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A Small Town of Epic Proportions
It’s an untold tradition at this point for the research team to arrive into a new research site only to be greeted by the most extreme of wind and sea conditions. Now at our fourth of four research sites, the team has kicked off the last portion of the season with a day of data input and organization.
Arriving late Saturday evening into the town of Eden after 3 days on the road, we were all a little anxious for some rest and relaxation before getting up early to brave the seemingly Antarctic waters off Twofold Bay. The forecast was for 15-20 knot winds out of the southwest with swells reaching upwards to 4 meters, equivocating to a highly unpleasant and chilly day on the research boat. Still, we were optimistic and at around 8:00am we had already started our journey into the open ocean swell. An hour later our boat was back on the trailer, washed down, and sitting pretty in the parking lot.
Eden, New South Wales is one of the most rugged, ruthless shorelines along the east coast. With only one whalewatch operator (Ros and Gordon Butts of Cat Balou cruises) operating out of the area, the region is fairly desolate when it comes to vessel traffic. Larger fishing vessels, naval ships, and only the occasional “tinny” can be seen roaming through the area as it is truly not for the faint of heart. Of all research sites, the conditions here will need to be monitored the closest as land offers only limited protection from the elements and conditions can rapidly change.
However, albeit rugged this area is seemingly home to more ocean life than all other sites put together (a slight exaggeration, but an awesome place nonetheless). Australia Fur seals, Common dolphins, Orcas, Humpbacks, Southern Rights, Pelicans, Albatross, Shearwaters, and even the occasional Blue whale can be seen frequenting the cool, polar waters off of New South Wales.
For nearly twenty years now Pacific Whale Foundation researchers have been travelling to this chilly coastline to document the unique behavior of opportunistic feeding.
First discovered by Ros and Gordon Butts in 1990, this opportunistic feeding has proven to be different from feeding anywhere else in the world. On a very rare occasion humpbacks have been observed feeding off their designated feeding grounds (documented off South Africa, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, New Zealand, the Hawaiian Islands) however only Eden seems to host this annual opportunistic feast. Nearly every year for the last twenty years, humpbacks have been observed lunge and lateral lunge feeding through the area for upwards to several weeks at a time. For reasons unknown, some animals seem to migrate to the area for a quick feed before proceeding with their migration down to their Antarctic feeding grounds.
For the next three weeks we’ll be documenting the behaviors and whereabouts of humpbacks moving through this unique area, in hopes of gaining a better understanding of who these animals are and of where they’ve previously come from (i.e.-Port Douglas, Whitsundays, Hervey Bay, etc). Although a small town, Eden has the potential to host more excitement than any other site yet, so stay tuned for some epic blog entries and stunning imagery.