Friday, December 31, 2010

Birding in the New Year

 Last bird list for 2010. Location: Elkhorn Slough in Moss Landing. Kayaking with Rachel, Deb, and Rob for a few hours while the tide was receding. The weather was partly cloudy, cold, with wind less than 5 knots. Perfect conditions for a paddle on the slough. Highlights included a Belted Kingfisher and a possible Barrow’s Goldeneye. Finished up the morning with a beer and lunch from English Ales. It was nice to see some familiar birds for a change, Monterey really is one of the best places to go birding. Over 30 species in less than 2 hours.

Common Loon (Gavia immer)
Eared Grebe (Podiceps nigricollis)
Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps)
Western Grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis)
Brown Pelican (Pelecanus occidentalis)
Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)
Brandt’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus)
Great Blue Heron (Ardea Herodias)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Snowy Egret (Egretta thula)
Brant (Branta bernicla)
Surf Scoter (Melanitta Perspicillata)
Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica)
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator)
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis)
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
Black-bellied Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)
Black-necked Stilt (Himantopus mexicanus)
Willet (Catoptrophorus semipalmatus)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Marbled Godwit (Limosa fedoa)
Wandering Tattler (Heteroscelus incanus)
Western Sandpiper (Calidris mauri)
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla)
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)
California Gull (Larus californicus)
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)
Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)
Heermann’s Gull (Larus heermanni)
Forester’s Tern (Sterna forsteri)
Rock Dove (Columba livia)
Belted Kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon)

Photos: Brant with a Marbled Godwit in the background. Forester’s Tern flying away with its catch. A photo from the Christmas Bird Count on the Monterey Bay, I’ll let you ID the birds.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Saved by a Cyclone

I’ve now officially left the realm of the Bridled Tern and returned to the land of the Laughing Kookaburra. Thanks to an approaching cyclone, I managed to escape the floating prison otherwise known as the Finnmarken a day earlier than scheduled. The fleet started the evacuation plan several days ago, leaving me with no dredging vessels to observe marine fauna from; 3 days of sitting around the Finnmarken with nothing to do but watch the same movies over and over…and over. But thanks to the marvels of modern travel, on a one hour whim, and after 4000 kilometers of flying, I am now sitting comfortably in a nice house with a view the Pacific Ocean; one ocean closer to home. It’s summer here obviously, and humid from all the rain Australia has received in the last week. I know the U.S. only cares about its news, but basically the entire south east of OZ was flooded with record rainfall for a few days. If only the weed-whacker across the street would take a break and go whack something else so I could hear the cicadas.

It will be nice to have a few days to recover from all of the turtle sightings, organize my gear, and finish up my application for Moss Landing Marine Labs. I’m not entirely sure I want to invest 5-6 years of my life at that institution, but I’m curious to see if I’ll be accepted. I can already tell that the minute I return home, I’m going to have that burning urge to go travel again. I think a pit stop back home will be good for me though. It will give me a chance to relax a bit, see some familiar faces, let Reef know I’m still alive, and figure out what to do next. I have a feeling Argentina and Antarctica are in my foreseeable future.

Still keeping an eye on the wildlife; I spotted this lizard on Mindi’s door step. I think it’s a Blue Tongued Lizard, the second largest skink and very common in Australia.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Below is the much anticipated HARCionary. I collection of words created during our 5 week pursuit of humpback whale understanding during HARC. Compiled by fellow member of Mysticetes Don’t Floss, Zeus Williamson. This should provide some insight into how screwed up we all were during those trying days.

 The words in the following HARCionary are set out as following
author:  noun,verb,adjective
- description; synonyms(if available): use in a sentence

Amy James: noun,
- a poor manner, disposition or feeling towards a task at HARC; lethargic, jaded: the volunteers had a baditude towards data entry
A. Volunteer: verb,
- to produce or emit a small or tiny current of air, usually related to the spout of a calf; splutter, whisper: blowinho!, Pod A, 36 degrees, 1 reticule
David Donnelly: verb,
- to throw or fling a bowel movement with great force or vigour from the posterior or behind; bazookacrap, misshite: double D was caught short and had to omit a swift bumhurl off the side of Carmena.
Rob Slade/Bec Dunlop: Noun,
- to be a regular member of Beluga: after failing to get a tag on the Bear and Mindi were once again belusas
Mindi Rekdahl: Noun,
- a regular boat member of Carmena: after getting a tag on double D and Ron acted like carweiners
Zeus Williamson/Mindi Rekdahl: noun,
- the act, process, or result of arranging in a systematic form or code: Ellen spent the afternoon codifying her whale song
- to defecate or void excrement simultaneaously: Ellen and Mindi went to the bathroom separately, avoiding codification.
Ailbhe Kavanagh: adjective,
- fantastically dramatic or dramatically fantastic; fantastic, dramatic: Stacy was dramastically ditsy; it was another dramastic day on emu mountain
Mindi Rekdahl: adjective,
- an overrated performance or behaviour; Zeus spent another drewlicious day on the theodolite.
Bec Dunlop: noun,
- a false belief or opinion at HARC, overestimating ones importance at HARC; drewluded: Bec referred to Mike as drewlusional when he thought the sea state would abate; Drew
fuck tonne
Amy James: noun,
- a flexible numerical unit, usually a large amount; shit load: there were a fuck tonne of whales spotted from emu mountain
Zeus Williamson: adjective,
- the ability to be googled: the volunteers were able to find Horizons because it was googleable
Bec Dunlop: adjective,
- an unsympathetic, unfeeling, unkind action during HARC; evil; thoughtless; heartless: Mike was HARCless leaving the boat crews out during an abating sea state
Bret Johns: verb,
- to botch, botch or ruin, particularly during the building of the buoys; ballsed: Bret and Zeus had to redo the hydrophone attachments when Mike found that they were hydrofucked
Elise Goodwin: noun,
- the act of working on a HARC manual: Elise spent the majority of her time at HARC manualing
Rob Slade: adjective,
- marked by negation; negative, no: ‘Beluga, do you have a tag on?’ ‘Negatory..... negatory.’
Zeus Williamson: noun,
- a boat member that has been left our during abating conditions; the volunteers peeled the noadkill off the bow of Carmena
Anita ‘Muzza’ Murray: adjective,
- testy or irritable; short, snotty, snarky; after a long morning on acoustics Muzza was often snarty to Zeus.
Zeus Williamson: adjective,
- when one is not efficient at all; drewlicious; once again Paul had been paulfficient on Emu mountain
Elise Goodwin: verb,
- specifically ordering a situation at HARC; every situation at HARC ran smoothly, once it was protocolised
Pam Quayle: adjective,
- to be of some service or use but nobody is exactly sure what; once again Michele (with 1 L) was zeusful.
Pam Quayle: adjective,
- a piece of utterly useless and irrelevant information; although amusing Zeus’ and Bret’s songs were utterly zuesless.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"I Think One of My Research Turtles Survived"

