Archives For seaweek

Seaweek is New Zealand’s annual national week about the sea. It’s about exciting and inspiring all New Zealanders to renew their connections with the sea!

Continue Reading...

Happy Seaweek New Zealand! To celebrate today’s photo is from the Kapiti Marine Reserve.

Continue Reading...

Welcome to Seaweek 2015 (28 February to 8 March). It’s time to “Look beneath the surface – Papatai ō roto – Papatai ō raro”.

Continue Reading...

This week’s photo shows an erect-crested penguin on New Zealand’s subantarctic Bounty Islands.

Erect-crested penguin. Photo: Tui de Roy. Copyright. DOC use only.

The image celebrates Seaweek 2014 (1–9 March 2014) — a national celebration of our marine environment with hundreds of events taking place around the country.

It also represents the wildlife now protected as a result of the three new subantarctic marine reserves established this week.

Photo copyright Tui de Roy | DOC use only

By Claudia Babirat, Community Relations Officer

Jiggidy jiddigy! To celebrate Seaweek – and the nationwide launch of the fabulous Marine Meter Squared programme – the DOC team in Coastal Otago decided to get hip and do their own version of the Harlem Shake!

DOC Coastal Otago team do the Harlem Shake.

The Harlem Shake – Seaweek style!

To those who don’t know, the Harlem Shake is a phenomenon that has swept the world-wide web! So, in our lunch hour, a group of us rocked our stuff dressed in our most fabulous Seaweek costumes. We challenge everyone out there to have as much sea related fun as we did this week!

Happy Seaweek folks!

This week is Seaweek (2-10 March), so to celebrate, we share an interview with sea lover and Technical Advisor (Marine), Andrew Baxter.

Andrew Baxter beside a whale-free Golden Bay beach.

Taking a bit of R&R beside a whale-free Golden Bay beach

How did you become interested in marine biology?

I grew up on a mixed cropping and sheep farm in mid-Canterbury, miles from the sea, with a salmon fishing rod in one hand and a rifle in the other. I suppose my interest in marine biology began with family Christmas holidays as a kid at Kaikoura—plenty of rock pools to explore and fish to catch—and gradually unfolded while I was at Canterbury University.

Learning to dive at this time was also a big eye opener. From there I went to Taranaki for a couple of years, and then had a few years in Wellington before heading to Nelson in 1987 to work for DOC (where I have remained for more years than I care to count).

What is it about the sea that presses your buttons?

Definitely its mysteries. We know so little about it compared to the land—new things are being discovered all the time: from several new species each week, to the intricate complexities and linkages that tie everything together.

Also the sea’s vulnerabilities. The sea is hugely important to New Zealanders. Yet people often take it for granted because it’s huge and it looks “fine” from the surface. But take a closer look and it’s not as robust as we might otherwise think.

A blue whale that washed up on the West Coast.

A blue whale that washed up on the West Coast, just north of the Patutau river

Why the interest in marine mammals in particular?

My job involves everything from snails to whales. However, with such a diverse array of marine mammals and the number of strandings we get, marine mammals can be a significant part of my job at times.

If whales are so smart, how come so many of them strand themselves on beaches?

Many of course simply die at sea from natural causes and wash up on our shores. Live strandings are more of a conundrum and there are many theories why whales and dolphins strand. In a lot of cases I suspect there is not just one causative factor but rather two or more in combination.

Like us, whales breathe air, and like us, they presumably will have a strong aversion to drowning. So when they become sick or injured a natural reaction will be to seek shallow water. For a highly social species, including pilot whales, their strong social bonds and natural instincts to look after one another can turn against them. One sick individual can lead to a chain reaction and a mass stranding unfolds.

Accidents happen (even for whales) and for a species that also echo-locates, gently shelving beaches like those in Golden Bay are particularly risky. The whales’ sonar disappears into the distance rather than being reflected back and Farewell Spit forms the perfect whale trap.

Volunteers and DOC staff work hand in hand at strandings.

Volunteers and DOC staff work hand in hand at strandings

What’s the first thing people should do when they come across a stranding?

Contact DOC (0800 DOCHOT) and let us know all the details from location, species and number of animals to weather and sea conditions.

And the second?

Be careful! Whales (even the smaller ones) are hugely powerful and can cause serious injury if they lash out. In particular, avoid the area around the tail. If you are able to, keep the whales wet and covered with a sheet, avoiding the blow hole they breathe through.

A smaller cetacean species that stranded on a beach.

Many species strand, from smaller cetaceans (e.g. dolphins and pilot whales) through to the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale

Are we any closer to figuring out how to stop whales from stranding in the first place?

Not really. They are, after all, natural events.

People sometimes suggest putting in sonar reflectors, acoustic deterrent devices or underwater speakers that play orca sounds (or perhaps Barry Manilow music?). Aside from the question of cost, the difficulty is that whales are not totally stupid (despite what people might think from them stranding) and could just swim around or investigate them.

Several years ago we trialled the use of a bubble curtain—a compressor and a long perforated hose to create a wall of bubbles that reflect a whale’s sonar. It worked initially, but once one whale discovered it was effectively an illusion by accidentally breaking through the “wall”, they all began to ignore it.

Loud acoustic devices or ones that play orca sounds could cause panic and drive whales ashore. Also, we don’t want to drive away other species that inhabit coastal areas.

If you could talk to whales, what are some of the first questions you’d ask them?  

Obviously, “Why can’t you get your act together and not strand?”

