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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

World's largest blue whale colony?

As it happens, the channel 7 documentary on the amazing blue whales of Sri Lanka is doing its rounds again. But this time, it is accompanied by the title 'World's largest blue whale colony discovered in Sri Lanka' or 'World's largest blue whale discovered in Sri Lanka'. I guess this is where I set the record straight.....

Firstly, we do not have an inkling about how big or small the population of blue whales that visit our waters is.....the one thing we do know is that they are the least known population in the world and we are only beginning to unravel their secrets. On top of this, they are by no means the largest blue whales in the world...the whales around Sri Lanka are actually a variety of pygmy blue whale and as the name implies, they are smaller (25m vs. 30m!) than the blue whales off places like California. 

What is most important however is that we don't lose our fascination just because this particular population isn't the largest...Blue whales as a species (all the different populations in the world) do represent the largest animal to ever roam the planet after all. The mere fact that we live side by side with these giants should encourage us to work together to protect them for future generations. Do you feel lucky?

Monday, December 5, 2011


It's been silent around here and I apologise - but I do have a justification. Last week was the 3rd annual Australia National Network in Marine Science conference. Its an event that brings together early career researchers from James Cook University, Queensland, the University of Tasmania, Hobart and the University of Western Australia. Appropriately, the theme of the conference was “Marine Science in Tropical, Temperate and Southern Oceans”. ANNIMS presents a great opportunity to learn about science happening around Australia, network and exchange ideas.

The paper I presented discussed drivers of inter-annual variability in blue whale distribution off Southern Sri Lanka. Basically, what causes changes in where we see the blue whales from year to year. I got some interesting feedback that will help me move forward with the work and have a more complete analysis for presentation at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Salt Lake City next year.

I hope you all had a peaceful two weeks - don't get too used to it :)


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Migrating whale numbers hit 50-year high

This is related to my last blog post about the Tongan humpback whale baby boom. According to this video, the numbers are up around Australia too. Beautiful graceful humpies! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-15731197

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tongan humpback whale baby boom!

American photographer and researcher Tony Wu has photo-identified and catalogued 48 new calves in the latest humpback whale breeding season in Tonga. These humpbacks calve in the winter around Vava'u in Tonga and in summer migrate past New Zealand's east coast to feed in the Ross Sea. This record number is positive news for the ongoing recovery of the southern hemisphere humpback whale populations. 

The photographs are breath-taking and definitely worth your time. You can read the full report and see all the photos by clicking here: http://www.tonywublog.com/20111030/record-number-of-humpback-whale-babies-in-tonga-2011.html. While you are at it - don't forget to browse around for exciting photographs and 'miscellaneous musings' too!

The hidden beauty of pollination

Excerpt from footage: A bat feeding on nectar while its baby clings to its stomach! 

Here is an incredible TED talk about pollination supported by some phenomenal footage. I realise this has nothing to do with the marine world, but could not resist sharing it. Please enjoy!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

BBC One: Frozen Planet

The latest series from BBC takes you to the ends of the earth - its 'the ultimate polar expedition'. Because the Sri Lankan blues don't particularly like the polar regions, they haven't been captured in this documentary but I've heard from a friend that there's some pretty amazing whale (and other) footage on the show. If you live in the UK I believe the second episode is being aired on the 9th of November on BBC One from 2100 hrs and the final episode is on the 13th of November at the same time. 

Unfortunately I will not be able to indulge in the delights of this show just yet - but I do urge you to spare an hour and enjoy...for me as well!

Last chance to see a life size blue whale!

"Think before you close this window. This might be the last life size whale you will ever see." 

A life size blue whale on your screen is the latest tool designed to raise awareness about the risk of whaling to whale populations. The banner, part of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society's Stop Bloody Whaling campaign, gives viewers a glimpse of a life size animated blue whale, the largest animal to ever roam the planet. The campaign highlights the growing danger to great whales from a cruel and increasingly aggressive commercial whaling industry.

