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- Abundance, Survival, Recruitment, and Realized Growth Rates of East Australia Humpback Whales
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The difficulty in running any field research operation is the logistics. The more remote a location, the greater the challenge. Especially nowadays when a great deal of our equipment is electronic and relies upon digital technology. This becomes even more vexing when working in a country that is a few ‘upgrade cycles’ behind the gear you are relying upon.
High tech can quickly equal ‘big headache’ if you don’t prepare properly and bring back-ups. We carry plenty of back-ups. Which is why the airlines love us – can you say ‘excess baggage fees”?
Beyond the high tech gear, over the past 26 years we have amassed all the requisite equipment necessary to run a field operation. From potato peelers to plates to pillows to printers, you name it --we have it. When we are not in Oz, we store the entire lot at Joyce and Michael Hull’s farm in Hervey Bay. They are so eager to help, that Michael actually had the Landcruiser packed and ready to go when Annie arrived
Normally the first day on site, we set-up our field office, check out the gear and prepare for our first day on the water the following day. Not this year. Annie and Amanda had the gear prepared and field ready. The boat was serviced in Brisbane and ready for splash down as soon as we hit Port Douglas.
Off we head to the Port Douglas Marina and are warmly greeted by Terry, Jason and Marie who run the Meridien Mirage Marina (http://www.meridienmarinas.com.au/port-douglas.php). It was hugs all around, and with paperwork filed we were ready to launch.
But before we launch, we check-in with a few of our maritime friends who run tour vessels in the area, Calypso (http://www.calypsoreefcruises.com/), Quicksilver (http://www.quicksilver-cruises.com/), Haba (http://www.habadive.com.au/), and Reef Magic (from Cairns) (http://www.reefmagiccruises.com/) all regale us with the same grim news: “this is the roughest and warmest winter on record, with just a few whales about.”
Prior to the day we arrived, the wind had been gusting from the SE at 20-25 knots since June 1st. The minke whales (http://www.minkewhale.org/), which normally show up to breed in June, were a month late. While Migaloo did make an appearance, there have been few sightings of whales in the area. And what sightings that have been made, have largely been on the outer edge of the reef near the Continental shelf (some 40 kms, 24 miles) offshore. That’s some wild and rough water on the outside of the Great Barrier Reef – an area we only made it to once last season.
Undaunted, and greeted by 10 knots of breeze, we splash down and head to sea. We pass the Low Isles some 8 miles offshore and head towards Opal reef. The sea is beautiful, with a small half- meter swell running.
Two hours of surveying and we stop to answer a call from Reef Magic some 45 km south of us. They have whales but they are fairly quiet. As I hang up, Annie and I simultaneously spot our first humpback of the year some 800 meters due west of us. A lone whale blows and throws a high arching fluke, as if to both welcome us back and taunt us.
All the careful preparation and planning (along with your support) have brought us to this remote magic place in the Coral Sea. There is not another vessel for dozens of miles, just Annie, the whale and I.
This is how it begins.