The Odyssey anchored off the Houtman Abrolhos Islands.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson
February 20, 2002
Sheltering High Seas in the Albrolhos
This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Indian Ocean.
The Odyssey and her crew have again encountered incredibly rough seas with
an average wind speed of 30 knots and a swell of 3 metres.
We are currently heading toward the old sperm whaling grounds about 200-300
nautical miles northwest of the coastal town of Geraldton. Last night while
travelling south of the Houtman Abrolhos islands, we decided to take shelter
from the adverse weather conditions, in order to give the crew a full nights
rest. The Abrolhos archipelago extends 45 nautical miles north to south,
consisting of 122 low-lying, windswept coral islands, and rocks surrounded
by reef. These islands have an extraordinary maritime history with more than
twenty historic wrecks being found in the area. The most famous of the
vessels claimed was the Batavia, a ship twice the size of Captain Cook's
These islands are also one of the few remaining haul-out areas for the
Australian Sea Lion. This endemic species is entirely restricted to offshore
islands and a few mainland sites on the south and southwest coasts of
Australia. Prior to commercial exploitation, their range extended eastward
to Bass Strait and today it is not uncommon to find bones in the middens of
Tasmanian aborigines. The population is small with estimates placing the
Australian Sea lion at only 3,100 in Western Australia and about 6,000 in
South Australia where there are few records of more than 200 animals hauled
out together at any one time. In spite of the long period of full
protection, there is no evidence that the population is increasing and they
remain one of the rarest pinnipeds in the world. Their most serious enemy
are large sharks, particularly Great Whites, they are also highly vulnerable
to concentrated threats such as oil spills, entanglements in monofilament
netting and they are also targeted by a few unscrupulous fisherman who use
their flesh for shark bait.
An Australian Sea Lion.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson
This morning the crew awoke early to go snorkelling before departing. After
gaining permission from Fisheries, we took the dinghy to a tiny sandy islet
surrounded by a fringing reef. We immediately noticed two Australia Sea
Lions lazing on the sand in the early morning sun. The crew donned their
snorkelling gear and entered the clear calm shallows where we were
immediately joined by what appeared to be an inquisitive sea lion. The
animal swam around us, leaping and porpoising through the water. One of the
animals dozing on shore clambered over the sand and into the shallows. The
crew then spent an incredible morning observing these rare pinnipeds in
their natural habitat. When any one of us swam further out or dove, we were
immediately joined by the pair. They would swim fast tight circles around
us, then leap clear of the water, swimming off at speed as if inviting us to
join them. When they realized we were too slow and cumbersome to follow,
they would immediately return, rest on their flippers in the shallows,
staring at us with enormous wondering eyes.
It was finally time to leave and head back to the Odyssey, the sea lions
followed the dinghy, swimming in our wake for some distance as we drove
Our departure is now entirely dependent on the weather conditions.
Generally the summer months evoke the windiest weather off Western
Australia. The high temperatures heat the land and as a result the air rises
causing a vacuum that sucks the air from the sea creating strong southerly
winds. At our current anchorage the wind is averaging 34 knots, anything
over 20 knots makes our work at sea extremely challenging, so we will wait
here until the winds abate. We are all looking forward to the conclusion of
the austral summer months and the possibility of calmer seas.
This is Chris Johnson of the Research Vessel Odyssey.
- Read more about how pollution and marine debris affects seals and sea lions.
Log by Genevieve Johnson