Each year in the South West of WA we have a salmon run (Australian salmon, not the Tasmanian or Canadian species). As they follow the coastline north they are accompanied by all sorts of predators. The most numerous are bronze whaler sharks although sometimes I think the salmon fishermen outnumber them. I took these drone shots of the bronzies in a school of salmon. (They look out for sick or injured salmon or those that are not watching as closely as they need to).
The next day I went back and although there weren’t as many salmon I took these photos of bronze whalers. You can see where they get there name from.
As many of you know I participate in a research program that has been monitoring the whales passing Pt Picquet in Geographe Bay for the last 17 years. Over the last couple of years we have been using drones (with the relevant research permits) to assist in this program. The drones have been a game changer. They enable us to verify the species, the numbers of whales in a pod, take photo-id and observe behavior that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.
One aspect of this behavior has been that we are able to observe whales (there is no delicate way to say this) pooing off the coast in Geographe Bay. For researchers this is exciting stuff. It shows that the whales have eaten in the previous 24 hours, and of course that means there must be a food source for them within a 100 nautical mile radius.
There have been a number of instances where blue whales, humpbacks and southern right whales have been video’d pooing. However recently I recorded a blue whale doing this and the poo was a bright yellow “hi-vis” color. Researchers mused over what the whale had been eating.
The ABC picked up on this and published video of the event on ABC Southwest page. From there it went “viral” as my grandkids tell me. The Daily Mail picked it up, a Facebook page in the UK showed the video and had over 700 comments. It seems that the researchers interest was overwhelmed by “toilet humor”. Most of these 700 comments were of the kind “I can do better than that when I have been drinking alcopops! Intellectual stuff.
Then HYBPA (on Channel 10(WIN in the southwest) showed the photo. This one.
HYBPA is Have You Been Paying Attention – a TV program where they show images from recent news and ask the panel for comments.
Others contacted me and promised they would “credit me”. Really?
Then my everwatchful grandkids informed me that pewdiepie had my photo on a recent episode on his Youtube channel. (I hadn’t heard of him). Turns out he has 102 million followers. My photo has had 3.75m ( now 5.5m with nearly 500,000 likes ) views (and going up at 100,000 an hour at one stage). In the episode he used Photoshop to make the yellow poo into a message about Jeffery Epstein – something serious researchers hadn’t considered. I can’t imagine why.
More was to come. The photo was on ABC’s BTN (Behind The News).
I wonder where it will all end. Financially most uses are “fair use” or not worth chasing up. The small amount I will make will cover a fraction of the drone I lost earlier this year. And I wonder what it all says about the Internet. The photo provides important evidence about blue whale migration, but turning yellow whale poo into a message…???
So I have probably reached the peak of my career as a photographer and videographer. I doubt I will ever again reach these heights (or depths).
Tim Blue – an ex Busselton boy from the 1950’s and 60’s has just published a book Whale Hunters of the West – a history of Whaling off the West Coast of WA in the 19th Century. It is a fascinating read (at least I think so!). I was surprised at the extent of American whaling off our coast, and the degree of interaction local settlers had with these ships. Tim is currently putting up a website and you will be able to buy it online soon. I will post the link and more details when it is available.
There are some interesting facts that come out. The Southern Right Whales were hunted early on, but even in the 1840’s Captains were complaining about the decrease in numbers whereas humpbacks and sperm whales were hunted through to the 1870’s (the advent of petroleum and the changing fashions – meaning baleen was no longer necessary for corsets – led to the decline in whaling rather than a shortage of whales). This would indicate that SRW’s were never anywhere near as plentiful as these other species. Blue whales were hardly ever hunted as they couldn’t catch them in rowing boats! Sperm whales were preferred as their oil was much more valuable.
www.whalehuntersbook.com. For those of you in the Southwest copies are available at the Naturaliste lighthouse (you save $11 on postage if you pick it up there).
On Monday I went out with Naturaliste Charters on their Bremer Bay Orca expedition. Bremer Bay is on the south coast of Western Australia roughly halfway between Albany and Esperence. I last visited Bremer Bay 50 years ago and you could buy a block of land there for AUD$100! It has grown but is still a fairly remote coastal hideaway.
