Making Tracks

Today officially marks our 13th day on the water. By this time tomorrow we will have trailered the research boat, packed up our belongings, and said our goodbyes to the good people of Port Douglas. As per plan, it has been decided to pack up our gear and move this operation slightly down the coastline to keep in line with this year’s Humpback migration.

This area has been uniquely exigent, challenging us to keep on our toes not just physically but intellectually as well. For the past 15 days the team has worked the region, by boat and car, accumulating as much data as possible from sources stretching all the way up the coastline.

As unfortunate as it feels to leave an area after investing so much in it, there’s no doubt in our minds that we have worked this area to the best of our ability. Every day on the water tracks have been recorded via handheld GPS monitoring everything from humpback sightings to daily mileage, and just in two weeks time alone the team has managed to cover an amazing 1,093 miles within the Great Barrier Reef region.

Tracks and waypoints (coordinates recorded at the beginning and end of each sighting) from each day are downloaded to our laptop, and by the end of the season we can actually pinpoint every humpback sighting across the entire east coast of Australia. Furthermore, after all matching has been completed of this year’s fluke ID images to our main catalog back home, movements of individual animals can then be plotted and tracked on separate time maps in an effort to monitor migratory patterns over periods of time (see maps below).

So, for example, if the fluke images captured of today’s mother were to be matched to one animal within our main catalog (containing sightings from Tonga, Antarctica, and the entire east coast of Australia), not only would we be able to track her movements but we’d also be able to see how many years we’ve been observing her for, how many calves she’s been documented with within that time period, and what other animals she’s been documented hanging out with.

It may all sound a bit of a long and tedious process, but by combining the visuals of tracks/waypoints with recorded behavioral and compositional data the possibilities are endless! Who knows, we may even be able to track this animal’s movements within season if we should so happen to see her in Eden as well! Stay tuned…


Annie Macie