Day 4: Monkey Island

By October 8th, 2019

By Greta Creed

From the Marine National Facility’s RV Investigator we see a vast ocean in all directions. Below that surface, we know there is an abundance of marine organisms. But sometimes we get a glimpse of other amazing fauna at and above the ocean surface.

True confession time – I love birds and cetaceans, so the opportunity to contribute to the monitoring of both is a huge bonus on this voyage. Dr Eric Woehler (University of Tasmania) is the principal investigator looking at the distribution and abundance of seabirds and marine mammals (top predators in the marine ecosystem). He has completed many voyages, including 17 in the last four years. Dr Woehler has an amazing knowledge of the ecology of seabirds in particular, which he joyfully shares with the constant stream of visitors to Monkey Island (a nickname for the ship’s top observation deck). From this vantage point during daylight hours, observations of seabird and mammal numbers, ages (juvenile/adult), feeding patterns and other behaviours are continually being recorded.

Brown Booby taken from the RV Investigator

Brown Booby. Photo: Dr Eric Woehler.

Mammals recorded so far include humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins (in waters closer to Brisbane). Seabirds spotted so far include a number of shearwater, booby, frigate bird and tropic bird species. Flying fish have also been frequently observed.

Dr Woehler, fellow observers Kylie and Jess, and the frequent visitors to Monkey Island are continuing to contribute meaningfully to a wider collection of data sets which spans Antarctic, Australian and international waters from the 1940s to today. Other data collected continually on the ship is also helping to help create a more thorough picture of the marine environment in which these top predators live.

Bottle Nosed Dolphin from IN2019T02

Bottlenose dolphin. Photo: Dr Eric Woehler.

In Australia’s offshore Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an area greater than that of the Australian mainland, data we have about marine top predators is patchy and sparse. Gaps such as these in our understandings of the marine environment give our students so many opportunities in the pursuit of careers in Science. Gaps in my knowledge are being filled by Dr Woehler and his team.

Booby at sunset

Booby at sunset. Photo: Greta Creed.

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