Marine Mammal Research.com
Expedition Summary - Week 2/3
Monday July 29, 2013
[From the trip Expedition Eye to Eye: Swimming with Giants]
What an exciting few weeks we have had! Passionate researchers, enthusiastic guests and whales galore! According to one Eye to Eye Marine Encounters guest this was the “best minke whale trip in 11 years!!!” Read on to find out why…
Dwarf minke whales visit the northern Great Barrier Reef Marine Park each winter, forming the only known predictable aggregation of these whales in the world!
On the second day our encounters lasted until dusk - being in the water with the whales during the transition from day to night was like watching a colour picture fade to black and white. The hues became more and more muted until all we could see were the bright white ‘flipper patches’ of whales as they passed by.
When we awoke the following morning minkes were already circling the boat - we wasted no time in joining them! They stayed with us for many hours, growing more and more confident over time. Everyone was lucky enough to experience a 'very close pass' which is defined as when a whale swims within one meter of you! That;s pretty damn close when we are talking about a 6 tonne animal!
By holding onto a rope our movements become predictable and the whales trust in us grows. Sometimes they approach within an arm's length (however we are strict believers in the 'look don't touch' policy as aside from being against the law we do not want to startle the animals or aid in any potential disease transmission)
A huge amount of research has been completed over the past few weeks. Along with HD video and photography our most valuable tools in the field are these waterproof clipboards and range finders (yellow) which allow us to make notes of key markings and record each animal's length
We were thrilled to document some unusual behviours while we were with the whales. This included ‘lunge gulps' (usually only seen while feeding), spy-hops, pirouettes, bubble blasts (pictured) and lots of vocalisations!
Our trip highlight was the positive identification of ‘Strumpet’ a female whale not seen since 2005 (8 years)! This sighting is significant in a number of ways:
1.) It is the longest re-sighting in the project's 18 year history!
2.) Strumpet may have been accompanied by a yearling calf which provides us with clues on dwarf minke reproductive strategies/capabilities.
3.) Up until now it was thought that sub-adult animals were the predominate group interacting with people. However, Strumpet’s insatiable curiosity at such an advanced age raises new questions for our research team.