Our Hector's dolphin team just finished another winter/spring field season at Banks Peninsula. Lots of awesome work competed with sonar mapping, fish surveys, acoustic monitoring habitat sampling and land-based observations. The peninsula is a challenging but incredibly beautiful place to work at this time of the year. The team is looking forward to more fieldwork kicking off in December. Check out a few pics from the season... ... See MoreSee Less
Right whale blog - last full day at the Auckland Islands
With a bit of video footage from earlier in the week.
It’s another windy day, but not as bad as yesterday. Steve B, Steve D and Will go out in Cetos to survey the sheltered parts of Port Ross – the inshore bits of Erebus, Terror and Deas Coves. The rest of us stay on Polaris which lifts its anchor and re-anchors in Laurie Harbour. It’s no less windy here, but there is less swell. The boat sits nice and still here, and Steve L puts Nemo on the roof of the wheelhouse using the hiab. We spend the rest of the day packing up so that everything is secure when the boat starts rolling around on the swells. We are expecting a 5-6 metre swell for the first day or so of the trip back. This will make the boat roll violently, such that it’s difficult to walk around inside the boat without holding on to things to make sure you don’t fall over or get smacked into a wall. Bob’s drone case goes back under our bunk in the aft end of the boat. It’s a very large, water-tight pelican case with a nice padded space for the drone. Likewise, Steve’s Inspire drone and Julian’s drones go back into their padded boxes and get stowed under our bunk. On top of those go bags of clothing, for additional padding. At this stage most of these are bags of dirty clothes. We will have a big pile of laundry when we get home. There is much less food on board, so plenty of extra storage space on the trip home. The food has lasted amazingly well. We had two boxes each of apples, oranges, bananas and kiwifruit. Not surprisingly, the bananas didn’t last long, but the apples and oranges are still perfectly fine and the kiwifruit are actually better now than when we left Dunedin 24 days ago. They have reached the perfect stage of ripeness. We have a small amount of fresh vegetables left as well as some frozen spinach and peas. The milk, which has been frozen, has lasted the whole trip. We have lots of dried milk as well but so far have only used it for making porridge. Our food has lasted brilliantly, due to the prudent food buying of Steve B. There is always a bit of guesswork and judgment involved in deciding what to bring down for an expedition like this. Steve B used to run a restaurant in Akaroa, and has been on one of these trips before. So he is well up to the task. There are slightly fewer people on this trip than the last one, so he has had to make some adjustments to the shopping list.We are ran out of eggs two days before leaving the Auckland Islands. Butter is the only thing we’re short of, and that seems to have been due to extravagant use of butter in the first couple of weeks. No worries, we have a huge pot of mayonaise, so have been using that on our bread at lunchtime. At breakfast time we eat porridge anyway, and spreads like peanut butter and nutella taste perfectly fine without butter. Once Cetos comes back, she will be lifted onto the back deck of the Polaris and tied down carefully. It is a bit of a monkey puzzle to get Cetos under the large steel beam that the hiab sits on. The console with the steering wheel, GPS, echo-sounder etc. only just fits under that beam, so there is a bit of judicious leaning on the bow of Cetos to get it in place. Everything that can be tied down is tied down because we will spend the next 48 hours or so rolling around violently. At least until we get some shelter from the South Island coast which will be for the last 12 hours or so of the journey. We will spend at least 36 hours without any shelter at all and will have to take whatever the sea throws at us. The weather forecast looks ok. It will be moderate northwest winds today followed by a 25-30 knot southerly tomorrow morning. We will leave on that southerly, which will give us a push towards the South Island and will mean the swells are mostly behind us. For the first 12 hours or so we expect moderate to heavy westerly swells, from the northwesterly that is blowing today. Those swells will make the boat roll around a lot. Most of us, crew and scientists, will be sleeping down below with only two or three people up at any one time to drive the boat and generally keep an eye on things. We will be watching closely at night for lights of other ships and for anything that appears on the radar screen. Just to add a bit of excitement, we go to Sandy Bay to collect a stainless steel table and some other bits and pieces for DOC. Very unpleasant weather for it, with a decent roll on the beach. So Will and Steve B get into their wetsuits and ferry the table and box of other materials to Cetos which waits just behind the breakers at Sandy Bay beach. A sealion on the beach watches this whole performance. Finally, by dinner time we have everything tied down and are ready for an early departure tomorrow morning. ... See MoreSee Less
