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A group of Sperm Whales line the port bow of the Odyssey.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson

March 1, 2002
Whales Abound
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey.

Heathcote Williams, author of 'Whale Nation' once said:

    "From space the planet is blue.
    From space, the planet is the territory
    Not of humans, but of the whale."

At no time has this been more obvious to us than during our last two days at sea. The Odyssey crew have experienced rough weather for most of our time off the coast of Western Australia, however over the past 48 hours the winds have died, the swell subsided and the ocean has come alive with cetaceans.

Earlier in the day, 150 Pilot whales surrounded the Odyssey.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson

This morning started out similar to any other as we continued our search for sperm whales. We were heading south almost 50 miles off the coast of Jurien Bay when we encountered the first Blue whale of the day, the second of this research leg. As the seas had now calmed down, we were able to observe the animal before she disappeared over the horizon. We continued south and within two hours we had sighted our second Blue whale, we could scarcely believe our luck.. Joe and I made our way up to the "crow's nest" to take photographs. Seen from aloft, a blue whale is sleek and torpedo shaped, perfectly designed for swimming at speed through the open ocean. At about 80 feet in length, his animal was much larger than our last two Blue whale sightings both of which were close to 50 feet in length. After almost half an hour, a large cargo ship steamed between the whale and us, she dove and we never saw her again.

We awoke the next morning to the faint sound of distant whistles on the acoustic array. The clicks and squeaks gradually intensified into a roaring crescendo so we new the animals were in close proximity. We first sighted the black dorsal of a large male pilot whale about 500 meters away. As we scanned the surface, more whales appeared in every direction. Our estimates put the number of short finned pilot whales at 80 animals and we soon realized that this was actually a mixed species aggregation and that there were at least 10 Bottlenose dolphins travelling within the group.

Once again, the seas were calm and perfect for gathering data on cetaceans, and the bow-riding dolphins put on a spectacular show for the crew. The calm conditions also afforded us the opportunity of spotting an ocean sunfish and an unidentified shark species just below the surface. With such an abundance of whales in the area, we all held high hopes of meeting sperm whales next.

The crew observe a group of Bottlenose Dolphins bowriding.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson

As the sun went down we were nearing the Perth Trench. By 6.30pm we had reached the western most edge and had begun to run the 40-mile canyon. At 8.30pm, we had our first sperm whale acoustic detection. From the display on the 'Rainbow Click program, we estimated that there were at least 15 animals travelling and foraging below the surface. We tracked the animals through the night, the crew arose at dawn in preparation to spend the day with sperm whales collecting data. The sea conditions were ideal, with only a light SE breeze. At one point two smaller groups appeared to merge and we countered 13 sperm whales lined up side by side across the bow of the Odyssey. By early afternoon we had collected 3 biopsy samples before the weather began to deteriorate and we had to move on.

The last couple of days will remain vivid in our memories for a long time to come, while also offering scientists a unique opportunity to observe the abundance of cetacean species along the coastal region of south western Australia. On days such as these, when all of the elements come together, there is nowhere on this ocean planet the Odyssey crew would prefer to be.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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