Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's a great day(s) to be a scientist

These past 4 days have been solid research days for me. That means waking up at 5 am, getting on the road at 6, and starting observations at 7 in the lighthouse. We don't finish until one, so it's 6 hours on your feet yelling out:

"I GOT A POD! Looks like 6 adults, 2 calves... wait make that 14 adults, 3 calves! They are milling. Definitely milling. Oh, I got a tail slap! Wohoo! OH MY GOSH Did you guys see that leap? Full out of water porpoising! Calf is belly up. Oh man he is the cutest thing ever! Hey we got one more calf over here."

It's pretty awesome. On thursday we initially saw a pod of about 6 adults as soon as we got to the lighthouse. It then went dead. Completely dead. It was a perfect day though, no wind, no waves, and water visibility was awesome. We did not see another dolphin until 11. They were all at some secret meeting or something, and we weren't invited! When we did finally see a dolphin, it was coming around the southern point from Tallows Beach (the other side of the cape of Byron Bay). As I started observing with some binoculars, I slowly started to see more and more as they were making their way around the cape. It was a pod of 44 adults and 4 calves! A pod of nearly 50 dolphins! It was definitely a once in a life time sight. I don't know why I was so lucky to be there. They were so gorgeous. They were all traveling north, and you could see pairs of synchronized dolphins, some were mothers and calves, others were just good friends. Dolphins that are tightly bonded synchronize their movements. It's beautiful. I now know what synchronized swimming was adapted from! Thankfully it was such a perfect day. Looking down from the lighthouse you could almost count everyone with the naked eye, it was such a beautiful day. When they got around the point into the bay, all of sudden it was dolphin central! Another pod of 13 showed up, along with a pod of 4, then another pod of about 6. They then decided to play some tricks on us and all mix up together, and spread around, then clump back up. Lets just say deciphering pods was impossible. Pod D became Pod DE, Pod E became EF, etc etc. They certainly had fun messing up our data.

Saturday I was out in the research kayak. It was incredible. Me and Sara (the head of research at SCU) headed out and just waited for some dolphins to show up. And waited...and waited.... Nothing! The entire time we were on the water there were no dolphins! The lighthouse radios us where to go, and they had nothing for us to look at. Just because they had no dolphins for us doesn't mean there was nothing to look at. The way the currents were flowing was causing a huge amount of blue bottles to head into the bay. Blue bottles look like portugese-man-of-war jellyfish. The have this clear bulbous top that floats on the water, then their tentacles are underwater. Blue bottles have a few short tentacles right off the bulb, but they then have one really, really long tentacle that reaches out. Most tentacles were up to a few feet long, while the top floating on the water was only a few centimeters. The biggest one I saw was about half the size of a dollar bill, so one wouldn't expect it to have a huge tentacle flowing out from it. The reason they are called blue bottles is their tentacles are all this electric dark blue. I have never seen a color like that before. It's looks like that electric royal blue you see on peacock's necks. But it's brighter. So we were paddling through hundreds of them. It was another incredible sight. I managed to look down at the water at the perfect time, one blue bottle had a neon blue lizard fish, about 2 inches long wrapped up in it's tentacles. It had it's pectoral fins all fanned out, and it was beautiful. It was almost the exact same color as the tentacle, which I found very interesting. I also found a floating shoe, and we grabbed it to take it and throw it away. As it was sitting in the boat, slowly all these creatures started crawling out! This show was like a little ecosystem! When I looked closer I saw a bunch of little blue and white worms, sand flees, and this creature that looked like a mixture between a crab, spider, and clam. It was bizarre. There was also a blue bottle inside which I was very excited about, so I got to get a really good look at it without getting stung. It's incredible how versitile and flexible sea creatures are. They can make a home out of anything. However, that does not mean it is okay to have trash in the ocean! No excuses world.

Today I was back up in the lighthouse. It was actually a pretty uneventful morning. We saw a pod right away, then nothing until around 10. Seems to be the reoccurring theme with these dolphins. When there aren't dolphins around, I'm still looking for sea life. The bay is packed with turtles, schools of fish, and all kinds of rays. As I was following this ray just cruising around the bay, out of no where he just jumped about 6 feet in the air! This ray ( I believe it was a cownose ray) just launched itself right out of the water! It was like he wanted to fly out of the water as well. I have seen pictures of this happening with whiptail rays, and it's something I have always wanted to see, but seriously, what are the odds of ever seeing that? Today I felt to blessed to be in the right place at the right time. Dolphins did finally show, once again headed in from Tallows. There was 14 adults and 3 calves. One calf was probably only a few weeks old. he was tiny, the smallest dolphin I have ever seen. He was smaller than half the size of the adults. He was so darling. It was definitely play time for him because he was leaping, breaching, slapping, and swimming belly up for us. It was almost like he knew we were there and he wanted to put on a show. Seeing something that small leap it just incredible. It makes human babies seem so useless! They can't leap, they can't do anything! I want a dolphin baby! But seriously, they are such a beautiful species.



Hannah, I'm stalking you on your blog and LOVING IT!! It is so fun to hear all about your new adventures, what a GREAT experience you are having. So happy that you are following your dreams. Love ya, Aunt Manja

Anita said...

I love to read about your adventures, so amazing. I recall Krysia talking about moving to Australia all the time when she was yonger. I am so happy for you and that your life is so funfilled and enjoyable.