Naturaliste Charters pioneered this nature tourist attraction. 50km out from Bremer Bay you go over the edge of the continental shelf and the depth plummets. There is an undersea canyon in this area and it is a hotspot for Orcas.
Monday proved to be no exception. Within a few minutes of arriving at the “hotspot” we encountered two pods of orcas. They stayed with us all day, repeatedly diving. They would surface close by. Occasionally we lost contact but within 15 minutes we regained contact. As the day went on they seemed to be lent on feeding and became more social. This included being more interested in the boat and at times they were underneath the boat and alongside.
Orcas were not the only attraction. The birdlife was prolific, mostly fleshfooted shearwaters, but also we saw Wilson’s storm Petrels, 2 Wandering Albatrosses, and many Indian Yellow Nosed Albatrosses. I am sure a seabird expert would have identified more species.
This is a fabulous trip and highly recommended to anyone interested in wildlife.
Here are some photos.
These students were on an excursion having travelled down to Meelup by bus. They were kayaking along the coast and stopped and rafted up just off Pt Picquet. 3 curious humpback whales came in to investigate. They went between the raft up, turned and swam out to sea under the kayaks. What an experience!
I didn’t post this immediately it happened as I didn’t want all the kayakers in Western Australia trying to do the same thing. There is always an element of danger (apart from it being illegal to approach whales this close. When under the kayakers the whales panicked and accelerated out to sea. However all’s well that ends well.
(These kayakers did not approach the whales – the whales approached them so they did not breach (pun intended) the whale watching rules).
It has been a late start to the whale watching season. The humpbacks are late arriving but fortunately the Southern Right Whales have kept us entertained. These humpbacks were playing just off Castle Rock this morning. (These drone images have been taken under a DPAW permit).
You can just make out a pair of Southern Right Whales in the upper left corner.
Recently the Southern Rights have been passing time in Geographe Bay.
We are starting to see some whales.
I originally found this mother-calf pair of Southern Right Whales at the Other Side of the Moon (a surf break just south of Cape Naturaliste). I think these were the pair seen in Dunsborough and Meelup yesterday. (These are an endangered species and we see a few coming around Cape Naturaliste each year). They were moving very slowly south, but enjoying a few waves even though they weren’t very good at it. A pod of dolphins were keeping them company.
They slowly moved south eventually reaching Sandpatches (the bay just north of Sugarloaf Rock). The dolphins met up with the pair again, and encouraged the calf to follow them closer inshore. They seemed to be interacting with the calf. Mum followed the calf. The calf enjoyed the surf but really didn’t get this surfing thing.
So the dolphins gave some demonstrations.
At one point a dolphin started flapping its tail on the surface.
The calf thought this was a good idea and began flapping its pectoral fin.
Some attempts at surfing didn’t go well.
The dolphins were close by offering advice. This is mum in the foreground and she has a white blaze on her back – something I haven’t seen before.
By this time the calf was getting into it. Mum is there as well.
But mum and the calf kept missing the waves. I don’t think they could accelerate fast enough.
More lessons from the dolphins were in order.
The calf appreciated the advice.
And tried again.
But no matter how hard they tried mother and calf could not catch a wave.
The dolphins stayed with the pair of whales for about 5 hours.
This was an amazing experience. Tourists were taking selfies and ignoring what was happening just offshore. And a cold wind came in from the north – eventually I had to leave to avoid having my joints seize up! They were still playing together when I left.
I went to Sandpatches this morning. A pod of 20 or more dolphins were playing in the surf. After watching them for a while I decided that they were going to stay in the area for some time and it was worth climbing down to the beach. Often when I do this I find that just as I get to the beach the dolphins are disappearing. Today they stayed and it is no wonder. There was lots of touchy-feely behavior going on, and it seemed the boys were chasing the girls. When this happens they also seem to enjoy catching a few waves, and today was no exception. My suspicions about the boy – girl behavior were confirmed when I saw these photographs. It seemed the boys were excited. You can see what I mean here.
In between chasing girls the dolphins managed to catch a wave or two. Hmm – not that much different from the human surfers.
