Monday 1 September 2014

Still on 8

Well, the ocean has not been that cooperative the past two days. We're being extremely patient and persistent, getting on the water early, following individual whales for hours on end, putting ourselves in a position to deploy tags, but the combination of a strong southerly swell and 17 knot winds out of the east have stirred up some decent chop. The choppiness of the sea has prevented us from being able to attempt any more tag deployments the past two days - we still have 8 tags in hand.

Despite the high (and low) seas, we have been seeing whales. Not nearly the density found in other calving/breeding areas such as Abrolhos Bank, Brazil, but there are definitely multiple whales in the area.

When we have not been on the water, the team has kept extremely busy with maintaining the gear, downloading the daily datasets: photos, voice logs, whale song recordings, skin samples, waypoints of whale surface activity, among other things. A question for all the the blog followers at Ilam School (Christchurch, New Zealand) and elsewhere: What do you think we use each of these datasets for? I'm more than happy to come in to school upon my return to ChCh and learn what you come up with!

My evenings have been spent analyzing the daily whale location data and teaching the team how and why I do these analyses. I'll post a mini-lesson to the blog in the days ahead - but here's a little tidbit for y'all...

We already have one very interesting humpback track result: the first whale we tagged went on a >100 km excursion to the north of Rarotonga. The whale swam ~40km north, turned to the west at some stage, and then returned to Raro following a highly directional (i.e. straight line) path. Let's put this movement in some context. Humpbacks travel at ~5km/hour in open ocean. Thus, this 'little' excursion took at least 16 hours to complete. While we were searching for whales, washing down gear, downloading data, and sleeping, this whale was performing a remarkable feat of site fidelity. It left Rarotonga only to come straight back again. One way or another, it clearly knows where it is; my job is to try to figure how.

Last night I had the extreme pleasure of teaching. I love to teach - this is the main reason why I'm in academia. Last night's learning centered on the various theories of how animals navigate and took a closer look at Earth's magnetic field - one of the possible sources of spatial information available to migratory animals. We welcomed close friends from Muri Beach Club Hotel and Abigail's Mom, Felicity, along for the session. I hope it was an engaging learning experience!

Erica, from Muri Beach Club Hotel, passed on some awesome information last night about upcoming events down in Muri related to building and reinforcing the support for Nan's humpback whale research. It's just awesome having supporters and advocates in the community and the folks at MBCH have been leading the way!  Thank you so very much, Erica!

So we're off to the marina, hoping for flatter water! All we can do is be patient, persistent, and wise in our decision-making regarding when to attempt a tag deployment. The safety of the whales and the tagging team are our highest priorities. Although it may very well be a journey of ups and downs, its most importantly a journey that is moving forward.

- Travis Horton

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