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Roger Payne at the Cheynes Beach Whaling Station in Albany, Australia.
Photo: Chris Johnson

May 13, 2002
Australian Leg Report
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey as we leave the temperate waters of southwestern Australia and head northwest over the gentle swell of the Indian Ocean toward equatorial waters and the Cocos Islands. We have spent a total of seven months in Australia dedicating a lot of time to Odyssey maintenance.

Odyssey First Mate - Joe Boreland, Fremantle, Australia:

"Any vessel, commercial or recreational is maintained once a year. You would haul out in the off-season depending on which part of the world you are in. A vessel like Odyssey, because we are traveling to the remote parts of the globe, we can't get hauled out because of her size in places that we go to. Once every year, once every two years is the schedule that we are [currently] working on for Odyssey."

In between periods of maintenance work in Fremantle, Roger Payne joined the Odyssey and we worked offshore western Australia. All in all, the Odyssey crew completed 5 research legs off Southern and Western Australia during which we collected a total of 38 sperm whale samples, 24 of which were from animals in the Southern Ocean. We also recorded a total of 388 acoustic samples.

Much time in Australia was dedicated to refitting the Odyssey for the next three years of its five-year global expedition.
Photo: Chris Johnson

As our study focuses on the sperm whales that we encounter in the equatorial waters of the globe, the data we got from the Southern Ocean will enable us to make valuable comparisons between high and low latitude populations. We also had the opportunity to collect samples from 2 separate Beaked whale strandings, one from a relatively common Grey's Beaked whale and the other from the extremely rare Andrew's Beaked whale.

We also found whales in areas we had not expected to find them. For example, on our first research leg, we encountered a group of 20 animals only 50 miles west of Fremantle in the Perth Trench. While we were surveying the old whaling grounds off the continental shelf 30 - 50 miles south of the town of Albany we encountered males, females and juveniles. No one had surveyed this area since the conclusion of whaling in 1978, so we were uncertain as to whether any sperm whales had survived the whaling era. We now know that a population did survive and is presumably growing.

While visiting this area it was hard not to imagine the 25 year period that ended in 1978 during which on every day for nine months of the year thousands of dead sperm whales were dragged to the whaling station for processing through the very same narrow passage we navigated on our way to search for survivors of that marine holocaust. .

It was wonderful to see that these animals still exist in their old haunts. Unfortunately, this kind of amazing escape tends to create a false sense of security. Sperm whales are definitely not safe, in fact quite the contrary. Japanese whalers are again hunting them as well as Minke, Brydes and Sei whales under the guise of science.

Sadly, it seems highly probable that soon Japan may be able to scuttle the moratorium on whaling and return the world to full-scale commercial whaling.

Captain Rodrigo Olson - Weather proved to be a challenge while researching in the Southern Ocean.
Photo: Chris Johnson

Dr. Roger Payne - Cheynes Beach Whaling Station, Albany, Australia:

"I think there is little question that the Japanese will succeed in overturning the moratorium; they have come very close already. The way they are doing it is by persuading other island nations particularly to join in with them in the International Whaling Commission. Not because those nations believe that the Japanese position is right and justified and supported by the evidence for which there is none of those but because there are all kinds of incentives -'You know we would love to help you with a dock- would you like a new dock for your fishing [industry]?'."

While working off Albany, the last place in Australia where whales were processed, we had the opportunity to meet some of the ex-Skippers and Gunners from the old whale chasers. Paddy Hart explains why they think a return to commercial whaling is a mistake.

Paddy Hart: Former whaler in Albany, Australia:

"Definitely, I don't think that there is a need for it. There's no need what so ever for it. I reckon it would be insane to start again because we got them to the stage where they were just about extinct, the humpbacks and that, long before my time whaling I might add. That's one of the reasons why I wouldn't like to see whaling again with the pelagic fleets. They did have international observers, I think, at the time, but it did not seem to count for much.

While working around Australia, we also made 28 sightings of other marine mammal species, including groups of hundreds of pilot whales, several species of dolphins, and 5 Blue whales.