Like a scene from the movie “Life Aquatic”, which as a side note did a very good job of characterizing life on a ship, a turtle surfaced roughly 100 meters from the Taurus this morning with a satellite transmitter adhered to its carapace. The unnatural metallic object protruding from atop the turtle caught my eye instantly; it was even listing to one side a bit as it bobbed at the surface. They have been tracking the movements of flatbacks in this area for several years now, not only to gain an understanding of their movements, but mainly to help better manage the potential impacts on thier population during the construction of the natural gas offloading facility.

Other than the accessorized turtle, there have been many Wedge-tailed Shearwaters cruising in from the south; a sure sign that wind is coming. I checked the weather forecast to confirm this, 20-30 knots of wind possible over the next 4 days. Who needs a meteorologist, the birds tell all. It’s also been entertaining to watch the hoards of “bait” fish that seek shelter under the vessel get mauled by plunge diving terns, lighting fast tuna and sharks, and foot propelled cormorants, whenever they venture out into the open. The ocean is a dangerous place.

10 more days. It’s highly likely that if I don’t go surfing soon I could die. Let’s hope the waves in Goldie will be there when I arrive.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


“The sea was angry that day”, that day being today. I woke up from a rocking bed to the sight of numerous white caps through my porthole window. The first beauford +5 conditions since my time on the Sunshine Coast. They threatened to cancel the crew transfers this morning, but after a bumpy wet ride we made out to the Taurus. Surprisingly it’s been raining all morning, something I thought never happened in this dry and inhospitable climate. I wonder what kind of growth will emerge on the island after a well needed soaking. The brilliant white caps and streaking rain is reminiscent of those many stormy mornings of Monterey Bay winters, chasing parasite infested Gray Whales as they navigated the rugged coastline. It was so cool in fact that I felt the urge to roll my sleeves down, but didn’t act on it.

The seabirds as usual are reviling in the breezy conditions, harnessing those forces born from the interaction of the wind on the sea, in their pursuit of any tasty morsel they detect with an acute olfactory since. The seabirds I’m speaking of are those sparrow sized storm petrels which flutter and dance in the wind as they walk along the tops of the swells, picking off tiny crustacean and fish larvae, copepods, and any other small planktonic organisms that occupy the upper limits of the water column. One Wilson’s Storm Petrel flew close enough to the vessel for me to photograph; notice the white patch on its rump which betrays its specific identity. This small bird is a relative of one of the most majestic birds of the ocean, the albatross; although you’d never guess from its size.

The bird with the forked tail and black wings fringed with white is a Bridled Tern, which circled the vessel for quite a while looking for a good place to land.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

65 Million Years in a Box

I’m now more than half way through this swing and I can’t believe how boring it has been. I never thought I would dislike staring at the ocean for 12 hours, but I do. It would be different if we were doing transects or some scientific study, or actually moving. This mitigation work is just mind numbingly dull. All I keep thinking about is having a beer with good friends and family, taking Reef for a hike, and surfing my board. It doesn’t help that I’m stuck in a wheel house full of LOUD people speaking freaky deaky Dutch…I don’t understand why they need to yell to carry a conversation. Good god it’s annoying. And they keep pointing out the damn turtles. YES, I see the turtles; I’ve been watching them for the past 6 hours. It’s nesting season for crying out loud (which you won’t stop doing!).

On a more positive note, I’ve been seeing more Wilson’s Storm Petrels and boobies. No not those boobies, it’s been weeks now since I’ve encountered them. I’m talking boobies of the Pelicaniformes variety. They are a nice change from the numerous terns flying about around the vessel, diving after fish that leave the shadowy protection of the hull. The highlight of today was a Bridled Tern standing on the flat back of a flatback turtle. At first I thought the turtle was dead, but it proved me wrong after lifting its head for a breath then down for a quick dive. I’m assuming the tern was picking off ecto-parasites, or perhaps it just needed a spot to perch; they seem to take advantage of any floating object out here (mooring lines in particular). It was a pretty strange sight.

I kept my mind busy yesterday by studying some pieces of sea floor extracted from the backhoe dredge. The rocks were riddled with mollusk fossils consisting mostly of bivalves from the late Cenozoic Era, representing the period of time between the KT boundary (when the Dinosaurs were obliterated) 65 million years ago to the present. They are very strict about taking items from the island, or in this case from the waters surrounding the island, so instead I snapped a few photos. Most of the specimens were only a few millimeters in diameter, smaller than the nail of your pinky finger.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Duuuu Dun, Duuuu dun

So I’m sitting here in my usual chair on the Baldur, next to the communications desk. There’s a nice big window that allows me to spot fauna without having to bake in the relentless sun outside. I’ve been watching the flatbacks surface here and there for a few breaths; with mud spilling off their carapaces from what I’m assuming were a foraging dives. I just finished listening to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata when John William’s epic piece “Jaws” came next on my random playlist. I thought this was fitting seeing as how I was staring at the deceptively empty ocean in front of me. Just as the piece reached its climax where in the movie that iconic white shark Jaws hurls itself out of the water at the stern of the decidedly “too small” of a boat; at the moment when the violins began the screeching crescendo, I kid you not, a cream colored shark surfaced not 50 meters from the vessel, chasing a school of fish. I couldn’t believe it…was it irony…or foreshadowing?