When we wake up we can hear rain and wind outside. We have breakfast at 7 regardless, just in case it clears up. It’s still dark when the generator starts and we get up to make porridge and coffee. After breakfast, when we can see what the weather is doing, it becomes clear that there will be no fieldwork this morning. There are williwaws in Laurie Harbour, easily 40 knots of wind. If it stops raining and calms a bit we may check out the areas that are usually sheltered in this weather – Erebus Cove, Terror Cove and Deas Cove. Erebus and Terror Coves are named after two ships that brought early settlers to the Auckland Islands. Likewise Ranui Cove, towards the entrance of Port Ross, is named after a ship called the Ranui which used to be anchored in this cove. There are several huts on the Auckland Islands, which would be suitable for future expeditions. Being dropped off at the hut in Deas Cove for example would make it possible to stay at the Auckland Islands for a month or two, mooring a small boat like Nemo in the bay on an endless line. We have had Nemo moored like this in Doubtful Sound. You pull one end of the rope and the boat comes into the beach so you can load it up and get in. At the end of the day you pull the other end of the line and the boat floats back out to the mooring. In a forecast for very strong winds (like today) you would have to drag the boat up onto the beach and tie it to the trees to weather out the storm. But most of the time it’s very sheltered in Deas Cove. That would be an excellent place to work from. Not today though! By the time it stops raining, the wind has picked up to a point where fieldwork is no longer possible. By lunchtime it is blowing 40-50 knots, and that’s inside the normally very sheltered Port Ross. We move from Laurie Harbour to Erebus Cove, which is a better anchorage in a south-westerly. Even in Erebus Cove, the wind whistles around the Polaris and there is no doubt what we should be doing today. We spend most of the day on our computers, processing data, editing video etc. Will is matching Steve D’s drone photographs to find out which individuals have had photographs taken from which they can be measured. More than 90 individuals so far, with a couple of days worth of data still to be analysed. Steve has collected photographs suitable for measurement for well over 100 individuals whales. This surpasses our wildest expectations! Bummer the weather is not suitable for fieldwork today. This would have been our last full day of fieldwork on this trip. Tomorrow, we will do fieldwork in the morning if the weather is suitable, and then will spend the afternoon getting everything ready for the trip back to Dunedin. An hour or so after we anchor in Erebus Cove, several right whale mothers and calves come into the bay. Including one of the white calves. This calf has visibly grown in the month or so that we have been here. The mothers produce very fatty milk that allows the calf to grow fast. The mother, meanwhile is using up her blubber reserves. The whales do not feed while they are at the Auckland Islands breeding ground. You can see why the whales have chosen a relatively sheltered area to raise their calves. There will be a 5-10 metre swell running outside the islands right now, and it would be easy for a mother to lose her calf in those weather conditions. Within the harbour, the mothers sometimes lobtail – slapping their large tail on the water surface which makes a lot of noise. The flippers or pectoral fins are also used in this way. The noise created by slapping a flipper or tail on the water surface is useful to alert other right whales. And of course they call frequently. We often hear them at night when the generator is turned off and when we are lying in our bunks near or below the water surface. In a stormy sea, with heavy swells none of those would do much good in keeping in touch with your calf. There will be so much noise generated by the waves and swell that it will be much more difficult for the mothers and calves to keep in touch. Some of these calves are only a few weeks old, and do not look seaworthy enough yet for those conditions. Very sensible of their mothers to choose a nice sheltered harbour to give birth and raise the calf until it is large enough and experienced enough to cope with conditions in the open sea. ... See MoreSee Less