Best! Day! EVER! – An Awe-Inspiring Day In The Field.

So every single day feels special and amazing when I get to be on the water researching killer whales! However, yesterday we had the day to top all days, the day that was better than any other day I have ever experienced on or off the water, potentially the best day of my life (too much…I think not!).

We had the most amazingly large pod of killer whales swimming in a long (slightly dispersed) line ahead of us 15-20+ individuals it was breathtaking, there was a mix of bulls, calfs, females and sub-adult males. It was mind blowing, I had tingles all over and felt so lucky to be in the presence of such an awe-inspiring sight. It truly took my breath away.

Six Individuals Surfacing To Breathe From Our Large Pod Encounter!

Six Individuals Surfacing To Breathe. A Snapshot From Our Large Pod Encounter!

But that ladies and gentlemen wasn’t even the best part. Just when we thought the best day of our lives couldn’t get any better we had a new encounter, something we had never seen before, a pod with a bull, three falcate fins (females or sub-adult males) and….FIVE, yes five, calves! What was going on? Was this an offshoot of the bigger pod like a nursery or creche for the calves? We don’t know, though that seems like one possible explanation. But boy do we want to find out more about this interesting pod composition. Let’s hope we get a repeat encounter before the season is over.

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Three Of The Calves In The Pod Surfacing Together.

The soundtrap which, I discussed last week was out during this whole encounter so *fingers crossed* we have got some interesting acoustics to  analyse from this very interesting pod composition. We will know once we get back to Perth and take the many hours to sit down and go through the hours of acoustic recordings from the soundtrap while also reading the spectrograms to ensure we don’t miss any faint calls that require amplification.

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In Sync! Look At Their Beautiful Light Grey Saddle Patches.

Many thanks to Naturaliste Charters and Riggs Australia for allowing us space on their vessels. Further thanks to the Centre for Marine Science and Technology at Curtin University for equipment loan and support.


You can also follow along on the Deep Blue Conversations Facebook Page. I post interesting articles related to marine conservation, share awesome stories as well as photos from the marine conservation and environmental world in general. Come on over and have a look!
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Accidental Whale Portraits And Soundtraps!

We have had some pretty good whale days over the last week. Alongside getting fin shots I have also once or twice lucked out and managed to get some beautiful whale shots as they have surfaced to breathe. Two of my favourites are below. It was pure luck that I managed to get the images in such clear focus that they almost don’t look real. The moment frozen in time with the tidal wave of water is pretty awe worthy I think!

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Soundtrap

SoundTrap by Ocean Instruments New Zealand. Image: Ocean Instruments New Zealand

Alongside photo-id images we are trying to gather acoustic recordings. A new tool which we have been using for that this week is a soundtrap.This is an autonomous underwater recording device that we have rigged up to allow us to tow it behind the vessel when we move at slow speeds. This is in a new attempt to get recordings of the killer whales acoustically communicating without having to stop the vessel. We are excited to listen to and view our recordings to see if we have picked up any calls. So far it seems that flow (water) and engine noise are at a minimum when recording in out current set up which is very good news for picking up biological sounds.

I’ll leave you with one final image that is a later image from a different individual of the same pod during the same surfacing This individual looks like they are wearing a bubble mask!

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Many thanks to Naturaliste Charters and Riggs Australia for allowing us space on their vessels. Further thanks to the Centre for Marine Science and Technology at Curtin University for equipment loan and support.


You can also follow along on the Deep Blue Conversations Facebook Page. I post interesting articles related to marine conservation, share awesome stories as well as photos from the marine conservation and environmental world in general. Come on over and have a look!

Hello 2015! What An Exciting Year I Hope You Will Be!

Welcome back to Deep Blue Conversations! I hope you all had an relaxing holiday break and have already dived back head first into the New Year!

My New Year started of much more leisurely with a tour around Scotland with my boyfriend before he had to head off back to work and I had to start getting ready for……

*DRUM ROLL PLEASE*….

Australia From Space.

Yes…AUSTRALIA! Western Australia (WA) to be exact.

