Logged by Team members: Jamie Friedland, Jonathan Horan, Rochelle Youngson, Cara Price, and Kathy Zischka
Day 1 - 24/05/06 - Arrival of Earthwatch Team 3
On Wednesday 24 May we arrived for our first day of our 8 day expedition. After our initial brief in the afternoon by Brad, Kathy and George and a general catch up with other members of the group it was time for the great aussie tradition of the bbq dinner. We were lucky enough to have Ann (the aboriginal representative) join us for dinner to explain the cultural significance of the Exmouth/Ningaloo area. Another bonus was one of our group members, Aaron, was also able to expand on Ann's stories and help us understand the ways of the elders and the beliefs of the Aboriginals.
Day 2 - 25/05/06
Part 1: The Plot Thickens
My day here started early in the morning before I'd even gone to sleep, when I received a tip from a trusty staff member that kangaroos were to be found not far from our accommodations. While this might not seem noteworthy to an Aussie, I (an American) have been hunting these elusive marsupials since I set foot on this continent. At first I just wanted to see one of the things hop, but I now fear this will never come to pass. I believe I am on to a hoax of unprecedented magnitude: the kangaroo does not exist.
I was told that Exmouth is prime 'roo country, so I have kept a vigilant watch for the beasts since I left the plush comfort of the sprawling metropolitan airport's jellybean sofas. Yet for all my trouble, I have been rewarded with only two apparent roadkills. And for all their appearance of reality during my split-second glimpse through a car window at 37.2 miles per hour (60 kph), I suspect that further investigation of the "bodies" would confirm the depth of this deplorable conspiracy.
Through this whole ordeal, I have tried to maintain an upbeat, "the glass is half full of kangaroos" attitude, but I must admit my faith has been shaken. Acting upon information that kangaroos are most active at dusk and dawn, I have walked many a "k" in search of the creatures, offering my best impression of a kangaroo call and even trying to lure them out under the false impression that one of their celebrity own, a "Skippy the Kangaroo," was actually there. Nothing. I pledge here and now, while obviously of clear thought unclouded by a combination of fatigue, jet lag, and the massive hit of chewable Kwells I just took, to see this through to the very end. I will get to the bottom of this conspiracy...or see a kangaroo hop.
- Jamie Friedland
Part 2: Our first whale shark!
After a relatively early night for most of us (one of us suffering jetlag!!) we had an early start to head off to the boat (Draw Card) in search of the Whale Shark. What seemed like a dreary day first thing in the morning turned out to be a spectacular one. Our first stop off was to have a snorkel and get a feel for the gear before we headed out to whale sharks. Not long after this the boat received its first radio advice that a whale shark had been spotted.
We were split into two groups and being in team 1, I was almost immediately in the water. As much as you prepare for it, you can never explain in words how amazing it is when you see your first whale shark. The whale shark was relatively young (approximately 4 metres in length) and was extremely inquisitive about the boats and the people in the water (or at least the bubbles they created!!).
Throughout the day we had about four different snorkels with the whale shark. The added benefit of the day was having Kathy and George along as they were able to provide us with more detailed information about the whale shark compared to a normal tour boat operator.
During a break from snorkelling we collected plankton samples from the water (noting GPS locations at the beginning and end of each sample retrieval) and also the changes in the flow meter.
After a scrumptious lunch we started heading in. On the way back there were Long Tom's jumping over the water and we even spotted a few turtles. We then stopped off for a snorkel around some coral. The fish and marine life were absolutely spectacular, and abundant - there were sting rays, catfish, parrot fish and many more.
So after our first day of whale sharks we headed home extremely happy with the days outcome. That evening we had a representative from CALM (Conservation and Land Management) come and talk to us about CALM's role in the monitoring/research of the Whale Sharks. The night was then ended with a beautiful dinner by the pool. The perfect day really!
Day 3 - 26/05/06 - First day in the lab with Team 2
Lab today for Team 2 after a fantastic first day yesterday out on the reef cruising with the whale sharks. We were up early to farewell Team 1 who were heading out for a second day on the water.
At 8.00am we started the briefing from Brad and George about our jobs for the day. All the local dive operators had provided their footage of whale shark encounters for the season. We needed to review each DVD and visually tag each shark by capturing still images of the shark's unique spot patterns.
It ended up being great viewing - watching the videos of each day really showed how amazing the sharks are and how much wildlife is up here - manta rays, dugongs, whales, dolphins and just about everything else.
Before lunch, we were visited by a big mob of inquisitive kangaroos. Pretty unusual at this time of day but welcome nonetheless. Eventually they took off after a fright from Brad. We couldn't believe how far the king red could hop - he was travelling the length of a whale shark in every tremendous bound. Wow! Jamie would have been stoked. Relaxed lunch outside before some more DVD viewing and a run out to Tantibiddi to circulate brochures and questionnaires to the incoming tourists.
Beers and a great pool-side BBQ of fresh prawns and fish rounded out another great fantastic day. All the DVD watching had Team 2 very excited about the prospect of more whale sharking the following day.
- Jonathan Horan
Day 4 - 27/05/06 - Team 1 in the lab
Today started off wet and windy, and continued like that all day. Team 2 headed off early to swim with the whale sharks in the poor conditions and were wet before they even got to the bus! Team 1 stayed in the lab today which meant a slightly longer sleep in and a much less rushed breakfast. After breakfast, Kathy (our team leader) taught us how to take still picture images from videos and DVDs and upload them onto the computer system and the whale shark encounter database.
