Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Sad Fate of Mr. Deaddington: Straddie Days 3-4

For me, the last several days have been filled with work on research projects: a) experiments in the field regarding consumption rates (preferences) of whole carrion versus mangled/damaged carrion, and b) prep work for our experiment on the rates of consumption of fresh vs. aged carrion.  It has certainly been a learning experience.

Preparing prawns for aging (experiment in a couple of days)

Yesterday, we found a wobbegong shark trying to eat one of our fish.  It was about 2 feet long, and really neat!  (Kind of scary to be in the water close to a shark, but at least it wasn't a bull shark.)  We named him George.  We also became familiar with another set of scavengers: Icarus and the Rat Pack (all birds).  They were out in force during yesterday's experiment, trying pitifully to dive and get the fish that we'd staked just a little too deep for their reach.  For some reason, they weren't really around during today's experiments.

This morning, we attempted our first experiment at high tide.  We waded out into chest-deep, cold, somewhat murky water, wearing wetsuits and snorkeling gear, and carrying dead fish attached to stakes and buoys.  My borrowed wetsuit was a tiny bit too big, so it managed to let in water - not so good for retaining heat.  Our first challenge was attempting to actually put the stakes in the sand.  This is harder than it sounds, in 4-5 feet of water with a decently strong current.  The experiment involved checking on the fish in 15-minute intervals, to see if they'd been eaten.  Unfortunately, given how far out we were, it wasn't particularly feasible to go back to shore in between checking the fish, so we stood or floated in the chilly water for an hour.  Some of the fish still hadn't been eaten at the hour mark, but we decided to modify our experiment slightly at that point, since we'd been in the water for about an hour and a half (including experiment set-up time), and were all shivering.  Science can occasionally give way to not dying of hypothermia.

Immediately after we got out of the water, we had the option of going for a snorkel with our instructor and other classmates.  I declined.  Tea and warmth were more important.

In the afternoon, we took a walk on the other side of the island - the ocean side.  So beautiful!  We saw humpback whales migrating off the coast, and dolphins playing in the waves.

Humpback whale 

Dolphins surfing the waves

This afternoon was Round 2 of today's experiment - at low tide, thank goodness.  We attached the usual number of dead fish to the stakes and headed out.  We named one particularly mangled fish Mr. Deaddington.  Waded out - the water much warmer than that morning - and placed the fish.  Mr. Deaddington was eaten in half an hour, probably by the large fish I saw nearby - one of the first bait items to go.  R.I.P.

About 15 minutes into our experiment, we looked down the channel a few hundred meters and saw two dolphins fishing!  They would speed through the water at an incredibly fast pace, the fish jumping frantically into the air, and the dolphins catching the fish.  Amazing to watch!  In other news, one of my team members stepped on a little stingray (which didn't sting her), and one of my other team members got within about 3 feet of a 2-foot-long shark (that was NOT a wobbegong, but has not yet been positively identified as a bull shark) that then decided to swim directly towards him.  Just goes to show that science can increase your adrenaline levels.

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