The animated whale banner can be seen at http://www.wdcs.co.uk/media/flash/whalebanner/content_us.html

Friday, November 4, 2011

Humpback whales off Santa Cruz pose a danger to sightseers

The whole point of going whale watching or any kind of wildlife watching should be to witness an animal engaging in natural behaviours in its natural environment. Getting too close only serves to harass and disrupt the activity it was engaging in - which might be vital for its survival. What purpose does that serve? In a country with no whale watching regulations in place, we see this 'cowboy'-esque behaviour all too often. Getting too close, driving too fast, accelerating suddenly, crossing in front of the whales are all sure-fire methods for us to disrupt and drive away these populations that already face a host of other threats. Do your part and only support responsible whale watching operations. 

This article highlights that while its a real problem for the whales it also becomes a danger to sightseers. Whales are not called gigantic for nothing. One disaster could spell the demise of the entire industry. Then what?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Monday, October 31, 2011

Leviathan Sanctuary

An interesting, well-balanced article about whale watching in Sri Lanka. Includes views from the tourism industry, whale watch operators and marine biologists. Definitely WORTH A READ because for once the writer, in this case Charitha Fernando, does not solely harp on the promotion of tourism as countless articles do - but highlights the importance of management and being responsible about protecting these resources we have been blessed with. Well done Charitha!

Click on the link to read the full article:

(Published in the Lanka Business Review on 27th October 2011)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Colossal Convergence

A Sri Lankan elephant in Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka. Photo by Yasha Hetzel

A sperm whale flukes up off Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Photo by Asha de Vos

As a Sri Lankan, I have always been fascinated with elephants. They are part of our past, present and I pray they will be a part of our future. 

One day I happened upon this article that compared the life histories and social structure of two of my favourite species; elephants and whales - in this case, sperm whales. It's an easy to read article and comes highly recommended. The first two authors, Weilgart and Whitehead spent a few years in Sri Lanka in the early 1980s conducting research on sperm whales as part of the 'Tulip' expedition. Some of the results from their research are included in this paper.

Sperm whales and elephants share similar life histories and social structures, which include social females and roving males. Weilgart et al discuss recent results from long-term studies of sperm whales and African savannah elephants, describing an interesting example of convergent evolution and highlighting the vulnerability to exploitation that results from the mode of life that these animals have evolved.

Click on this link to read the full text

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Follow me to TED2012!!

It's just been announced - I have been selected as one of the 25 TED Fellows for  2012! For those of you who aren't sure what TED is it's "a small nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading -- through www.TED.com, our annual conferences, the annual TED Prize and local TEDx events". The TED talks are like Pringles - 'Once you pop - you can't stop!'

The one year fellowship enables me to attend the TED2012 conference in Long Beach, California and participate in the TED fellows community. Check out the rest of the Fellows class for 2012 - what an awesome group! Stay tuned and click on the link for more...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nat Geo Interactive Blue whale: Give it a try!

Check out this great Nat Geo link that gives you real insight into various aspects of the blue whale. It allows you to compare weights and lengths with things like buses and people, it uses animation to help you visualise how the blue whale feeds under water and you can even listen to some calls recorded off California and Western Australia!


Friday, October 21, 2011

Spot the difference

Each of these dorsal fins belong to a different species of whale. Can you spot the differences? Dorsal fin shape and colouration is useful for identifying different whale species. In some circumstances, that is the only part of the whale you will see...and in many cases you can only catch a passing glimpse. Knowing what to look for makes the task easier. Read on to learn more....

Blue whale: Dorsal fin is small and falcate (triangular) and located 3/4 of the way back on the body. The largest animal to ever roam the planet - this individual was photographed in Sri Lanka and therefore grows to a maximum of about 25 m. 

Humpback whale: Notice the slight hump in front of the dorsal fin explaining why this species is known as the humpback whale. The irregularly shaped dorsal fin is located 2/3rds of the way back on the body. Humpback whales grow to about 12-15 m. This individual was photographed in Mingan, Canada.

Bryde's whale: Dorsal fin is sickle shaped and black. They are located about 2/3rds of the way down the back. Bryde's whales grow to about 12-15 m, but they weigh about half (or less) of a humpback whale. This individual was photographed in Sri Lankan waters.

