Wild Dolphins in the Southern Ocean

At short notice I received an invitation to go on a short trip with a local Apollo Bay professional fisherman on his boat the Karlene-Marie. I said yes.

Heading east in calm and clear autumn conditions.
Looking north west.
En route to set the net.
This is about as peaceful as the Southern Ocean gets.
Dolphins in formation off the bow of the Karlene-Marie. The species of dolphin in these photos is the common dolphin.

My initial editorial inclination was that half a dozen dolphin photos would be more than enough on this post. But I didn’t lose interest when I was on the boat after seeing only half a dozen dolphins. I hung over the bow for the full time they were swimming. There were so close to me that I got splashed from time to time. I was taking photos, but mostly I was just watching. I didn’t notice the passing of time at all. They were mesmerising, and I felt it a privilege to see them at such close quarters for so long. So, enjoy the product of my revised editorial inclination which is to share something more than half a dozen photos of the spectacle that held me spellbound for as long as it lasted.
The bright light and clear water worked magic on their sleek forms.
Fascinating pattern of air bubbles trailing behind the blowhole along the back of the dolphin in the middle.
The dolphins off the bow took turns at a burst of speed and porpoising out of the water as shown.
The skipper.
The deckhand.
Smaller dolphins appeared to defer to this larger dolphin, leaving her to porpoise on her own.
Heading home, in smaller swell inside the protection of Cape Otway to the south west.
The Karlene-Marie. Fifty years old and going strong.

The lines of this yacht appealed to me as a contrast to the functional beauty of the working fishing boats which surrounded it.

Thanks for the great afternoon Frosty.

Golden Hour on the Barham River

The hour before sunset is an hour of light like no other. Colours are richer, shadows are longer and darker and a soft golden glow washes over everything before switching off in an instant as the sun sets. Colour and focus quickly fade into shadowy twilight and night.


The Barham River at Apollo Bay

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This occurred shortly before the peak of the incoming tide. It is a miniature tidal bore which flows upstream against the river current. There are tidal bores in large rivers in some countries which travel quite some distance inland as a wave of six to seven feet in height which can and sometimes is ridden by surfers.

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The surf fisherman was facing south with Marengo township slightly to his right, and the Barham River flowing on the northern side of the sand dunes behind him.

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Marengo township in the distance, and the Barham River with the silver gulls and terns in the foreground.

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A peaceful coastal cameo near the mouth of the Barham River, with an unridden fast-breaking left in the shore break.

Silver gull in full hunting mode

I have taken a lot of photos of seabirds in my time, but I have never seen a silver gull do what I captured this one doing. He had his eye on a fish (I assume) and instead of landing near it and floating as gulls do when they land on the water, he kept his legs fully retracted and using his wings for power motored along using his streamlined underside as a hull and apparently keeping up with his fast swimming target. This was just like a floating hull aircraft landing on water and continuing to taxi at high speed. He bobbed his beak into the water a couple of times while speeding along the surface under wing power, with visions I think of grabbing the fish he was chasing. But it was not to be this time.

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The wake shows how far and fast he has travelled waterborne but wing-powered.

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The intended meal apparently threw an unexpected sharp left which saw the bird perform a very sudden aerobatic left turn with a high angle of bank as he attempted to stay with his prey.

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The fish must’ve realised that to survive he would have to resort to the third dimension at his disposal and dive. Undeterred, the gull dived after him, but with wings, and tail feathers ill-adapted to underwater antics, it was a short and shallow dive, and the end of the pursuit.

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The gull had to come up for air quite quickly, beak empty. The fish won this encounter, but the gull surely gets full marks for persistence, lateral thinking and effort.

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For some reason, instead of the usual forward motion (paddling with the legs) followed by wings outstretched and then up and away, this gull felt the need for a near vertical takeoff, which it achieved.

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Once all parts were clear of the water the gull transitioned into normal horizontal  flight close to the surface as it accelerated, then it climbed away and went looking elsewhere for food. Who knew the silver gull could do these things? Certainly not me.