The dolphins were at Yallingup today and eventually decided that this wave was worth catching.
All the top surfers are here for the Margaret River Pro. Here is a local getting some practice.
This was taken at Sandpatches. For some reason the dolphins have been avoiding Sandpatches this year although I frequently photograph them at other places up and down the coast. Perhaps there has been no food in this bay?
Since December I have rarely seen the dolphins at Sandpatches. I haven’t been able to get out there as much as normal, but even allowing for this they seem to have moved elsewhere. From time to time over the last five years they have done this but never for such a long time. I am guessing the food was more plentiful somewhere else.
Today they were swimming along the beach feeding, and then they would loop around for another sweep along the beach. This one decided to go for a quick surf.
At Pt Picquet we often see whales (Humpbacks, Blue whales and Southern Right whales) pass very close to shore. Usually it is an inquisitive calf who lures mum in. I suppose the calves must get bored swimming thousands of kilometres in the open ocean. The following images were taken while flying a drone under a research permit.
I went out on a small boat yesterday and these humpbacks put on a show for us. We were following them and lost them. Suddenly they appeared breaching about 50m in front of us. It was an awesome sight.
On Saturday I went to Sandpatches and the dolphins were playing.
Last night a storm moved in. We often see whales being active during a storm with lots of breaching. I suspect that in a storm the ocean is so noisy that breaching is the only means of communication that can be heard. These two whales breached fairly close to shore.
The rough weather brings in albatrosses, shearwaters, and similar birds. The dark birds are probably shearwaters and the white bodied birds are Indian Yellow Nosed albatrosses. They were all a long way out and the strong winds (> 40 knots) made for difficult conditions to photograph the sea birds!
The humpback migration seems to come in pulses – just when it seems that they are rushing past the numbers die off. The weekend was like that. Today they came back in a rush. The following photos were taken between 12:15 and 12:40. All are different breaches, and they are only shots of the closest pod. There were around 3 other pods breaching further out to sea.
There has been a lull in the numbers of humpbacks coming through Geographe Bay oover the last couple of days (they are still streaming past the west coast indicating they are coming south further out to sea for a few days. This one came through late in the day – hence the reddish look to the light.
Dolphins surfing (28 on one wave!), leaping into the air, an Osprey, and still time to go whale watching.
After all the bad weather we finally had some sun. The dolphins made the most of it, and there were passing pods of humpbacks. They are here early this year compared to last year. After photographing the dolphins at Sandpatches, I returned home via Pt Picquet. I was told there was a pod of humpbacks playing with dolphins in Meelup Bay. I went over and got some shots, but they moved out to sea. I packed up and started to go home via the Meelup carpark (for a quick look). The humpbacks and dolphins had returned and were heading close in. Some more shots, then off to Pt Picquet to watch them go past. They were so close they would need legs to get any closer to the shore! And the dolphins were still with them.
Humpback close to shore in Meelup
Dolphins leading the humpbacks past Pt Picquet
After just circling around avoiding the waves most of the day, the dolphins finally decided the waves were to their liking.
The humpbacks are slowly starting to head back to Antartica with a couple each day moving past. This is nearly a month earlier than last year. While we were watching a mother and calf playing around offshore, Better Homes and Gardens were cooking up a storm on the rocks. They had caught a squid from the Busselton jetty earlier today, and cooked it up on the rocks nearby. They mixed the squid with vegetables, and some grasses and seaweed they picked locally. They heated some stones and then put them in the soup to heat it. It gave everything a lovely mineral flavor – very tasty. I offered them some whale shots, but they couldn’t use stills.
It has been wet, windy, with big seas and generally conditions that even dolphins are not happy about. Today they turned up again, but spent most of their time at Windmills, just north of their usual hangout.
It was overcast with choppy confused seas. Not a lot of surfing happening, but the dolphins found a few waves.
The dolphins have been visiting Sandpatches more regularly lately. They move along the beach chasing fish, and then go out to sea a bit and come back to their starting position in a circle or oval pattern of movement. It is a matter of waiting until they are close to shore, and the right size waves arrive. Then they can’t resist and take off in the surf, sometimes finishing by leaping out the back of the wave.