As a side note just to keep you in the loop, a whale shark was reported over the radio not far from the Finnmarken (the cruise ship I’ve been living aboard) a few days ago. They are not that common this far south I’m told, and are seen more frequently around Shark Bay.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Insight Into Sousa

It’s only 9am and already I’ve seen 20 flatback turtles and a unique sighting of Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins, otherwise known by their genus as Sousa. The observation was made from the Baldur, a backhoe dredge being used to construct an island which will be a part of what they are calling the Marine Offloading Facility (MOF). The water is relatively shallow here, with a mixed mud and rock habitat blanketed with macro algae and sponges, which would explain the high presence of turtles and dugongs; the dugongs feeding on the algae and the flatbacks eating the sponges. It may also explain the unusual Sousa sighting that had me confused for a few minutes.

It’s amazing what can be discovered with enough observation. I’ve been seeing small groups of Sousa around the MOF area for the last week, some with calves. Amongst the white caps of this beauford 4 morning I noticed their characteristic humped dorsal fins break the surface, a pod of around 15 individuals with at least 1 calf. Suddenly I noticed a golden brown round object emerge around the pod, which I at first thought was a dugong swimming near the dolphins. Then I saw a dorsal fin associated with the golden brown sphere, which eliminated the dugong hypothesis. I thought it must be a Sousa holding something out of the water in its mouth…but what? I have read that river dolphins have been observed holding rocks out of water as a display of fitness to females; but this did not look like a rock, it was corrugated and seemed too large for the dolphin to be holding it up with such ease. One of the engineers who I alerted to the sighting assumed it was a turtle, which I asserted that it definitely was not. I then remembered hearing somewhere that some dolphins use sponges to protect themselves from the poisonous barbs of fish while rummaging around the bottom; and that’s exactly what was going on here.

The adult animal was most likely teaching the younger dolphin the sponge technique. After looking up some articles online, this behavior has been observed in Shark Bay in Western Australia, which is relatively near Barrow Island, but in bottlenose dolphins. As far as I know no one has yet witnessed Sousa exhibiting these same behaviors. It is possible that bottlenose dolphins look similar to Sousa here and that I’ve miss identified them, but this is unlikely. I’ve seen plenty of bottlenose dolphins and quite a few Sousa in Eastern Australia, and I’m confident that the humped pale dolphins with a narrow rostrum were Sousa and not bottlenose. Perhaps the behavior is spreading through Western Australia, and not just between bottlenose dolphins but also through populations of Sousa. I’ve seen bottlenose and Sousa associating off of Straddie, so it’s possible the Sousa have picked up this behavior from bottlenose, or vice versa.

I small scientific discovery that has made my morning, now it’s back to counting turtles; I should get up to 50 today. Here’s a link to a National Geographic article about the usage of tools amongst bottlenose dolphins in WA if you’re interested:


Saturday, November 20, 2010

Chapter 56: The White Whale

Dan, the MMO that preceded me on my first swing, suggested the best way to deal with the painful boredom of standing watch for 10 hours a day over a period of 4 weeks, is to listen to audio books on your IPod… or for those of you who are still strongly opposed to Apple technology, your personal MP3 player. At first I thought he was just being dramatic, how could staring at the ocean all day in search of all its mysterious secrets beneath the surface possibly be painfully boring? Oh how I was wrong.

The turtles grew old very fast, well actually that’s literally not the case in fact they age quite slowly. As I mentioned in a previous post some of them don’t mate until 50 years of age and not because they are hopelessly inept around the opposite sex. My fascination for these flat backed slow moving speed bumps is about par with that of Monday Night Football, expect for the leatherback simply because it’s unique. Birding kept me occupied for the first week, until I became familiar with the local assemblage, which follows from most frequent to least: Silver Gull, Lesser Crested Tern, Bridled Tern, Little Tern, Caspian Tern, Roseate Tern (pictured), Little Pied and Pied Cormorant, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Reef Egret, Brown Booby, and only one sighting of both the Wilson’s Storm Petrel and Grey-tailed Tattler. I’m of course still on the lookout for any new winged species, but this only fulfills a fraction of my day. I spotted not just one, but 3 Dugongs on my first post; so I can check them off the list. Lastly the Cetaceans, that is the whales, dolphins, and porpoise, on the contrary are always a welcomed sight, but really the only species sighted near Barrow Island are humpbacks and Sousa (humpback dolphins), and yes Flipper. Oh and I shouldn’t leave out the phyla that need not rely on air to make a living, which tend to leap out into it anyways to either chase prey or escape the gape of a predator.

You would think that with all of these fascinating specimens to seek out each day, no hour should be lost to boredom…but it is. Fortunately I have but one audio book on my personal MP3 player otherwise known as an IPod, and the most fitting one for the scene I’m engrossed in; Moby Dick. I picked up the book a few years back and couldn’t make it past the first couple pages, just a little too much narration for my taste. So I figured it would be easier to listen to rather than read Herman Melville’s magnum opus of the great white whale. There are actually quite a few parallels; Ishmael is a similar name to Michael, he joined a whaling fleet because it meant free beef and board with a chance to experience whaling and see the world, I joined the MMO fleet for the same reasons aside from the obvious whaling, and some of the guys even reported seeing a white whale (although it was a humpback and not a sperm) swimming around the dredgers yesterday…very interesting.

Given the book is somewhere in the range of 600 pages, listening to it should chew up a great deal of my time here and keep my mind from wandering too far, as it tend to do. Once that is over, I've noticed that many of the workers use porn to keep thier minds from wandering (or is it doing the opposite)...perhaps I could give that a shot. I'm not exactly sure what some of these workers actually do, although no doubt they are thinking the same about my job.

Note: the photo of the brown turd arching up for a dive is of a Dugong. Not too impressive an animal from a distance. Another note, Microsoft Word doesn’t recognize “turd” as a word; albeit it crude to use in text but it exists as a word known the less I’m sure.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You Calling Me A Flatback?

I’m currently sitting on the bridge of the Taurus 2, a cutter dredge that is stopped at the moment. They are stopped because the Griffin is docked to our port side and is using their deck crane to unload material off the foredeck of this vessel. There’s no need for an MMO when the dredging stops so I’m kicking back and tacking in the scene with a cup of coffee. Yesterday from the Baldur (scoop dredge I think they’re called) I spotted a few Wilson’s storm petrels flying about, small dark birds related to albatross which have a distinctive white patch on their rump. So I’m keeping an eye out for their presence, even though I should be resting my eyes. I’ll be stationed on the Taurus until the end of the week. They’ve been doing cyclone drills for the past 4 days and are now back on the job.