We spent most of the morning reviewing DVDs and video and extracting the best images from them for the database. One member of our team also put together some educational pamphlets with stickers and brochures ready to be handed out to the public on the whale shark tours the next day. Unfortunately, Team 2 (who were out on the boat that day) suddenly arrived back early from their whale shark tour after only one short snorkel with no whale shark sightings. The weather was rough and their trip was called off for safety reasons. Also, the spotter planes would have had a hard time trying to spot any sharks in the water in the conditions.
After another hearty lunch of tuna, salad, pasta and bread, Team 2 headed into town to distribute pamphlets at the local dive shops. On the way, one team member managed to pick up a genuine Exmouth souvenir-a very cute turtle who's tag read such ambiguous things as "26cm dolphin" when he was clearly a stuffed turtle, as well as "a souvenir from Australia" and "made in China". Hmmmmm....interesting.
Meanwhile, back at the lab, Team 1 electronically labelled photos and uploaded photos of whale sharks in the Philippines that had been provided by a young lady who had been living over there taking pictures for Brad Norman's project for a couple of months
The afternoon involved the identification of zooplankton species that had been caught the day before in the area of where the whale shark had been swimming. The whole kitchen and communal area was suddenly transformed into a scientific laboratory complete with microscopes and latex gloves.
The evening brought creative shenanigans as our American traveller, and Adobe Photoshop expert, Jamie, transformed a flyer for Oceans Eleven into an "Ecocean's Eleven" poster complete with Brad Norman as George Clooney, George (the Turtle) as Brad Pitt and Kathy as Julia Roberts. A very subtle Kangaroo (that was not hopping) was also featured on the poster.
A delicious dinner of vegetable soup-compliments of Brad-and a chicken curry was served soon later along with many beers, wine and some Bundy rum. We were keen to introduce Jamie to some Australian spirits - after all at 19 he is legally allowed to drink here so he may as well enjoy it!
After dinner, we watched a documentary on whale sharks which featured a young passionate 33 year old Brad Norman expressing his joy over the gorgeous whale sharks. It was noted that Brad pretended to take a seat to watch the documentary down the back of the room, but he sneakily left soon later ........as if we wouldn't notice. (Understandable-he has watched it 50 times).
There was then a bit of a party in the spa with 50% of us in the spa and 50% of us spectating. Then we watched a few internet karaoke moments on the computer and it was time for most of us to hit the sack in the hope of tomorrow being a much more sunny day.
- Rochelle Youngson
29/05/06 - Day 6 - The Rain
What is a whale shark I hear some people ask? Well let me tell you all about them. A whale shark is in fact a shark not a whale, it is the largest fish in the ocean, it can grow up to 15-18m long, gives birth to live young and lives in the sub-tropical waters of the world. Ningaloo is one of the world's best locations for swimming with these majestic creatures.
I was hoping I might be able to tell you a bit more about them from my own up close and personal encounters with them, but no, that obviously was not meant to be. Why? Well that I can answer that in one word - RAIN!!!!
So what have we been doing? Well most of the time is being spent in the lab - because of the RAIN - analysing DVD and video footage, looking at zooplankton samples, uploading images onto the Ecocean website and collating surveys and brochures. Although it may not seem like particularly exciting stuff, we have certainly managed to keep ourselves amused - despite the RAIN - much of which has been at the expense of our fearless leader (he loves it!), or as a result of the copious, but responsible, consumption of alcoholic beverages (outside of the designated workday hours of course) and the installation of a spa at the hotel.
Some of the highlights of the trip to date have included:
- The first day out on the 3 Islands boat, where we had one of the best whale shark experiences, so we have been told. This was our Team's only day out -because of the RAIN.
- Our young American friend had his first encounter with an actual hopping kangaroo - in the RAIN - as well as being introduced to 'Footy', 'Bundy' and 'Shannon Noll' - he's a true Aussie now.
- The 'photoshopping' of some very funny images - it is no longer Oceans Eleven, it is now 'Ecoceans Eleven', Jennifer Hawkins will never be the same woman again after her encounter with our own Brad Norman, and there is now an official recruitment campaign for people to come to Ningaloo - it was RAINING whilst we did this.
- The singing of 'Rock Wallaby' in the spa (long story, but it actually made Jamie's life) - I think it was RAINING while we were in the spa.
The car broke down whilst in town, in the RAIN.
- A trip to the lighthouse for the sunset (which we missed) and a picnic (during which we nearly got blown away by the wind) - it actually wasn't RAINING though.
Have I mentioned the torrential RAIN?
What I am doing at the moment? Waiting for the RAIN to stop of course. We are all actually secretly hoping that the town gets flooded and we are forced to stay longer. Come on RAIN!!!
- Cara Price
Day 7 - 30/05/06 - Back out on the boats!
The last day of our time with team 3 and, after three days in the lab, we find ourselves back out on the boats. Although weather conditions are slightly less than tropical, we see some mantas from the boat and go for a snorkel on the reef - but sadly no whale sharks. After a long search in windy conditions we returned to the lab to wrap up our week's work and upload our final photos. Then it's the whole group out for an evening of dinner and drinks in town, in celebration of a great week together. Cocktails, great shots of the boys and girls together, and a lovely goodbye pressie of champers, baileys and a whale shark card round the whole trip off nicely!!
- Kathy Zischka
Day 8 - 31/05/06 - Goodbye from Exmouth
It's the morning of our final day, and as departure time approaches we round up our favourite photos of the week and enjoy a cooked breakfast together. Then, last minute packing, a group photo, an exchange of email addresses, and it's off to the airport for all except Aaron, who is driving back up to Karratha. As the bus leaves the Seabreeze we all wave goodbye to the researchers and plan to meet up that night in Perth, where four of us are already booked in for a debrief dinner with our company reps - and the others are now going to join us!! Plans are made to come back to the project and ECOCEAN again next year as we say our goodbyes to our team, the reef and the whale sharks!!!