Minke whale: This whale's dorsal is described as tall and curved. Look at the colour differences between the Bryde's whale and the minke whale....can you see how that might be useful for telling them apart? The dorsal on the minke is located 2/3rds of the way down the body. Minkes tend to grow to approximately 8 m. This individual was photographed in Mingan, Canada.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Kayaker captures amazing blue whale footage, above and below the water

I have to thank my mum for finding this little gem of a clip. Watch it but remember, nobody endorses swimming with a blue whale (or any other cetacean for that matter). A mere flick of its tail and you can get really badly injured. The best way to enjoy these leviathans is from a safe distance where you can see them behave naturally without any interference. Click on the link for more...


Monday, October 17, 2011

'Criminal' penguin caught on camera

While I do try to post as many whale-related stories and adventures as possible, I am often distracted by the other amazing animals in the ocean. This is a particularly fabulous clip of an Adelie penguin thief...click on the link for more!


Friday, October 14, 2011

THREATENED: Sri Lanka’s Marine Life

A resplendent isle with much to boast about, Sri Lanka is fast losing its most valuable resources to neglect and irresponsibility. While most of us are too busy berating the authorities, we conveniently forget our individual roles in the protection of our environment.

Death by dynamite

Coral rubble
The mere existence of mankind has had an impact on global marine environments. The oceans are seen as ‘bottomless’ sources of food and natural resources, convenient repositories for trash and poisonous waste, or something to be dredged, filled, or drained when deemed necessary. Although we know better in these environmentally-aware times, misuse continues at home and all around the world, while areas with improving attitudes and practices will remain scarred for years to come.

The Sri Lankan context

Sri Lanka has a total land area of 65,000 km2 and maritime rights to an area of 230,000 km2. Its 1,585 km coastline comprises of 300km of beaches and sand dunes. Fisheries are the major economic use of the maritime area, and the fishery sector contributes nearly 3 percent to the GDP and is an important source of employment and foreign exchange to the country. Of this, coastal fisheries constitute about 72 percent of the total marine fish catch and support nearly 90 percent of employment in the fishery sector while fish provides 65 percent of the protein in the Sri Lankan diet. 100 percent of Sri Lanka’s population lives within 100km of the coast and are directly or indirectly dependent on it.

The threats

The threats faced by the marine environment are both anthropogenic and natural. Some of the primary threats include climate change, fragmentation and habitat loss, overexploitation and pollution.

Natural threats:
Natural threats include coral bleaching, storms and predation. The environmental imbalance caused by human activities has exacerbated climate change effects that have increased the frequency with which coral bleaching episodes and storms occur. However because of the intangible nature of our impact, humans are quick to shirk off responsibility. Moreover, the tangible destruction caused by humans has meant that when natural events such as tsunamis occur, the damage caused is far more prolific.

Coral bleaching which is caused by unusually high sea surface temperatures is the process by which corals lose their colouration either due to stress-induced expulsion of symbiotic unicellular algae or due to the loss of pigmentation within the algae. The massive 1998 global bleaching event had an impact on many of our reefs including those within Hikkaduwa National Park and Bar Reef Marine Sanctuary. Recovery of the former has been much slower than at the Bar Reef because of the added anthropogenic pressure resulting from unregulated visitation.

Anthropogenic threats:
Dynamite fishing is a prime cause of reef damage and mass fish kills, most of which go to waste due to non-collection. Dynamite is also used in the ‘laila’ net fisheries which involve the surrounding of large shoals of fish with nets that hang vertically in the water column and in recent times has led to the demise of pods of Spinner dolphins that associate with the target fish species. Other destructive fishing methods include the use of synthetic vs. cotton nets. Because these nets are visually and acoustically undetectable, by-catch of charismatic species such as dolphins and turtles are frequent. In addition to being undetectable, the fibers are strong and nearly unbreakable thereby preventing animals from escaping once caught. Nets that are lost at sea continue to kill marine life for hundreds of years because of the durability of the synthetic fiber – a process known as ‘ghost fishing’.

The dugong, a large-bodied herbivorous marine mammal, which was once common along the north western coastal waters of Sri Lanka, was taken at a rate of 100-150 individuals per year in the 1950s. They are now rarely seen due to a continued harvest and as a result of the destruction of their primary food source – sea grasses. The illegal harpooning of dolphins around the coast of the country has also led to a decreased inclination to ‘bow ride’. ‘Bow riding’ is the behaviour of dolphins in which they frequently swim or ‘ride’ the crests of ocean waves. As dolphins are frequently used as ‘back up’ species (an attraction in the absence of the target whale species) by the whale watching industry, this reluctance towards a natural behavior may prove disadvantageous.