We also had the opportunity to meet and work together with scientists conducting cetacean research in different parts of the world. Curt and Micheline Jenner are studying the migration patterns of the elusive 'true Blue and 'Pygmy' Blue whales that frequent the southwest Australian coast in the summer months. They are also studying the Northbound, Humpback whale migrations in winter.

Genevieve Johnson spoke to students all around Australia about the conservation of whales and the Voyage of the Odyssey program.
Photo: Chris Johnson

Curt Jenner - Director of the Australian Centre for Whale Research:

"We were quite excited to hear that the Ocean Alliance and the Odyssey were coming to work in Western Australia waters for a little while. And to study Sperm Whales was quite a novelty for us, for in the past 13 years; we have seen a grand total of 6 or 7 sperm whales. So the thought of somebody coming here to focus specifically on those animals was news to us. Of course we work in shallower water in where sperm whales are not normally found and don't often get into the deeper trench like areas except in our Pygmy Blue [whale] work. It was quite a novel thing to have another research group in Western Australia. There is really a major void in whale research in Western Australia and it is something that probably in the next years to come will slowly start to fill. I think that this is a good step to have a ship like the Odyssey working in deep waters like that can only just help us understand what is going on with the blue whales because they are obviously feeding in upwelling areas, similar to what the sperm whales are doing."

The Australian leg of our global expedition saw a significant expansion in our education and media programs. We started an important partnership with the Melbourne Zoo in Victoria, Australia. They worked with us in developing a video called 'Diving through debris'.

The 'diving through debris' video highlights the plight of hundreds of thousands of marine mammals killed every year as a result of plastic pollution discarded by humans and will be shown each week to hundreds of school children and visitors to the zoo by the education staff. Adrian Howard, one of the marine mammal Keepers at the Melbourne Zoo, acted as an observer during the Albany research leg.

This video is just one component of our new DVD program titled 'Ocean Encounters' that was developed onboard Odyssey while in Australia. Our DVD is an interactive multimedia program designed to bring the study of whales and the ocean environment, scientific research and marine conservation issues to students and the public. While still addressing specific curriculum outcomes, it gives educators a way to access multidimensional information and content from the Voyage of the Odyssey. It can be directed or modified to fit a variety of age groups and subject areas.

There is also a live component to our educational program. While at sea off Western Australia, the Odyssey crew and Roger Payne, were linked live via satellite to two groups of Year 7 students from Ballerine and Glen Waverley Secondary Colleges. The students had gathered together at the Melbourne Zoo in order to participate in a pilot program, which took 6 months to plan. Using this technology, we are now looking forward to developing partnerships with educational institutions around the globe.

Caroline Need - Teacher, Glen Waverley Secondary College:

The Voyage of the Odyssey and its research made headlines across Australia on television stations, newspapers and radio shows.
Photo: Courtesy Channel 10

"The Odyssey website is an excellent curriculum tool. It is dealing with an area that teachers don't always know a lot about. So it is a fantastic information site for the teachers to use and well as using it as curriculum back-up for the students."

We visited schools in the remote desert areas of the Northern Territory, conducted presentations for over 500 High School students at the Northern Territory Museum and Art Gallery and invited teachers to tour the R.V. Odyssey. Upon reaching Perth we spoke with scientists and curators at the Museum of Western Australia, discussed the value of a healthy ocean system with Environmental Science students from Murdoch University, and talked to more than 300 Primary school students and teachers.

We also enjoyed substantial media coverage while in Australia as the crew and Roger Payne discussed the work of the Ocean Alliance at press conferences, national radio shows, television stations and several local and national newspapers.

Excerpt from Channel 10 National News Broadcast:

"Scientists hope that whales in Australian waters will help unlock secrets about global pollution. They have sounded the depths of our oceans for thousands of years…Now these sperm whales could become a barometer of the health of our planet. The world's most advanced whale research ship - the Odyssey, is on a mission in Australian waters to measure some of the deadliest man-made toxins and their impact on the food chain"

As always, the Ocean Alliance and the crew of the R.V. Odyssey would like to thank our donors, our supporters and our tireless volunteers. It is you who make it possible for us to continue Ocean Alliance's visionary work.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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