Coral Sea Lanternfish Project

Australian Marine Ecology is excited to be contributing to the Coral Sea Lanternfish Project in October-November 2014. Lanternfishes are small fishes that occur in the water column of deep oceans, usually between 200 and 1500 m deep (mesopelagic). Although lanternfish are quite small, 2-15 cm, they are one of the most important components of the world’s ocean ecosystems. There is a high diversity of species, comprise a very high biomass and are an important component of the food chain. Being mesopelagic, they inhabit the gloomy depths of the ocean and each night they migrate to shallower depths, following zooplankton prey migrations. Lanternfishes are so called because they have light-producing organs, photophores, that emit a weak blue or green light, which is used for camouflage and social behaviour.

In November-December each year, one species of lanternfish Diaphus danae aggregate in huge numbers east of the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea. Co-occurring with these aggregations are predators such as tuna, squid, billfishes, whale sharks and thresher sharks. This aggregation event is the subject of ongoing investigations by Dr Adrian Flynn (Fathom Pacific) and the University of Queensland. The project will involve an intensive field program of 18 days, bringing together scientific experts from around Australia and use cutting edge technology. The project is lead by Dr Adrian Flynn (Fathom Pacific) with the support of The University of Queensland. Also on the scientific team are Alan Goldizen and Wen Sung Chung (University of Queensland), Dianne Bray (Museum Victoria), John Rumney (Eye to Eye Encounters), David Whillas (Seabotix Australia) and Matt Edmunds (Australian Marine Ecology). The project is supported by The Dalio Foundation, including provision of the MV Alucia and cutting edge video and imagery equipment.

The project involves two nine day voyages on the PMG Pride and then the MV Alucia. We are focussing on imaging techniques, including special low light and stereo (3D) video mounted on ROVs and a manned submersible. We will also be sampling lanternfish, eggs and larvae using a scientific trawl net (RMT8), plankton nets and deep drifting cameras. Much of the work will be at night, when the aggregations come up to ‘shallower’ depths. By day, we will be catching up on some sleep, but we will also be satellite tagging and observing any whale sharks we encounter. Occasionally, there are tuna aggregations at the surface during the day and any such rare events will also be part of our studies.

The scientific team is assembling in Townsville on 21 October for a week of preparations before heading to sea – stay tuned for more updates !

Whale swim tourism in Tonga...A new approach

Recently, an Australian owned company contracted our senior technical officer David Donnelly to assist in establishing Tonga’s first ethical whale swim operation. Being highly experienced in interpreting whale behavior as well as being a specialist in operating vessels close to cetaceans, David is well suited to this field of work. In July of this year he traveled to the Kingdom of Tonga to spend time with locally employed staff, sharing his extensive knowledge and experience as a whale research vessel operator. The local crew were trained in how to recognise receptive pods of whales, read behavior and safe vessel maneuvering around whales. It is important that vessel operators engaged in whale swim operations are aware of the risks to not only swimmers but also the whales. Traditionally, cows with calves have been easy targets for whale swim operations but little consideration has been given to the potential impacts this industry may be having on these sensitive pods or to the long term survivorship of calves. In the not so distant past, this population of humpback whales were hunted close to extinction and though numbers have increased, they are still far from fully recovered to pre-whaling numbers. It is for this reason that a carefully considered approach be given to operating around this recovering population of animals. We hope that over time, this passive approach to whale swim tourism may help to set a new ethical standard for this economically important industry.








Marine Science Talk at Melbourne Aquarium

Last night, David Donnelly presented a public talk on cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in Victoria. The evening was hosted at Melbourne Sea Life Aquarium as part of the ‘TRACKS’ Marine Discovery series of public talks. This series of public talks is designed to provide opportunities for learning as well as to help raise funds for small research groups. David’s presentation gave a comprehensive overview of cetacean species that reside in or migrate through Victorian waters, with special attention paid to killer whales (Orcinus orca) Earlier in the evening the Dolphin Research Institute’s research officer Sue Mason presented an informative talk on her PhD topic which is focused on the unique resident common dolphin population within Port Phillip Bay. The evening attracted over 50 attendees and was successful in raising just over $1,000 for the Dolphin Research Institute’s on-going dolphin monitoring program.

Cape Howe Marine National Park survey

Our final subtidal reef monitoring survey for the 2013/2014 monitoring season is complete. Over three days in May, Australian Marine Ecology scientists Matt, Dave and Bryan surveyed in and around the Cape Howe Marine National Park for the Parks Victoria Subtidal Reef Monitoring Program. This unique marine park is located in the far east of Victoria, along the New South Wales border, in the Twofold Shelf bioregion.

The coastline here is dotted with rocky headlands and localised outcrops of granite, such as at Cape Conran, Point Hicks, Gabo Island and Iron Prince. Sea temperatures are generally warmer in the Twofold Shelf region compared to elsewhere in Victoria because of incursions of the East Australian Current (although Dave still looked pretty cold sometimes). The continental slope is quite close here and cold-water upwellings are frequent. These upwellings provide nutrients to the inshore ecosystems, contributing to high productivity. The biota of this region has a high component of eastern temperate species, in addition to many southern temperate and cosmopolitan species. We observed several schools of Banded Morwong (Cheilodactylus spectabilis) and measured heaps of black-lipped abalone (Haliotis rubra) inside the park.  We are now in the process of analysing all the data and preparing reports for Parks Victoria. These “Technical Series” reports on the subtidal reef monitoring program will be publicly available through the Parks Victoria website.

Special Thanks to Reinhart Strauss and his skippers and crew for assisting us with their vessels and excellent knowledge of the local waters. We look forward to working with you again next year.
















qCore - Our new database management system

Australian Marine Ecology, Fathom Pacific and Nordinson Industries have teamed up to develop a unique software-driven database management system. qCore is a data entry, exploration and analysis tool for environmental practitioners used to help guide management decisions for our clients. The software includes QA/QC procedures and a dashboarding feature to provide better transparency and project management.

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