Coral mining for lime spelt the demise of many of Sri Lanka’s southern reefs. In place of the once live and flourishing corals that provided habitats for fish and numerous other marine organisms lie vast tracts of coral shards and empty spaces. The future for these areas is bleak and the protection of the reefs which once provided the coastline against the high energy waves, is now lost. A direct result of this destruction was the unfortunate loss of lives in Peraliya on the south west coast during the 2004 tsunami.

Harvesting of fish without consideration of sustainable yields has shifted the future of our protein source into the hands of aqua-culturists. Although aquaculture is not without its own problems, it will form the only alternative as more fish stocks begin to collapse. Collection of reef fish and seahorses, also known as ‘cut flower’ species because of their short life span, for the ornamental fish trade also occurs freely around our coastlines and such activities may cause an imbalance in the reef ecosystem. The prolific and unsustainable collection of chank and sea cucumber over the years has lead to the sequential demise of inshore stocks and led to the exploitation of the deeper off shore stocks.

Upstream activities also have an impact on the marine environment. Deforestation inland is one such example. Although the marine and inland terrestrial systems seem so disparate, they are not. The denuding of forests in the upstream catchment areas causes erosion and unusually large amounts of soil to enter the rivers and eventually exit through the lagoon mouths into the sea. Corals being living organisms, are suffocated by the sediment that settles on them and die. Coral destruction causes the loss of habitat for fish and also sources of food.

Garbage and pollutants absent mindedly or purposely tossed into the oceans have many detrimental effects on marine life. Contaminants such as heavy metals and PCBs used in upstream areas also enter the sea via rivers and lagoons and result in a change in water quality. Wastes such as acids, radioactive materials, matter used for biological and chemical warfare and other highly toxic substances are also regularly dumped directly into the ocean despite the introduction of the Ocean Dumping Act in 1972 that renders such actions illegal.  Despite being dumped into ‘isolated’ oceans their sheer interconnectedness and global circulation patterns ensure that the wastes end up on everyone’s doorstep and are incorporated into the food webs. As coral reefs are biological assemblages adapted to waters with low nutrient content, the addition of nutrients in this manner favors species such as algae that disrupt the balance of the reef communities. Pollution such as plastics and polythene are documented to cause the death of many organisms. Many species of marine turtles that feed on jellyfish are known to mistakenly consume polythene bags which block the mouth and throat and inhibit breathing and feeding. Furthermore, if they are ingested they inhibit digestion due to the extended stomach sending confusing signals to the brain causing the turtle to stop eating and ultimately die of starvation. Entanglement in marine debris also inhibits surface breathing of turtles and marine mammals, foraging, predator escape and mating behavior.

All these threats acting individually or in combination result in severe impacts on the biological production of the world’s oceans and the services they provide to billions of people today. With the acceleration of climate change, the impacts on marine life from other stressors will become severely exacerbated and the ability of ecosystems to recover will be impaired. We now live in a world that has to contend not only with so called natural threats, but those posed on the system by our everyday actions. It is imperative that when we live by the philosophy of ‘leave only footprints, take only memories’. Is it not up to us to make the right decisions in an attempt to save our marine life for future generations?

Do you know how long it takes for the following items to degrade?
Glass bottle – 1 million years

Fishing line – 600 years
Plastic bottle – 450 years
Aluminium can – 80-200 years
Plastic cup – 50 years
Plastic bag – 10-20 years
Cigarette filter – 1-5 years
Newspaper – 6 weeks

Now sit back and reflect on the impact they have over their lifespan. Dispose responsibly.

 (Article published in Big Issue magazine in 2009)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Global shipping traffic in prime blue whale habitat

Map of ship traffic on actual shipping routes from Kaluza et al. 2010

This blog links to the previous one where I mentioned the heavy shipping traffic off the southern coast of Sri Lanka. A picture speaks a thousand words...

Ref: Kaluza, P., Kolzsch, A., Gastner, M. T. and Blasius, B. 2010. The complex network of global cargo ship movements. J R Soc Interface, 7, 1093-1103.

