Acoustic survey, whales, dolphins and sharks around Montague Island

 

Last week I spent around Bermagui, in New South Wales, some 350 km south of Sydney. Bermagui itself, is a small fishing village, with an ageing population or to quote one of the locals, I was a hippie in the 70s when I arrived here and now I am a hippie in my 70s… It is easy to understand why people would decide to spend there retirement in this area though with a stunning coastline, rich seas and the blue pool, all at the doorstep.

Together with other researchers from Macquarie University, University of New South Wales, the Antarctic Division and a few more we tried to monitor the ecosystem around Montague Island. At the moment this is a pretty interesting area, with foraging penguins, migrating humpback whales, dolphins, a relatively large seal colony, schools of fish (including sardines, scad, mackerel and bait balls). All of this combined makes it a rather unique site to survey. I was mainly involved in running the acoustic equipment aboard the small research vessel Pelagica, owned by Macquarie University. As far as the acoustics are concerned, we are running systematic transects, which allows us to easier quantify our observations. The survey has been run for three years now so it makes for a ne=ice dataset already. Further we can also collate some of the information collected during this trip with information collected during my recent Investigator voyage.

Whenever we were driving out it, common dolphins were a pretty common sight:

Luckily enough we were granted a permit to observe and film humpback whales. Careful not to disturb them, we just kept observing those gentle giants and waited if they were curious enough to check us out or preferred to show us they were not interested, which would make us drive away from them immediately. It is pretty fascinating to see how interested some of them are to interact with us, while others just swim off immediately. Mostly we observed mothers with calves, sometimes accompanied by a large escort whale.

After we completed our workload, it was time to finish the trip with a nice snorkel. Luckily enough for me, my colleagues know the area pretty well and were the perfect guides, directly navigating me to a few gutters filled with Port Jackson sharks. Surrounded by schools of small fish and a seal coming along to say hello this made for a pretty impressive sight. The video also shows that it is not easy to free dive 8.5 m with a wet suit and no weight belt…

Once we had enough of the sharks we started our way towards the collection of dinner. During our search for Abalone, we came across a beautiful Lion’s mane jellyfish:

Further on we then found some abalone and a lobster which made for a perfect dinner.

Just when we were about to head home, we were swimming of the shore a bit and saw some more humpback whales not too far away. It was when I thought I lost sight of them that I looked down, to discover two humpbacks swimming right under me:

It will be pretty tough to get some more impressive snorkel into the logbook I think and what a way to end the day…

 

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