Playing Catch-Up

Marine life can be slow- nudibranchs, jellyfish, sunfish, algae- but can also move at unbelievable speeds. Turtles may seem to take their time, but they whizz by under the boat daily and (I know from personal experience) don’t even have to exert themselves to outpace an intrusive camera-wielding diver. Even motivated dugongs, with their blubbery bulk, can pick up enough speed to evade good photography from a boat. But for the most part if left undisturbed and not on the hunt, marine mammals like dolphins and whales move at a fairly leisurely pace, taking a few shallow dives between breaths and then a longer dive below the surface.

That wasn’t the case at all when we met Pseudorca crassidens, the false killer whale. Somewhere upwards of thirty of them were spotted charging north along the outside reef, slicing through deep water and breaking the scattered whitecaps with seafoam of their own. Coming in relatively close to the boat and staying shallow, they didn’t seem to be disturbed by our presence (they have a reputation for enjoying boat races and wakes) but rather headed somewhere unknown on an urgent errand. At their speed and with spray over their short rostrums at every surfacing, they were near impossible to photograph, but fun to watch as the whole group flew by us. When we were surrounded, they were spread nearly as far as we could see through the swells, and we could turn any direction still expecting to see sleek black bodies in the waves.

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In the wake of these odontocetes (toothed whales), we spotted two different sailfishes. Although they are sometimes said to be traveling with the false killer whales, the orca research boat that pulled up alongside us for a chat informed us that they were more likely scared out of the way by the oncoming pod and are seen at the surface somewhat dazed, tired from avoiding the whales. These didn’t seem at their peak- sailfishes are supposed to be among the fastest in the ocean, but one allowed us to pull the boat (and GoPro) up alongside:

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I was worried I had the little camera (on the end of a long pole, which was catching an alarming amount of drag as we drove through the water) pointed in entirely the wrong direction to catch the big fish, but after looking at the photos, there it was. When the boat got close it dove, but only a little, and hovered around below the water for nearly a minute before disappearing deeper into the blue.

All of this is a big stupid metaphor for the fact that I haven’t blogged as much in the past few days and have a backlog of photos from this fast-paced trip that I just haven’t been able to keep up with. I haven’t even written yet about dingoes (70% on the West Coast here are pure dingo; only 5% on the East Coast can claim that level of genetic isolation from dogs; we almost certainly saw a crystalline example of Canis lupus dingo the other day on the road) or baby emus or sea snakes, and tomorrow we’ll be snorkeling and I’ll have even more to talk about. Life moves fast and even the biggest and most impressive things slip away, but I’m just going to keep moving anyways.

This is Agent Red Squirrel, sprinting off for the next adventure!

 

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