The Taurus is an interesting dredge. It has a massive drill bit essentially that extends via a big arm off the front of the vessel (or is it the stern I can’t tell), which can be lowered onto the seafloor. It pivots in an about a 60 degree arc back and forth off a spud on the stern of the vessel. The drill bit breaks up the hard material as it moves along. This particular cutter dredge does not suck up any material, its purpose is to loosen the seafloor for another dredge to come along and clear the way. Due to the nature of the operation, the vessel shakes quite a bit. I’m glad I get transferred back to the Finnmarken to sleep, otherwise sleep probably wouldn’t happen.
I’ve been seeing loads of Flatback Turtles, some of them mating, along with several sightings of Green Turtles. I was sure if I was identifying them correctly at first; however after reviewing the photos I’m pretty confident the majority are flatbacks. I also spotted 3 Dugongs from the Baldur yesterday, my first sighting of this relative of the manatee. I didn’t get any photos so you’ll have to look up what they look like. Apparently this is only the second confirmed sighting of Dugongs throughout the whole project. There have been some shearwaters about but they haven’t come close enough to ID, but I’m sure they are probably just Wedge Tailed.

3 days down…28 more to go.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Jumping Off the Deep End

Writtin Nov 12th

Feeling like a small tuna in a big ocean once again. It’s easy to get comfortable with your life and forget what it’s like to take a risk and try something new, and all of the complicated emotions and uneasy circumstances that follow. This is especially true for someone like me who lacks confidence and becomes immediately guarded around unfamiliar faces. And man the ocean really is a big place.

This Gorgon natural gas project that I’ve signed onto is by far the most intense undertaking I’ve ever been a part of, and I haven’t even started work yet. I’ve spend the last 4 days learning about how important natural gas is to the global economy from presentations by Chevron, how they are striving to show that industry and nature can coexist in harmony, how Barrow Island represents what mainland Australia used to be before non-indigenous humans invaded, why it’s important to quarantine all items coming over from the mainland to the island, and what my role will be as an MFO for the next month. So needless to say my brain feels like an incased mass of slop at the moment.

I made it through quarantine after a long search for the correct terminal at 4:30 in the morning, the taxi drivers in Perth can’t seem to tell their ass from the Grand Canyon. Eventually I made my 6am flight from Perth to Barrow. Flying into the island was stunning; the landscape is like nothing I’ve seen before. It looks identical to the classic photos of the Australian outback, dry vegetation caked with rich red dust. The landscape is riddled with huge termite mounds, up to 6 feet tall. The red structures not only house the termites, they act as a storage facility for the plant material they gather, a burial site for fallen soldiers (which are stored at the base of the mound), a nursery for up and coming wood eaters, and of course a sanctuary for all sorts of small mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects that use the mounds for protection from the oppressive rays of the relentless sun. All of the fauna on the island are nocturnal, so I hope at some point to spend some time on the island at night (although they have strict regulations about who is allowed to leave the base). There are apparently 24 species endemic to Barrow, including a small type of kangaroo.

Upon disembarking the plane, we were herded onto which taxied us to a port on the north side of the island, where we were then loaded onto one of the transport vessels the Sea Stryder. A choppy 25 minute ride took us out to where the Finnmarken, a mortified cruise liner, is moored. I then met up with Dan, the MFO that I will be replacing, who ran me through all of the ins and outs of the ship. It’s equipped with a dining area and 24 hour snack bar, coffee in several locations, a gym, pool, spa, lounge, offices, lockers, movie/entertainment room, and observation platform. I also get my own cabin, complete with TV, shower, and toilet (all you need really, although the TV is arguable). At 4:30 I have a formal intro to the ship. I will complete my first day with a rundown of report writing and who to send them off to, assigned a locker, go out to one of the dredgers for a another ship induction, dinner, and at some point hopefully sleep. The boat I’ll be working on is still offshore doing cyclone drills, and may not be back for a few days. So hopefully with any luck I’ll have my first day of work off.

If you want more info on the Finnmarken and other vessels used in this project, try Google searching Finnmarken, Gorgon LNG Barrow Island, and Chevron Barrow Island. I’ll bring some documents home with me too.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sunsets Over the West Once Again

11/07 Preparing for Month of Turtle Madness

I am now leaving the realm of whales and interring turtle territory. During the Mackay coal trestle job, most of the delays were caused by migrating humpback whales, particularly the mothers with their calves as they traveled close to shore (although the majority of the population migrates close to shore in Eastern Australia). After reading parts of the management plan put in place by Chevron for the Gorgon project on Barrow Island, turtles are going to be the main culprit for delays. The island offshore of Western Australia is riddled with several species of nesting and horny sea turtles.

 In case you’re not familiar with sea turtles, there are six distinct species of marine turtles inhabiting the waters of Western Australia, a small subset of what may have been a diverse and wide spread group of taxa based on fossil records. Three of these species haul themselves up onto the gently sloping beaches of Barrow Island each year to dig a hole in the sand and lay their eggs; Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricate), Green (Chelonia mydas), and Flatback (Natator depressus). The other three species include the Loggerhead (Caretta caretta), Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), and the unique Leatherback (Demochelys coriacea). Just to relate this information back to home, the Leatherback is the only sea turtle regularly spotted off Central California. It’s unique because it lacks a hard carapace, and instead has a sheath of leathery skin embedded with many small keratin deposits (at least I think they are made of keratin, can’t remember what they are called either). All of these species are either considered endangered, vulnerable, or data deficient.

The life cycle of sea turtles in a nutshell

- Incubation of eggs takes 6-13 weeks, sex of the embryo is determined by the temperature of the sand.

- Hatchlings typically emerge at night. This could be due to several selecting forces, including predator avoidance and the reliance of light cues to determine the direction of the ocean (star light is brighter over the ocean than on land, which is why light pollution has been targeted as a risk for sea turtles).

- Hatchlings swim directly out to sea where they develop in offshore waters. They may spend 5-30 years at sea developing before they return to their natal beaches.

- Once sexually mature, turtles migrate between feeding and nesting waters every 1-2 years.

- Mating occurs near shore along nesting beaches, females stay in this area for a longer period than the males. Basically males mate and get the hell out of there; females stick around to produce several clutches of eggs during a single breeding season.

