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Weekend Wanderings: Sunset along the river — LEANNE COLE Fine Art Photographer

A couple of days ago I was loaned the new Nikon camera, the D500, from Nikon Australia. It is Nikons new…

via Weekend Wanderings: Sunset along the river — LEANNE COLE Fine Art Photographer

As a resident of the often-maligned state of Victoria since 2001 (apart from two years in the UK), I’ve spent enough time in Melbourne city  to have seen postcard-worthy sunsets over the river on a regular basis. Though I’m not a real city lover, the past four months have been spent working in a 30-storey building that has great views of the MCG, Melbourne Tennis Centre, Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay. And not being able to get out in the water as much as I’d like is tempered somewhat by looking out at the bay or river and soaking up those amazing views.


Seaford, Port Phillip Bay: best bay beach in Melbourne?

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It took a while to adapt to suburban life, shifting up to the metropolis of 4 million people that is Melbourne one year ago from a southwestern country town of 35,000. The beaches lacked waves, dolphins were scarce and supermarket trips took an hour less than normal, considering it was now rare to constantly run into people you knew at the shops.

But the place has grown on me (again) and we’re pretty happy to have bought a house only eight minutes from one of Melbourne’ best bay beaches (as opposed to the Mornington Peninsula surf beaches). Seaford is claimed by locals at least as its best beach, generally clean and relatively uncrowded, without flocks of jet skiers ruining the ambience of a summer afternoon. An unseasonal dry and warm spell in October meant several flat and clear days when people are usually still stoking the fire and waiting for the late spring warmth to hit.

Plastic piles up in ‘paradise’

Rubbish pile at Cape Tribulation

I had forgotten about this photo above, taken at Cape Tribulation in far north Queensland during my trip there in July this year, and rediscovered it in a scan of the images left on my camera card.

Trash piles near tropical holiday resorts are nothing new: google Hawaii and plastic waste for some disturbing images of rubbish dumped by oceanic gyres and storms. But this lot looked to have just been mainly bottles possibly left by tourists, which makes it sadder to think that people would visit one of the World Heritage Areas and be too lazy to take their trash.   

There’s not many undisturbed “rainforest meets the ocean” areas left in the world, so we should be doing our best to see they remain clean and free of plastic pollution.

Empty beach, Cape Tribulation

Scales tell the story of a farmed rainbow trout

Scales tell the story of a farmed rainbow trout

There are common grumbles during my Marine Biology degree (sometimes from my direction, often from others) that there’s not enough practical work and too much theory.
While both are necessary, the most visually interesting is obviously those good prac classes that people go away raving about, such as yesterday’s look at methods of ageing farmed (and somewhat sickly-looking) rainbow trout.
This  photo is taken from a scale reader – showing scales from below the lateral line on a 1+ year old trout, with growth lines (annuli) helping indicate the age.
The trick is picking scales from the fish that haven’t regenerated and so have been on the fish for its lifetime – not an easy task on a small fish brought up in a farmed environment!
My ancient phone doesn’t take the best shots (I drowned my smartphone on another field prac earlier this year and reverted to the old Nokia) but you can still make out the circular lines on the larger right portion of the scales.
The lecturer also showed us how to remove the otolith (ear stones) from the fish to assist with age identification by measuring the growth rings, and also measuring the teeth and intestine to determine feeding category (such as herbivore, omnivore, predator).
I’m in the middle of writing an essay on the age, diet and reproductive capacity of southern bluefin tuna (thunnus maccoyii), so practical work such as this helps to give an appreciation of the work that goes into academic research on those topics.

Holiday break in Far North Queensland

On board the Wavelength dive boat near Long Bombie

On board the Wavelength dive boat near Long Bombie

Some fortunate timing and a partner keen to try snorkeling helped provide me one of the best diving experiences of my life last week. Nine days in Port Douglas wouldn’t have been complete without a trip to the Great Barrier Reef, which I’d never visited before and nothing could have prepared me for.

Being a student, my budget hasn’t stretched to a new underwater camera after my last one died so I settled for recording the action with a HD Flip camera (a present from a friendly Google employee at a conference in North Carolina 3 years ago) in a waterproof case. The editing process may take a while but results will be up here and on Youtube in a week or so.

We also hired a cheap car for a day at Cape Tribulation and the Daintree, hoping to spot the elusive cassowary. It was only in literally the last five minutes of our drive before boarding the ferry back across the Daintree River that we spotted this youngster below, happily snacking on berries on the roadside.

Young cassowary

Young cassowary


Port Douglas, even in the peak of school holiday winter break, is a laidback place compared to the madness and plastic nature of the Gold Coast resorts. Many of the southern families seem to stay ensconced in their resorts a few kilometres from town, leaving locals and some lucky tourists to enjoy sunsets like this from vantage points close to the marina.

Sunset from the point at Port Douglas

Sunset from the point at Port Douglas

Mako shark still seen as trophy fish for local club competition

I was walking with my favourite Park Ranger yesterday on our usual wander near the Warrnambool Breakwater (the long stone wall in the background of these shots) and noticed a crowd around the weigh-in scales.

At first I thought one of the local tuna fishermen had hoisted up a decent fish for the benefit of tourists (who usually don’t appreciate the plight of the southern bluefin, but that’s another story). On making a path through the onlookers, my partner and I were pretty horrified to see a 110kg mako shark on the scale and a few impressed fishermen boasting about the catch.


Of course fishing for various shark species such as mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) and gummy (Mustelus antarcticus) is still legal in Australia (limits vary by state and territory) but hearing one fishermen state this was a “common shark in these waters” made me cringe: they are still heavily fished and listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

Hanging one up in front of a crowd helps continue the “man vs shark” stereotype that is continuing to push down shark numbers worldwide, whether for commercial or recreational purposes. Sizing up the shark when it’s caught, using circle hooks and operating on a catch-and-release basis is the only way to go for maintaining healthy shark populations.


