=136396626402449&ref=mf