- Females use their pectoral flippers to drag themselves up the beach just beyond the high tide line, and use their rear flippers to excavate a hole for the eggs.

- Clutches of around 100 eggs are deposited in the hole, and the female uses her pectoral flippers to cover the hole and spread the sand so that it’s less obvious to predators (isn’t evolution great).

- Once the female has repeated this process possibly 3-4 times during the breeding season, she makes her way offshore again to feed in more productive waters.

So you can see why there is a need for dedicated marine fauna observers on a vessel that is actively sucking up hundreds of cubic tones of sediment in an area ridden with pregnant, mating, and immature sea turtles. Not only are they vulnerable to ship strikes at the surface, they will often rest for many minutes on the bottom, which puts them at risk of being sucked up the dredger. Unfortunately they are so efficient at holding their breath they are often extremely difficult to spot, since they only spend fleeting moments on the surface. At least one turtle has already been sucked through the dredging unit. If a turtle ends up in the hopper (where the spoils are temporarily stored), it will be my job to go in and determine its status (dead or alive), and if dead take samples for sexing and genetic work of the victim.

Although it won’t just be turtles around off of Barrow. There are still potentially a few migrating humpbacks around, dolphins as usual are everywhere (although they won’t be halting operations for dolphin sightings), numerous sea snakes living in the adjacent reefs, and hopefully some interesting bird sightings.

Currently I’m waiting in the Brisbane airport again for my flight to Perth. I will be arriving close to midnight. I had a blast hanging out at Mindi’s house surfing arguably the best waves in the world. I managed to fit one last surf in this morning at Snappers with her green single fin pin tail. I’ll sold on pintails now, the turning capabilities are awesome, so I’m glad my latest board waiting for me back home is a pintail. Five more weeks left until my trip home, still open for ideas about what to do when I get back (aside from the obvious surfing).

11/08 Highlights of my flight to Perth.

- I think the woman sitting next to me was the zombie form of the mom from “Shaun of the Dead”, I had to do a double take when I had a glimpse of her face.

- Water started dripping heavily from the emergency exit where I was sitting. I figured it was condensation but alerted the flight attendant anyway, who assured me the doors integrity had not been compromised.

- Flew through a massive electric storm over central Australia, one cloud in particular was constantly lighting up like a strobe light. There is almost zero light pollution in the middle of the inhospitable central part of the country, so the stars were crisp and the clouds vivid in the flashes of light. The turbulence was intense at times.

- Virgin Blue doesn’t offer pillows or blankets even on their long overnight flights, and the cabin is as cold as beer from the freezer, don’t fly with them if you have a choice (although it appears you don’t want to fly with Qantas at the moment either).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Goldie and All Its Glory

I could move to Australia just for the surf, it is absolutely non-stop fun. I’ve spent the last few days staying at Rob’s house and now Mindi’s (both fellow HARC, Straddie, and MMO people) on the Gold Coast. I really can’t describe how good I feel right now, just hanging out with some amazingly friendly and interesting people, eating good food, listening to the birds, and surfing perfect offshore sunny point breaks. I’m currently relaxing, that’s right RELAXING, watching mellow surf videos from a projector. This is the life, unfortunately this will all be changing tomorrow when I fly out to Perth to start training for my next project, but for now I’m soaking it up.

We surfed the famous Snapper Rocks today, on the south end of Rainbow Bay. It was a strange and humbling paddle out. The beach was packed with surfers and community members paying their respects to Andy Irons, who died a few days ago from Dengue fever in a Dallas hotel room. Lilly’s and other flowers were washing up on the beach, while friends of Irons talked about all the good times they shared over loud speakers set up on the bluff. Thirty two years old, he left a wife and his unborn child. It really puts into perspective how fleeting life is, and why you should never take it for granted. What made it all the more humbling was yet another shark sighting, noticed only by me. This was a big guy, maybe 6 foot, slowing swimming just beneath the surface around a hundred yards from my position. Despite the knowledge of its rows of sharp teeth, it didn’t appear very threatening; in fact it was hardly moving. The brief moment of caution I felt flew out the window after a nice set rolled in and carried me down an excellent waist high face, the only wave of the day that I managed to catch all to myself (the crowd was worse than Steamers on a good day).

Yesterday evening was one of those rare and classic surfing moments, where everything came together to make a magical and unforgettable surf session. It was late, about 5:30, and I decided to grab my board, jump into Mindi’s wrecked two seater, and charge to the beach for some waves. It was my first experience driving in Australia (outside of small rural roads), and I’m happy to say I succeeded in not hitting anyone or anything, I had my doubts. Actually I came pretty close to taking out some parked cars and a few pedestrians, it was hard to judge were the left side of the car was. It’s difficult not getting lost driving in Australia; their motto seems to be “keep traffic moving”. Stop signs and signals a rare, and roundabouts and strange merging lanes abundant. Basically if you don’t know where you’re going you’re screwed. After a few debacles I eventually made it to Currumbin, the closest break to Mindi’s house.

I stepped out of the beat up car to find a welcomed scene: a light crowd, 70 degree water, offshore breeze at about 5 knots, chest to head high bumps, a dark ominous sky in the background, and bright yellow foam crests and spray from the setting sun in the foreground….EPIC. As it turned out that the light crowd was full of beginners, so I basically shared all of the waves with another longboarder. So there we were, just the two of us, alternating between beautiful late evening perfection. What finally sealed the deal for best surf session in Australia were the hundreds of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters banking up and over the rolling swell, harnessing the wind with ease as they patrolled the offshore water for food. It was the first time I’ve seen an Osprey flying and feeding amongst shearwaters (it’s unique because shearwaters are open ocean birds and rarely come anywhere near land, unless of course they’re nesting in places like Australia). Life is good.

I will now sum up the breaks I have surfed thus far in Aussieland

Figure A. Currumbin, Gold Coast

Can’t beat the crowds. Not the most popular spot on the Gold Coast, and that’s the way I like it. A bit sectiony, but a nice sand bank from river mouth. Known for my best session in Australia yet. The yellow arrow points to Kirra Beach and beyond to the south.

Figure B. Kirra Headland, Gold Coast

- Rainbow Bay to Greenmount Beach: A long consistent right hander point break. Best at low going to high, good west winds around mid day make for some nice offshore spray. Long ride if you can make the sections.