I won a grant alongside a leading colleague who I hope will be my supervisor one day. This grant will allow us to collect data (acoustic, photo-ID, behavioural) on killer whales (Orcinus orca) alongside other large predators, and cetaceans in the Bremer Canyon, over a four week period.

Bremer Bay. The gateway to the Bremer Canyon!

Bremer Bay. The gateway to the Bremer Canyon!

I am so unbelievably excited, I can’t believe how lucky I am to be able to collect data on a project I believe in and have helped to create. This year I hope will be amazing; I will improve my skill set, aim to get some papers under my belt (tea dress), and apply for more funding and scholarships (as a more qualified researcher) to do a PhD!!

I will aim to maintain one to two posts a week on here to update you all on how our research is going, the data we are collecting and methods as well as how I am faring in the Australian heat!!

I fly to Australia on Monday evening and ,20 hours and 20 minutes later, I will arrive in Perth, WA!

Watch Out 2015, Here We Gooooo!

Killer whale in the Bremer Canyon. Image: http://www.whales-australia.com.au

Killer whale in the Bremer Canyon. Image: http://www.whales-australia.com.au


You can also follow along on the Deep Blue Conversations Facebook Page. I post interesting articles related to marine conservation, share awesome stories as well as photos from the marine conservation and environmental world in general. Come on over and have a look!

Porpoise Killing Seals…Dramatic New Behaviour!

Scientists have discovered through DNA analysis that harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) that have washed up severely mutilated and dead along the Dutch as well as the Belgian and northern France coastline beaches with an unknown cause of death and mutilation were actually attacked by grey seals (Halichoerus grypus). This is a new behaviour for the normally fish eating mammals.

Grey Seal. Image via www.theanimalfiles.com

Grey Seal. Image via http://www.theanimalfiles.com

Two different papers came out this past month (Leopold et al and Jauniaux et al) confirming this behaviour in the North Sea though DNA analysis (as well as a Note in Marine Ecology Progress Series on the ability to extract usable DNA from bite wounds). By collecting swab samples from bite marks on washed up harbour porpoises scientist were able to confirm that the injuries and death had been inflicted by Grey Seals.  Along the Dutch coastline 721 of 1,081 stranded porpoises were examined by Leopold et al between 2003 and 2013 of these at least 17% were subject to attack by grey seals. If we take into account that individuals with larger wounds would have sunk without recovery and that some porpoises may have escaped attack and later died from wounds this number may be much higher and mean that seal attacks are a significant contributor to harbour porpoise death in the North Sea alongside fisheries bycatch (approx. 20%), infectious disease (approx. 18%) and emaciation (approx. 14%).

The Jauniaux et al study along the French and Belgian coastline the scientists instead looked at five stranded porpoises with bite-like skin lesions which they swabbed for genetic material. They used these to confirm that even after several days in seawater genetic material of grey seals can be recovered from wounds and that bite-like skin lesions found on the dead porpoises is definitely the result of grey seals attacks. It was also found that some wounds (puncture) from grey seal attacks more readily retain genetic material than others (lacerations).

Scroll down to the bottom to see some of the rather graphic images of mutilated porpoises.

So how, when, why, where did this all start?!?

These are all very good questions and it will be hard for scientists to come up with a definitive answer for all of them. Leopold et al speculate that grey seals could have progressed from opportunistically feeding on harbour porpoise that had become entangled in fishing gear to full on attacking them as prey. The first confirmed victim of a grey seal attack washed up in 2003 and between then and 2013 the number of mutilated carcasses increased the authors states that there would

have to have been the perfect set of prerequisite in place for this to have come to be:

“These include sympatry of predator and prey, and possibly a high incidence of fisheries bycatch of the prey in static fishing nets to induce this behaviour.”

The study by Jauniaux et al even used the head of a recently dead grey seal to mimic bite-like skin injuries on a porpoise carcass to confirm seal DNA transfer. They believe that the injuries are likely from predation although cases of aggressive behaviour can not be ruled out for all attacks.

So what does this mean for harbour porpoises?

DIVE IN DEEPER HERE