Blue whales dine in treacherous waters off LA

This article is really well written and is akin to the situation we face in Sri Lanka. Whales feeding in and around the shipping lanes on the southern coast.....this area has some of the highest shipping traffic in the world as it connects Asia with the EU and also supports general ship traffic. Its a pretty scary situation for the whales!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A brilliant quote from one of the greatest visionaries of our time

"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on." 
- Steve Jobs (1955 - 2011)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Scientists 'see' ocean floor

Find out how scientists use cameras and sonar near the US Virgin Islands to 'see' the sea floor and find out how fish and other sea life use the underwater habitats, which include coral reefs and sea grasses. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Salt of the Earth'

NASA's new Aquarius instrument has produced its first global map of the saltiness (or salinity) of the Earth's ocean surface. Basically, yellow and red indicate areas of higher salinity while blue and purple indicate areas of lower salinity. Black areas are gaps in the data. Average salinity is 35.

For us in Sri Lanka, the most important thing to point out is the sharp contrast between the arid, high salinity Arabian Sea west of India, the result of excessive evaporation, and the low salinity Bay of Bengal to the east which is more dominated by freshwater from the Ganges river and monsoon rains. See what a vital exchange point the southern coast of Sri Lanka forms?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Where's the octopus? A slight digression...

While it is evident that large marine species have a special place in my heart, I cannot deny my fascination with all marine creatures of which octopuses are some of the most intelligent and intriguing. The octopus is a cephalapod mollusc of the order Octopoda. There are 300 species of which all are venomous with only one group, the blue-ringed octopuses, being deadly to humans.

This species has many defence strategies and this video is a great way to learn about their most amazing - camouflage!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The intriguing sound of marine mammals

A TED talk by Peter Tyack:
Peter Tyack of Woods Hole talks about a hidden wonder of the sea: underwater sound. Dr. Tyack studies the the social behavior and acoustic communication in whales and dolphins, learning how these animals use sound to perform critical activities, such as mating and locating food.

A justification - if I may

Yes. That's me. Photo courtesy of Alain Carpentier of MICS.
Just a little something for those of you who puzzle and despair at my general unkemptness (thanks Siri!) :)

Field biologists contribute to the culture and reputation of their chosen profession by…staying alive. A biologists’ appearance ideally has absolutely zero relationship to a favorable impression with funders, but, when a relationship does exist, it is often an inverse relationship with neatness. Good grooming and appropriate dress should be exercised to the extent that such concerns will help one …stay alive. A field biologists’ attire should help them achieve the dual goals of: 1. staying alive, and 2. staying in the field for as long as possible to collect the very last data point. This is also seen as ‘cool’. Luckily.

Managers, usually not present in the field, merely note the end result of a field biologists’ attire with binary code. 0 = field researcher not alive. 1= field researcher alive.

Field biologists, when presented with special occasions not celebrated in the field, may take the opportunity to practice using the grooming tool known as a comb, and those of the feminine persuasion might attempt to don eye-enhancing make-up, though it is not advised for fear of injuring dearly needed ocular observation tools.

Acceptable shirts: quick-dry, wool, polyester, layers, occasionally plaid flannel, neoprene

Inappropriate shirts: Anything new. Anything without holes. Anything Abercrombie.

Acceptable pants: Quick-dry. Anything old.

Inappropriate pants: Anything new. Diesel.

Acceptable footwear: Anything with a tread. Flip-flops (slippahs) in warm weather.

Inappropriate footwear: Anything with a heel narrower than 3 inches. Anything new. Anything that could be called “kicks”

Acceptable eyewear: Polarized sunglasses. With a strap.

Inappropriate eyewear: Un-polarized sunglasses without a strap.

Acceptable bag: Back-pack. Duffle bag.

Inappropriate bag: Anything new. Anything with only one strap. Unless the 1 of the 2 already broke off. That’s okay.

Acceptable hairstyle: Beard for men. Ponytail for women. Variation is accepted so long as biologist’s hair can be kept easily out of biologist’s eyes so that they can see the bear/shark/rabid penguin and …stay alive.

Inappropriate hairstyle: Anything in style.