- Snapper Rocks: If you like weaving around speed bumps (people that is), than this is your beach. Probably best to catch one big set here and let it carry you to the less populated Rainbow Bay. Had some collisions during the paddle out. Watch for submerged rocks and big sharks.

Figure C. Noosa Heads, Sunshine Coast

- Main Beach: fun beach break depending on the sand bars. Great place to surf on a light swell during a low high tide, when Noosa Heads is dead.

- River Mouth: Longer rides than Main Beach, and less crowds as well. Look out for small boats steaming through the surf at the bar crossing during a big swell. They can’t stop and will hit you, so don’t get in there way. Also a place where you’ll find many standup paddle boarders…man they’re annoying. Spotted a few sharks here, but only baby ones. Apparently it can be very sharky north of this spot.

- Witches Cauldron to Little Cove: My longest waves surferd so far. Picked it up at the tip of Witches and took it all the way through Little Cove and onto Main beach. My legs were getting tired from standing. Brilliant wave during a big swell when Tea Tree and Granites are too intense.

- Tea Tree and Granite: Crowded, and therefore over rated. May as well stick to Witches. Hit the rocks a few times here, and got dropped in on one too many times. I’m the one who’s supposed to do the dropping in.

- Alexandria Bay: good place to see nudies on the beach, even though they are beyond their expiration date. A lot like Monterey surf so I avoided it for some variety. J

- Sunshine to Peregian Beach: What can I say, just another beach break. Terrible during a massive swell and onshore winds. Can be a really fun morning surf on light days, actually caught some really long waves during high tide. Good place to surf with Humpback Whales too, we even heard them singing a few times while swimming in the surf. Again spotted a shark here (are you beginning to notice a trend?).

Figure D. Point Lookout, North Stradbroke Island

Refer to the June-July posts about surfing Straddie, some good waves to be had. Cylinders is a classic point break that seems to always have something to offer. Some big sharks spotted off of Frenchman’s, but this is a bit biased since we spent all day watching the water.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Wasting Away Again in Boganville

Over the last 2 days we’ve been on standby. It’s not bad being on standby, we’ve been going to the gym, the pool, and I’ve been watching the World Series wrap up while eating Doritos and Tim Tams (an un American chocolate candy that tastes too good to pass up). I went to go by some hotdog stuff for game 5, but I could only find the wieners. Apparently the buns are hard to come by in this country, what a shame. Not sure exactly why they have cancelled the blasts, but I’ve heard that divers have been in the water trying to clear away some chargers that failed to detonate. Not I job I would want to have; I hope they get paid well.

Just to re-familiarize you with the Mackay job I’m working on, it’s a blasting operation aimed at breaking up the bedrock and allow for dredgers to come in and clear a new channel for charger ships to berth and stock up on coal, which is brought from the mines by train, and carried along the trestle to the ships by a series of long conveyor belts (about 3 km of conveyors in fact). In the photo, you can see the jack up rig which drills the holes that the 24 dynamite charges are packed into. The drill rig then pulls up its spuds (legs), and uses winches and anchors to move off the site where the charges are detonated. We, the MFO’s, are located at 5 different stations; 2 people on the South Tower (where the photos were taken), 1 on the North Tower (to the north obviously), 1 on a boat anchored 1500 meters from the blast site (in this case the Delphi, the limit for turtles, dugongs, and dolphins), and 1 person on a boat anchored at the 2000 meter mark (usually always The Gun, the limit for whales). If whales are spotted within 2000 meters, or if turtles, dugongs, dolphins, or any other wildlife within 1500 meters, the blast is postponed until we give the all clear.

If 30 minutes go by with no marine fauna sited in the zones, than the charges are triggered, and the ocean boils with mud and foam followed by a load BOOM! The loud boom is the cue for the crested terns perched on the morning lines of the charger ships to come in and pick up pieces of dead benthic organisms and any fish that may have been going about their business in the water column above the blast. We then observe for another 30 minutes for any dead animals that may surface. So far we’ve only spotted a large dead fish, possibly a Dorado.

Tomorrow will be my last day doing this job, than I’m off to a different job in Western Australia living off a cruise ship and working on a dredger. So that’s what been going on, a whole lot of nothing. Flying to the Gold Coast on Thursday for a few more days of surfing, then to Perth for more inductions.

Denise, send my photos of Reef please. Congratulations to the Giants, I think I will rout for you next year.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Another Year for Reef

My boy turns 28 tomorrow (Halloween), they grow up so fast. He’s had a good life so far; from growing up as a puppy on the whale watching boats, going to the beach and swimming after me as I paddled away into the surf, several backpacking trips to Double Cone and the Lost Coast, roads trips to Oregon, and now living with the parents probably being fed lots of people food and terrorizing Conner. He’s been a great dog through college, and I’m looking forward to getting him back next August for a new chapter of his life. I’ll have to get him on a running routine to work off all the fat I’m sure he’ll put on over the next few months with the grandparents. Hopefully he hasn’t forgotten all of his tricks.

Mackay hasn’t changed much since I was here last. Still full of fat Aussies (otherwise known as Bogans), strip bars, pokie machines, and some varied and surprisingly good culinary options. We are only doing one blast a day, so it’s nice to have some down time to organize my life after 5 weeks of chaos that was HARC. I have several things to sort out before I fly over to Perth for training next week. I managed to catch the last 3 innings of game 2 of the World Series yesterday, which turned out to be an exciting game for the Giants. I’ve decided that next year, if I’m around, I’m going to try and go to as many Giants games as possible. I think I’ll get more into baseball if I pick a team and follow it through. I’m choosing the Giants because it’s a nice stadium, the home games are close, and it’s always nice to support a winning team (although they haven’t won yet, but they will unless the Rangers get their pitching staff in order).

Still thinking about applying to Moss Landing Marine Labs, despite the fact that it takes ages to finish. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to finish up the paper work over the next month during my time of isolation. I’ve been so busy surfing and staring at whales lately that I haven’t had much brain power for anything else. I may be doing some seabird work in Tasmania in February, which will help me figure out if I want to work with seabirds for my master’s.