It would also be good to ask them what they think about our management of the oceans, from noise, pollution and “scientific whaling” to tourism and fishing. I also wonder if whales have forgiven humans for hunting some of them almost to extinction.

Many people helping to refloat whales at a stranding.

Whale strandings can attract many people, including volunteers willing to spend long and exhausting hours trying to refloat them

What is the strangest stranding you have attended? 

A number of years ago I was phoned on Christmas morning about an orca stranded on HaulashoreIsland. Foregoing bacon, eggs and hash browns (that I had just cooked) and a bottle of cheap bubbly, I rushed down to Rocks Road with a colleague and some binoculars to check it out. There looked to be a small orca on the cobble shore, but with a blustery south-westerly blowing it was very hard to get a good view.

Luckily a hardy kayaker checked it out and discovered it was an inflatable plastic orca which must have blown off Tahuna Beach.  After initially being pumped up to help rescue an orca, finding it was an inflatable whale was a bit of a let down. Suffice to say we left a bit deflated.

At the end of a stranding, what do you most take away from it apart from exhaustion? 

Depending on the outcome, you can leave elated, frustrated or emotionally drained. Making some hard decisions around euthanasia can be very challenging emotionally. But the biggest thing I always take away from a large stranding is the sense of camaraderie from working alongside iwi, volunteers from near and far, and other DOC staff. Big strandings require a huge team effort.

What is it about New Zealanders’ treatment of the marine environment that depresses you the most?

The “out of sight, out of mind” syndrome, and the false presumption that the sea is vast and can cope with anything.

The attitude that it is always “someone else’s fault” is also frustrating. We are only going to make a difference through people taking personal responsibility. Even simple things such as not littering and sticking to the fisheries limits can make a huge difference if everyone does it.

And what gives you the most hope?

There are some very clever and astute young people coming through the education system.  They are our biggest hope for the future. Working with community groups like Te Korowai o Te Tai o Marokura in Kaikoura has also shown me the power of local communities taking responsibility for their own areas.

Taking samples from a dead whale.

Taking samples from a dead whale.

If you were the benevolent dictator of New Zealand, what are a few of the first things you’d do to make it a better place?

Assuming I also had an open cheque book, I would provide significant funding to all the health, social and environmental community groups that are trying so hard to make a difference—often with so little.

If you were a marine mammal, what would you be and why?

There are two options here. The Andrews’ beaked whale (yes, there really is a whale called that), for no better reason than its obviously great name. Though if I had to choose just one, I would pick an orca (killer whale), simply because they are at the top of the food chain and don’t have to worry too much about anything else with sharp teeth and an empty stomach, except perhaps when young.

The Tauranga DOC team have been all at sea lately – literally.  

Oscar the seal makes friends wherever he goes

DOC boat the 'Rewa' heads out to Tuhua Marine Reserve for a compliance check

Rangers Dan and Dave have been speaking at the local Bluewater Classic & One Base fishing competition briefings and regularly patrolling the Tuhua Marine Reserve to make sure that everyone knows where the marine reserve is and keeps their fishing rods out of it.  Dan is also making preparations for next week’s annual fish survey in the reserve with marine studies staff and students from the Bay of Plenty Polytech.  

Tuhua Marine Reserve is one of over 30 no-take marine reserves established around New Zealand to protect marine organisms and their habitats for future generations to come.  It’s a great place to dive or snorkel and enjoy some magical underwater scenery.  

Ranger Laura has been catching up with our local permitted dolphin watching operators to make sure they’re keeping the best interests of the dolphins at heart. Commercial operators can help to protect dolphins by giving people the opportunity to see, fall in love with and learn about them.  The permits we issue and monitor require operators to meet set conditions and follow the Marine Mammals Protection Regulations so that their impacts on the dolphins are minimised.  

All boaties can help to look after whales, dolphins and seals by making sure that they know and follow the rules.  The regulations include rules about safe boat speed, distance and angles of approach so that people can enjoy watching whales, dolphins and seals without causing them harm.  

Oscar in action at the Maketu Kaimoana Festival

Awhi helps a young fisherman to learn about marine reserve rules a size limits

Our Maori Cadet – Ranger Awhi & I took Oscar the seal to the Maketu Kaimoana Festival last weekend.  We use him to help us educate people  about marine reserves and marine mammal protection.  We also set up a fishing game so that kids (and their parents) could learn the no-fishing rule in marine reserves and practice measuring fish to check if they meet the Ministry of Fisheries size limits for recreational fishing.   

With Seaweek (7-14 March) coming up  I’ve got more work for Oscar this weekend – I’ll be taking him down to the Mount Maunganui Underwater Club Clean-up at Pilot Bay on Saturday to meet the locals there.  There’s lots happening around the country for Seaweek – its all listed on the website: www.seaweek.org.nz.  Some of the Tauranga event line-up includes:  

  • a public ‘virtual tour’ of the Tuhua Marine Reserve that Ranger Pete is organising on Thursday 11th March where our marine scientist – Kim Young, will share underwater photos and the findings from over a decade of fish monitoring in the reserve
  • A Sea Bird Cruise with the South Sea Sailing Company and local bird expert Tony Crocker on 13th March
  • a marine photography field trip with Dr Kim Westerskov and Captain Graeme Butler on 21 March & 11 April

Aside from Seaweek, March is a good month in Tauranga for getting involved in or learning more about caring for our environment. The Tauranga Environment Centre have put together an amazing calendar of events for “Sustainable Backyards” month; from an educational harbour cruise or guided bush walk to organic farm tours and cheese-making workshops, there’s something for everyone – make sure you check it out.  

Sea you out there!