Acceptable jacket: Gortex. Arcteryx, Marmot, Northface, Patagonia, Sierra Designs, Montbell, Mountain Hardware, Mammut, Columbia, Lowe Alpine, REI, EMS, Helly Hansen. (Eddie Bauer or LL Bean might be acceptable if: waterproof, windproof, and …not new).

Inappropriate jacket: Leather. Fur. Anything new.

A field biologist’s attire should incite one of the following acceptable emotions:
…with any luck the field biologist will fade into the background and you will not even know he or she is there, unless they happen to have wandered unwittingly into an area densely inhabited by humans, in which case, the emotions generally incited by their attire are, and in this order: disgust, amusement, wonder, amusement, disgust, boredom, acceptance.

It is advised not to approach a field biologist in this threatening setting as he or she may be prone to agitation, fear, anxiety or angry outbursts. Simply walk the other way and give him or her the space needed to fade back into the bushes. In extreme circumstance a field biologist may be approached so long as you speak in a quiet voice and offer beer (or wine and chocolate!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

5 more days!

As you all know, I've had a marvelous time at MICS over the last month. Thanks to them I have been able to bring stories and photographs right to your computer....judging by how many of you follow and read the blog it appears you enjoy it - thank you.

Now, I have a favour to ask. As you know, research of this nature is costly and organisations such as the Sri Lankan blue whale project and MICS are constantly looking for money and methods to fund the work. Here is a great way to support MICS - and all it costs is two minutes of your time :) All you have to do is vote for them in the 'Call for the Wild' campaign - which ends this week....Here's a note from The dear Dr. Ramp himself -

" Vote for MICS in “Call for the Wild!” Campaign!  MICS is one of five charitable wildlife organizations participating in the Call for the Wild campaign of Jamieson Laboratories, a leading natural health product provider. The campaign lasts from August 16 to September 18 and Jamieson Laboratories will donate a total of 100,000 $ among the 5 NGOs. How much MICS will receive depends entirely on you! Everyone can vote for their favourite NGO on the Jamieson facebook page (also non-facebook members), and the NGOs will receive the equivalent of the vote share. I.e. If MICS gets 5% of the total votes, we will get 5,000$, if we get 20%, 20,000$ and so on. So please vote for us! Everyone can vote once per day – so come back every day and cast your vote for MICS! You will have to enter your name and email address, so that the system can check if you've voted already. There is a box which you can tick if you want to get information from Jamieson laboratories or not. Your data will not be used or forwarded to anybody else. The link to vote for us is:

You need to enter a Canadian Postal Code, you can follow this link to find a post code http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_G_postal_codes_of_Canada, they are always 3 numbers and 3 letters. I.e. the Station is at G0G 1V0.

Please feel free to send this link to any of your friends who might be interested in supporting us.

                                                Thank you!"

So long and thanks for all the fish...

One month ago I was sitting in the Sydney airport excitedly blogging about my new adventure to Mingan. I was hoping to learn new things and see lots of whales and the signs along the road seemed positive - at least we were going in the right direction. 

But here I am, writing what is probably my last blog from the MICS research station with a sniffle in my heart. This blog is not about the science, or the whales that brought us together, and certainly not about the weather, but a truly heartfelt thank you to Rene and the MICS team. During this month, I learnt more than I would have by sitting at my desk in Perth...from operations and logistics to science and friendships - I would not swap the experience for the world. 

So - thank you FIRSTLY to Rene, for letting me shadow you and absorb whatever I could from you, for your patience and wackiness, for the melancholy songs and 'dancing queen', for vegetarian delights and sandwich surprises. Mostly, for putting up and coping well with my energy and off-the-wallishness. I am so excited about your project and I am grateful to have found a like-minded 'risk-taker' in this wonderfully 'safe' world we live in. Kudos and smiles.

Richard - for being the centre of an amazing operation that draws together scores of people who give of their time and energy to make MICS what it is. The fact that you have so many repeat offenders on your team is testament to the success of the operation. I am sorry Gaspe held you captive but thanks for the visa support and see you soon. Perhaps on a boat in Sri Lanka!

Mr. Ramp - ALWAYS remember to 'think outside the box'...I am sure our paths will cross and we will be able to use our secret call sign again - I look forwardly. Thank you for everything. Your German efficiency does make the difference!