The blast was cancelled today, possibly due to wind (but they never tell us). Since there’s no surf in Mackay (damn Great Barrier Reef and it’s scattered islands), I’m off to the pool to work off all of the free calories I’ve been consuming.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Brace for Turbulence

Surfed my finals waves for a while at the Noosa River mouth this morning, and what good waves they were. Long clean beach break faces with only HARC people out. My arms are feeling a good kind of hurt from all of the paddling; I didn’t let a single wave escape my feet. I am officially the drop in king (Paul B and Louie if you’re reading this you know what I’m talking about). Somehow the people I drop in on always finish the wave with a smile, so I must be doing something right. So long Sunshine Coast, until next time. Your point breaks and sandbars have been good to me.

Then came the goodbyes, I hate goodbyes. This was my second project with the UQ lab people, and I’ve enjoyed every minute with them. Especially the Irish, man they are hilarious. It was nice not having the vollies around for the last 3 days; it was just the staff and the super vollies. I’ve been asked to come back next year, and if I have nothing going on it will be hard to turn down the offer. I’m especially jealous of Amy and Zeus. They are barrowing Lou’s yellow van (Erik), and driving it down the coast for the next 3 weeks. I slept in Erik (that doesn’t sound right does it?) for the last few nights and I really enjoyed hearing the rain pummel the rusting metal roof. I think I’ll miss them the most, really great people. Even though Zeus ate my piece of pork crackling when I was on the verge of an emotional breakdown and I almost punched him in the face. It’s funny how I don’t realize how much I enjoy the company of people until I’m back on my own again.

Well I’m sitting in the Brisbane airport, my official home base for the rest of my stay in Australia. I’ll be flying in and out of here for all future MMO gigs. My flight departs at 5PM to Mackay, and they are anticipating some heavy weather. They wanted to book my on an earlier flight but it doesn’t work with my ride from the airport in Mackay, so it looks like a have a bumpy flight ahead. It should be nice and hot in Mackay, looking forward to sweating it out on the coal trestle. Let’s hope the whales have buggered off by now.

I’m thinking about staying clean shaven for a while, since I’m no longer with the HARC people I’ll be losing my “Bret” from The Flight of the Concords title, so I no longer have any need to look like him.

Looking out the massive airport windows I see some ominous deep purple clouds rolling in. Bring on the rain; this parched country could really use it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mysticetes Don't Floss

Zeus and I managed to write several songs during HARC. We were planning on producing our first album, but never got around to it. We even came up with the name “Mysticetes Don’t Floss”. I’m sure if they could they would though with all of the krill and fish bits that inevitably get stuck in their mustaches. Below are the lyrics to one my favorites from the almost album. It was written to the music of “Land Down Under” by Men At Work, so in order to get the full effect you have to play the song while reading the lyrics. Tonight is our last night, so there’s potential for us getting drunk and recording some of the songs. If so I will email those who want to hear them (which should be all of you).

“Whale Down Under”

Tagging off the coast of Noosa
On a humpback tail, we shouldn’t lose her
We met a strange whale, we hadn’t seen yet
He threw his fluke and got the boat wet
And he sang

Do you come from a land down under
Where whales blow and Bec chunders
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run you better take cover.

Off the bow, a pod of whales
First tag attempt Beluga fails
Mindi used inappropriate language
Rob just laughed and ate his Vegemite sandwich
And he sang

I come from a land down under
Where I tag and Dave blunders
Can’t you hear, can’t you hear the thunder?
You better run you better take cover.
Trying to tag a pod that’s restful
With the small pole, she’s not successful
Rob said to Dave, “Your approach is all wrong
My massive pole gets the D-tag on”
And he sang,

Oh do you come from a land down under
Where whales blow and Bec chunders
Can you see, can you see Dave blunder?
The bear’s mad, you better take cover.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Don't Panic, Their Just People


After chatting with Kylie last night while walking home from taco night at the Palace (we made tortillas from scratch), I have determined that I must have some form of social anxiety disorder. I’m sure this has already been confirmed by those of you who know me well, but I haven’t really been taking it seriously. Turns out it may be more of a problem than I initially anticipated, I simply can’t function in group dynamics. So how am I supposed to advance in the scientific field if I freeze up whenever a crowd forms? You can’t express your thoughts and ideas to a wide audience if all you want to do is flee in front of that audience. Damn you evolution and you tweaked fight or flight response; which has kept us from being eating by predators but is now causing me to produce a dampening chemical response that basically turns me comatose whenever I have to interact with people I haven’t known for years. This is most likely a combination of genetics and my lack of self esteem as a child, but man it really puts a limitation on your social life as an adult. I’ve noticed lately that I rely on alcohol to help subdue inhibitions, and become more comfortable around people, which is not exactly the healthiest solution to the problem.

This all hit me a few days ago during one of our nightly debriefs. I literally started to feel extremely tense and isolated. It felt like the walls were closing in around me and the chatter of all the conversations around me began to sound like a symphony of out of tune string instruments. I couldn’t focus on what was being said, and my brain simply turned to mush. All I could think about was a way out. Then my hands started shaking like I was sitting in a bath of ice. This all climaxed when debrief ended and everyone was mingling and stirring around me. Finally I cracked and bailed for the beach to catch my breath, which was becoming short and irregular. This happens more frequently than it used to now, and it’s getting worse.

About the only thing that allows me cope with this issue is surfing. It has really been the only time during this project that I’ve felt comfortable. Plus the warm water and exercise is very therapeutic, and helps me collect my thoughts and prepare for my next encounter with people. I’ve noticed that the few things that make me truly happy in life relate to isolation. Perhaps that’s why I’ve developed such a strong interest is seabirds. I think I idolize their lifestyle. They spend months, sometimes years alone at sea. They have brief encounters while on the water, and will flock if their food source is abundant; but in generally are solitary by nature. The only time they have to worry about large flocks of con-specifics is during the breeding season, which is short lived and to the point. Seabirds work hard to make a living, and are constantly searching for something better. And I think more suitably, they don’t choose this lifestyle; it is pre-determined through millions of years of evolutionary progression. They couldn’t sustain themselves on land in large flocks even if they wanted to.


