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LatestPhoto
The Odyssey anchored off the Houtman Abrolhos Islands.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson

February 20, 2002
Sheltering High Seas in the Albrolhos
  Real Audio
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Log Transcript

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 Endeavour.

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.

LatestPhoto
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 away.

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.

Links:

  • Read more about how pollution and marine debris affects seals and sea lions.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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