Alain - I am looking forward to using your wonderfully invaluable skills on the water in Sri Lanka in the near future. I really enjoyed meeting you and thanks for the wonderfully fun hula hoop and table football fun!

SCO - As it turns out, I am SCO proof. I survived the last night on your bedroom floor :) We MUST be soulmates :) See you very soon right?

The MICS team - thank you for welcoming me so openly.....Marie, Valentine, Marion and Sylvie. Many laughs lie ahead.

This must feel like an oscar acceptance speech but it isn't, as I have had the great privilege of winning more than just a mere golden statue...

Thank you and keep doing what you do, the world needs more of you!

Friday, September 9, 2011

More about Meduse

The right side of Meduse's mouth is covered with wounds not seen on the left side. This is interesting because studies have shown that most rorquals (the largest group of baleen whales) exhibit a strong right-side rolling preference while filter-feeding. Based on the newly acquired knowledge of their bottom feeding behaviour (see post on Exciting results from Operation Calanus), it appears that the humpbacks in Mingan also display this peculiar preference when they find food.

Logging: A resting behaviour exhibited by whales where they lie at the surface without any forward movement.

Meduse's characteristic dorsal fin and evidence of a perfect day

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Body condition, stress and reproductive success.

Funky Fin Whale: Body condition, stress and reproductive success.: Time for a little theory, but I promise to keep it simple. Fat, well fed whales float better than thin, stressed whales because they...

"The Inspector Gadget of the Oceans".

Funky Fin Whale: "The Inspector Gadget of the Oceans".: Meet the "Inspector Gadget of the Oceans" otherwise known as the Little Leonardo W2000-3MPD3GT data logger, a very important tool in our tra...

A whale sized breathalyser!

Here's some interesting technical stuff from Rene's site

Funky Fin Whale: A whale sized breathalyser!: Why would anyone in their right mind want to breathaylse a whale? And what is about that heady cocktail of stale air and water that interest...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Seduced by Meduse (01/09/11)

Dear Meduse,

It has been a real privilege to meet you...thank you for choosing the blue boat over a 'real' mate - Boomerang. I hate to break it to you though, the blue boat will not bear you children which might mean the end of a great line of Meduses. You might have to rethink your strategy and perhaps next time, don't push her away when she curiously approaches your new love interest?

A concerned but awe-struck friend.

Head breach! (04/09/11)

Apologies for the shaky quality but we were busy driving around searching for the tag that had just come off Splish and this whale decided to head breach. I was thrilled to capture it on camera - to share. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Learning to speak whale

My friend Deshan saw this and thought of me. I saw this and thought of you all. Its way better than another blog post about bad weather - which, as you guessed is my current predicament.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Minke-ingdom (01/09/11)

Boat echosounder - orangey-yellow colouration in top 20 m  could indicate presence of food.
The 6am fog was fast-moving and patchy and as the Irene-induced land lubbery was not agreeing with the marine mammals within us we unanimously decided to try our luck - on the water. 

We departed Mingan at 8am and cruised in and out of fog patches in a southwesterly direction towards Banc Parent where we began to see signs of life - porpoises, storm petrels and minkes. A positive sign so we made an approach...initially in the hope of finding something bigger. A quick glance at the boat's echosounder indicated the possible presence of food within the top 20 m - perhaps explaining why the minkes were zipping around. We tried to tag one for half an hour but had to give up the goat because the little critters were far from curious and hard to approach. In general, they are extremely challenging to tag because they move very fast and are so small that opportunities are few. Interestingly, they appear to have a layer of slime that prevents the tag from sticking very well. Thus the whole procedure requires a large quantity of luck.

Although we didn't get a tag on, I managed to get a few photos to share with all of you....my first foray into Minke-ingdom - please enjoy!

Few things to note - the very sickle shaped dorsal fin (compare it to the blue whale's dorsal in the banner of my blog) and the black/grey colouration of the body (most evident in the top photo). Also, its amazing how most of the length of the back, including the dorsal fin and blow holes appears at once when the whale surfaces to breathe - something we never see with the very large blue whale - after all blue whales are about 5 times the size of these little guys!!