HARC is over, time to pack up the bag again (which is getting heavier has the months progress), and get back on the plane. It has been a long 4 weeks, not what I expected, but in retrospect it was still I worthwhile experience. I spent more time hiking up and down Emu Mountain than bobbing around in a boat, but that’s what I get for being so damn good at the theodolite. I’ve learned a lot about why I freak out around large groups of people, but I’m not sure if I’ve done anything about it. It’s strange that I get lonely when I’m out on my own, and yet panic when I’m around too many people. I’m still struggling with constantly parting ways with people I bond with, and having to start over from scratch whenever I reach a new destination. Regardless of how I feel about it, that’s the way it’s going to be for the next 8 months, so I better get used to it.

On the 27th (tomorrow I guess), I fly back out to Mackay for another 6 day stint on the coal trestle. Looking forward to the LOUD NOISES and a daily coal shower. Hopefully there will be fewer delays than last month, as the humpback whale migration has peaked in the GBR and should be steadily dropping over the coming weeks. Once Mackay is over, on the 4th, I’ll spend a few days in Brisbane and then fly out to Perth for a 4 day Gorgon training induction, where I will learn how safety never takes a holiday. After the training is completed I’m off to Barrow Island to start my first swing on the Gorgon project. Basically the Australian government has discovered a massive natural gas reserve offshore of the island, and are developing a berth for cargo ships to dock and load up on the gaseous resource. It just so happens that Barrow Island is an ecologically significant site, covered with nesting Green, Loggerhead, and Hawksbill Turtles, along with countless seabirds. It also sits smack in the middle of the migration corridor of the western Australian humpback population. Hence the need for Marine Fauna Observers. I’ll be based off of a modified cruise ship, and will be transferred each day to one of 2 dredges to monitor for the presence of marine fauna. The work will be 12 hours a day for 4 weeks. I’ll most likely continue this job a month on and off up until next August, unless Dave finds me an offshore trip to work on. I’ll post more details about the job as I learn more.

After Gorgon I’m coming home. I finally gave in and booked my flight to Fresno, even though they charged an outrageous amount of money for it. I fly back on the 17th of December and will be home up until January 7th. I plan to spend about a week camping, a week back home, and a week in Monterey. I was thinking about a road trip to Dallas to see my brosoph (slang for brother), but I just wouldn’t be able to fit everything in. This will possibly be my last time coming home until next August, so I hope to see everyone at some point.

I’ve spent most of today surfing, trying to cram as many waves as I can in before tomorrow. I also decided to shave my face for the first time since I don’t know when. I shaved it in stages, starting with the thin jaw line beard, followed by the fu man chu, then the mustache and flavor savor, mustache minus the flavor saver, then finally the Hitler look. I was thinking about keeping the stache in honor of the pops, but everyone convinced me that I should give it a few years.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tag On

Another busy week and I’m ready for this project to be over. It has been fun, but the amount of people I’m constantly surrounded by is starting to get to me. I told myself that I wasn’t going to do HARC again next year, but it looks like they might want me and a few others to return and help manage the volies again. A year is a long time to plan, and I hope to be in grad school by then, but who knows. It is good experience, and it’s an excuse to spend more time surfing in Australia.

Had another boat trip a few days ago on the Beluga (the same inflatable used in Straddie to drop of the hydrophones). We left mid day from the Noosa River; the wind was light out of the South East and the swell small, maybe about a meter. Overall they were great conditions for a day on the small boats. We drifted offshore of Noosa heads for about 30 minutes looking for a good pod of whales to tag. We found a receptive pod of 2 adults, but they were travelling out of the study area to the north. Eventually one of the land based teams put us onto a fast moving pod of another 2 adults. We zipped over to them and one immediately flicked it’s fluke out of the water in an evasive maneuver. Mindi was up on the bow sprit with her pole in hand, waiting for the whales to surface close enough to reach. Our goal was to slap on a suction cup tag called a D-tag, which records the depth, pitch, roll, and acoustics of the animal as it moves through the water. It also has an accelerometer and clock to record the position of the whale based on the known GPS location of deployment. It’s programmed to release after 3 hours, and has a radio transmitter which broadcasts beeps over a known frequency. We then use a directional antenna to pin point the source of the beeps.

Our first tag attempt failed, and the whales reacted by swimming very fast away from us (an understandable move on their part). We had a 30 minute window to get the tag on, and were beginning to run out of time. Finally at the last 30 seconds, the whales popped up off the bow, Dave gunned Beluga right on top of them, and as the whales arched down for another evasive dive, Mindi slammed the pole down onto the peduncle (or tail stock). TAG ON! This all happened in a matter of seconds, just as Mike was calling in from base to tell us time was up. It was all very exciting. This was followed by 2 hours of boredom, as we followed the pod and recorded every behavior and kept track of the tag (which is worth about 10,000 US dollars). Luckily for us, but not for the data, the whales started breaching 45 minutes after deployment, and managed to knock the tag off, which meant that we didn’t have to wait 3 hours for it to release. At the end of the focal follow, we used a 22 caliber rifle with a modified cartridge to shot a skin sample of the tagged whale to determine the sex. The cartridge has a hollow tip with inverted barbs, which penetrates the skin and blubber and extracts a sample as it bounces off.

Other highlights from the boat included some passes by wedge-tailed shearwaters, a hammerhead shark, some manta rays, and really up close and personal looks at the old humpback whale.

We had a day off yesterday, which I spent watching baseball and recovering from a night of drinking on the beach. We played the guitar and watched the stars. The constellation Orion always makes me feel at home, since you can almost always see it wherever you are in the world. Once I recovered we played a game of touch on the beach, where I nearly through up the Vegemite sandwich I had for lunch, followed by a long body surf session. The ocean was a beautiful turquoise green, with an ominous dark blue backdrop full of grey and white cumulous clouds. The scene was highlighted by bright white caps illuminated by the setting sun to the west. Rain was approaching from the south, and the whole view was very poetic. The best part was the hundreds of Wedge-tailed shearwaters that skimmed the wave crests right along the beach, my first experience swimming with shearwaters. These birds are typically only found way out at sea, but approach the coast in eastern Australia for nesting. Some flew right over my head as I waded in the lapping white caps. It was incredibly relaxing.

Three days left on the hill and it’s all over. I will have another 3 days to spend here in Peregian helping with clean up, and then I’m off the Mackay for 6 days of MMO. Still feeling homesick, going to book my flight back home in a few days. Reef’s birthday is in 10 days, he’ll be turning 4. Hopefully someone bakes him a dog food cake.