A Photographic Tribute to The Ocean
This Earth Day, One World One Ocean is giving the ocean the attention it deserves with a special video collection of ocean photographs from our online community. Here is the ocean through their eyes. Happy Earth Day!

It’s leatherjacket season! Also, this is not a fashion article…

Six-spine leatherjacket

Yellowfin leatherjacket

Leatherjackets are amazing fish, in such colourful varieties. In the past two months, I’ve spotted five different species from the Horseshoe to the Yellowfin species (Meuschenia trachylepis) pictured. This species is often seen with the Six-spined leatherjacket, which I mistook this fish for in my original post on Facebook.

Some people have the idea that marine biologists shouldn’t be out fishing for the species we are studying but it can be a great way of identifying fish, learning where they are and aren’t present and the warning signs when stocks start dwindling.

Spearfishing is now one of my favourites sports – it’s low-impact on the marine environment as opposed to other fishing forms, as we target specific fish and only go for the type and size we want.

Obviously some people still abuse catch and size limits as in any form but the crew I dive with all play by the rules (we’re all marine biology undergrads and my partner also works for the government department dealing with fisheries compliance…)

Leatherjacket teeth

Leatherjacket teeth

This species has some serious teeth, used for crushing molluscs and slow-moving sessile animals. Anecdotally, leatherjackets aren’t fast-moving like the local zebrafish or bluethroat wrasse – most of the leatherys I’ve seen tend to hide under ledges or in crevices rather than try to outswim their prey.

“SHARK ATTACK!” NB: does not feature an actual shark attack

Marine biologists, social scientists and many shark conservation groups have been battling the stigma about sharks for decades, even before the Jaws films made going in the water a scarier prospect.

A Photoshopped image of a shark attack that fooled many viewers

A Photoshopped image of a shark attack that fooled many viewers

But despite the many graphs showing the minute number of attacks over hundreds of years, shark stories – like the crocodile yarns in the Northern Territory News – capture the imagination and are obviously relished by sub-editors who are usually responsible for the inaccurate headlines.

This article in the Guardian explores recent research on the reporting of ‘shark attacks (emphasis on last two paragraphs is my own):

Would a shark attack by another name would be any less terrifying? Researchers say it would, arguing that the current all-purpose “attack” label is unnecessarily scary, inaccurate, and is helping to drive sharks into extinction.

A study published this week in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences makes the case that the use of the term “shark attack” is overly emotional, and steeped in Jaws-type lore about “man-eating” and “rogue” sharks preying on unsuspecting beachgoers.

Instead, they suggest a sliding scale of new descriptions, from “shark sightings” to “fatal shark bites”.

To support their case, the researches note that records from the two global shark “hotspots”, New South Wales and Florida, indicate the majority of encounters were sightings or, in cases where there was contact, involved small species of shark that pose no real danger to humans.

In the case of Florida, records kept since 1882 show only 11 of the 637 confirmed cases of shark attacks ended in death – fewer than 2%. About three-quarters of the 637 encounters involved shark species that were only capable of inflicting small wounds or scrapes, and were not associated with life-threatening injuries.

The proportion of fatal shark encounters was also in the single digits for New South Wales. And yet all those incidents were lumped together under the label “shark attack”.

The researchers, Christopher Neff, a social scientist at the University of Sydney, and Robert Hueter, a marine biologist who heads the shark research centre at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, instead suggest such incidents should be re-classified according to severity.

“Until new scientific information appears that better explains the physical, chemical and biological triggers leading sharks to bite humans we recommend that the term ‘shark attack’ be avoided,” the paper said.

Future encounters should be categorised as shark sightings, where the animals are nearby but no contact takes place; shark encounters, such as a close call with a swimmer or a surfboard where there is no injury; shark bites, where there is only a single bite and only minor injury; and fatal shark bites for the small proportion of events that end in death.

The nomenclature is important because it feeds an irrational fear of sharks, the researchers said. The Jaws scenario of great white sharks belongs to the realm of fiction, Hueter said.

“When surfers hold a contest where 4ft or 5ft sharks are actively feeding and a few get bitten on their toes, and these all get reported as shark attacks, you present a wrong picture of what is going on,” he said.

The reality is very different; the sharks are the ones in peril. Shark populations have fallen drastically over the last few decades, with some populations in areas of the Pacific falling by 90%.

Conservation groups estimate that tens of millions of sharks are slaughtered each year for their fins, which are used as a thickener for shark fin soup. “When we try to argue for the need for shark conservation because of depletion of sharks, in the public mind and even in the minds of government officials, that is counteracted by this perception that these are man-eaters and that they attack people,” said Hueter.

“More than 90% of these incidents are not fatal. Most are very minor incidents and in many cases there is no injury at all, but when these things are reported and discussed as shark attacks you get a certain mindset about the behaviour of these animals. When you actually look at the outcomes, you get a very different picture.”

It’s an important argument that we should fight the notion of all sharks being human-eaters in order to make their slaughter for shark fin soup and other food products.

I know from experience seeing a shark in the water that it’s a scary prospect but much of that fear comes from watching the shark attack-focused movies, reading biased stories and listening to people who are too afraid to swim in the ocean.

My town of Warrnambool last had a serious shark attack in the 1980s but in telling a few friends about seeing a 1.5m gummy shark while spearfishing earlier this week, there was still the sense that the fear is ever-present in most people. I was able to quickly identify the shark under a ledge as a harmless gummy and saw no reason to be scared of it, so education about the different types of sharks could help more people get over their fear and start to care about shark conservation.

Smooth Stingray at the Warrnambool pier




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