Kia ora from Raoul! Our whale work is going slowly but steadily, and we have now successfully deployed 16 satellite tags, collected 52 tissue samples, have photographed around 70 flukes and made eight recordings of whale song. The Department of Conservation staff stationed on Raoul Island have been inviting us to visit them ever since we arrived at our current anchorage below their base. We followed up on this invitation yesterday, when a lack of whales and a choppy swell drove our boat teams back to Braveheart after only a few hours in the water. For biosecurity reasons a DOC permit and NZ customs clearance are needed to land on Raoul.
Coming from mainland Aotearoa, walking across Raoul feels like being in a smaller, slightly altered version of a Northland coastal forest. Kermadec versions of some of our iconic native species are here – nikau, pohutukawa, tui – but all are a little different from those on the mainland. The last mammalian predators were removed a decade ago and endemic birds such as the local kakariki are thriving. The DOC staff welcomed us to their homestead with freshly baked scones, biscuits and the famous Sunday Island oranges planted by the Bell family in the 19th century. The whale trail team was especially impressed by the brewing shed. Thanks to the Raoulies for their hospitality!
This morning when shifting anchorages to Denham Bay, Braveheart came across a dead humpback whale calf floating in the water. As we watched it was slowly but steadily chomped on by a 4-metre great white shark, along with at least 20 smaller Galapagos sharks. Our smaller tender is only 4.8 metres long so we’re very glad the great white was concentrating on the dead calf. We’re heading out again this afternoon to continue our search for whales (live ones).
By James Tremlett