Taking advantage of ‘ground effect’ for low and slow flight

When a bird or an aeroplane flies within half a wingspan or so of the ground, the air flow over and under the wings is affected by the proximity to the ground such that drag is reduced. This is called ground effect. All pilots and birds know about it and use it to their advantage, but birds use it better and with far greater finesse. A bird flying in ground effect is using less energy than if it was flying higher.

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Getting this shot was harder than photographing an airborne blowfly with a (600mm) hand held telephoto lens at full stretch

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Not sure what this bird is – possibly a swallow of some description. It was a speed of light darter, never flying in a straight line and varying its height all the time. It made a blowie at its peak performance look cumbersome and slow.  It seemed to be chasing small insects – it was all happening too fast for me to tell whether it was successful.

Turning on to short final for a full stop landing on the riverbank

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Rested terns

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I couldn’t resist. Write your own caption.


Mid-air collision avoidance miracles

There were essentially two agenda items for this evening gathering of crested terns (lesser crested terns and greater crested terns): sitting on the banks of the river, and taking off en masse, doing a wide circuit, and landing to resume sitting on the banks of the river.  Feeding opportunities were taken at any time as they arose.

The birds were in such close proximity to each other immediately after takeoff that it was remarkable to me that there were no collisions or near misses requiring evasive aerobatic manoeuvres. It was somehow all under control, despite how it looks.

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Crested terns in the golden glow of the setting sun

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Greater crested tern, above and below

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Last flight of the day (probably).

Juvenile Pacific gull glowing in the final moments of sunlight above evening shadows

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The colourings of the juvenile Pacific gull remind me of the wedge tailed eagle. The solitariness of this bird added to that impression.

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The foothills of the Otways between Apollo Bay and Skenes Creek in shadow. The Pacific gull was flying over the bay in the last of the sunshine. What a regal looking bird. This photo and the one following were taken from Pt Bunbury at Apollo Bay.

Crested terns in the last of the sunlight

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Uncaught Fish and Unridden Waves

There was a good swell running the other evening with a light offshore wind, which drew me to Marengo Point to take photos of waves breaking over the reef there.  From my usual vantage point half way up a small cliff, I could see Marengo beach and its relatively protected waters to my left and the swell from the Southern Ocean crashing on the outside of Little Henty Reef to my right.

The contrast between the quietude of the fisherman and his dog, and the glorious motion and might of the swell crashing on the reef was striking.

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The kelpie was most attentive to the fisherman, even though not a word or signal passed between them as far as I could tell.  It’s what kelpies do. They are life enthusiasts.  At this moment, life for this kelpie was about fishing, and he gave it one hundred percent of his attention.  I learned a little later that this fisherman and his kelpie are inseparable mates of long standing.

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Notice the kelpie’s front right paw raised in the pointing position.  More accurately perhaps, given this is a dog bred for working with sheep and cattle, it’s a variation on the motionless leg-raised stance such dogs use when concentrating and giving sheep ‘the eye’.

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Fishing from the rocks yielded nothing, and fishing from the beach was no worse. The dog remained permanently alert and engaged.

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Australian kelpie in his prime returning to his camp site on the headland after completing all fishing duties.  The beauty of the last moments of sunlight before the sun disappeared behind the hills seemed to stop the kelpie in his tracks for a moment.  Either that, or he had a sense of style and moment and simply struck a pose for me.

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Meanwhile, 150 metres away this was going on. I’ve seen larger swells, but any swell of around this size or more keeps me spellbound.

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Little Henty Reef has some very interesting underwater features, which do things like this to waves.

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Part of the reef can be seen temporarily exposed on the middle left of the image.

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Beginners’ barrel.  A most unusual formation on a breaking wave.

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Massive manes on these charging waves, blown back by the light northerly.

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The curtain falls, but the show goes on. The pretexts people might say they have for coming to the sea are many and varied. But the common denominator for all is simply being in the presence of the sea. It matters not whether the wave or the fish is caught, nor whether contentment, awe, terror or tranquility is dispensed by the ocean at any given moment. What matters is that humans feel better for answering the call of the sea.