The Snubfin Dolphin

A  relatively new dolphin species, the Snubfin dolphin, wasn’t discovered in Australia until 2005. Most live in the Northern Australian waters, with only a few sightings of the species extending up as far as Papua New Guinea. No global population is known, however, the population is estimated to be extremely low, and is likely to be diminishing. Roebuck Bay, off the coast of Broome is a noted hot spot for the species with a population of less than 200.

Personal research indicates if care isn’t taken, the species may be gone in the blink of an eye with virtually only one generation having had the joy of knowingly witnessing this unique species of mammal.

Resembling the South East Asian Irrawaddy Dolphin, their blunt, rounded heads present a totally different looking marine mammal than the bottle nosed dolphin we’re familiar with in Australia. The neck is a distinct, functional feature that allows the animal to turn it’s head without turning it’s body.

A rounded head, and movable neck.

They feed on fish, squid and crustaceans, and use a unique technique known as ‘spitting’ to catch fish. They will spit a metre or so in front of their prey, causing them to panic and change direction – often reversing direction straight back into the dolphins mouth.

We recently went out on an eco/dolphin tour with Cameron and his crew from Broome Whale Watching. The main purpose of the tour was to learn about, and see the unique Snubfin dolphin.

The species are found in groups averaging around five, but sometimes up to 15. As we headed out into Roebuck Bay in search of our main subject, Cameron’s commentary of Roebuck Bay gave us a good insight into the unique environment the Snubfin lives in. We came across a few other marine creatures, including a giant Mantaray, before a family group of nine Snubfins was spotted. This group was engrossed in having some ‘fun family time’, so we were able to drift in close to watch them at play.

When Snubfins socialise they form tight groups, and roll around interacting intensely with each other. They even blow ‘raspberries’ – true!!! At these times they seem oblivious to anything other than each other, making them particularly vulnerable to vessel strikes. The intensity of their play, shallow waters, and the high speed of boats means that the dolphins are unlikely to react in time to get out of the way of boats. In addition, the overlap between the dolphins foraging area and recreational fishing zones increases the risk of injury to these unique marine mammals.  In a recent study 63% bore the scars from vessel strikes, fishing nets, or fishing lines. The group we stopped and watched from a safe and respectful distance clearly showed some of the scars.

Scars of interaction with man clearly evident.

When playing they interact with each other very closely making them difficult to photograph with our little camera. That new camera  is rapidly changing status from being a ‘want’ to becoming a ‘need’, and will be with us very soon I should think.

Every so often the group would all dive together, seemingly giving us a united wave goodbye with their tails. It wouldn’t take long for them to surface again though, and Cameron would manoeuvre his boat around and drift in close allowing us to watch them a little longer.

A synchronised tail wave as they dive below.

Currently under Australian legislation, the Australian Snubfin Dolphin is simply listed along with other whales and dolphins. Reviewing and uplisting the current conservation status of the Snubfin to ‘threatened’ is imperative if we’re to avoid a repeat of reaching the recent extinction of the Yangtze river dolphin.

Thankfully we have tour operators like Cameron and his crew from Broome Whale and Dolphin Watching Tours who care about these creatures and the environment they live in. Their livelihood depends on it.  I personally would love to see a slight increase in tour operators, and commercial fishing charters, and a significant decrease in individual motor boat and jet skis operators. Some people would disagree, believing the charter boat operators to be unscrupulous. Possibly some can be, but their livelihood depends on the environment and it’s creatures remaining healthy.  My gut feeling is there are enough Australian operators with an eye on conservation and the sustainability of eco tourism to keep the unscrupulous operators in line.

If the tour operators can stimulate their client’s interest, they increase the chances of the masses aiding any future conservation efforts. My interest was certainly stimulated. They’re amazing creatures, unlike any other dolphin I’ve seen before.  I hope my great-grandchildren also get to see them.

A morning out on the turquoise waters of Roebuck Bay, watching Snubfin Dolphins at play – what a pleasure.

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Broome’s own Jurassic park

We took a sunset flight on a Broome’s hovercraft, Big Bird yesterday evening, curtesy of Alice and Paul (this years birthday present). And yes, it is ‘a flight’, and not, ‘a ride’. The hovercraft hovers approximately 3 feet above the ground, so it is technically flying, and the person directing it is termed a hovercraft pilot.

Big Bird

I must admit, although I’d heard of dinosaur prints in Broome, I hadn’t really taken much notice. I think I had a certain of amount of scepticism too – thinking it was perhaps a lot of hype. After all, wouldn’t footprints, no matter how big and deep, disappear over the passage of time? Seemingly not, and we’ve now seen the proof, proof which was absolutely clear.

We were the first to be picked up from our accommodation at approximately 2.45PM. Our driver quickly whizzed around Broome picking up the rest of yesterdays tour, and after the usual safely information, we boarded the craft. Our pilot, Miles, visually, and quietly, assessed us (for weight) as we boarded, and directed us to where we needed sit. Apparently, weight distribution is important. Then we were on our way.

Big Bird is housed at the top of a ramp overlooking Roebuck Bay. I’m not sure if it’s possible for them to be flown in reverse, I think Miles said not. Anyway, he did advise it slides of it’s own accord down the ramp and onto the Roebuck Bay mudflats. It felt like we were travelling very slowly, so we were all surprised to hear we had been flying along at around 40 kms per hour. We were lucky enough to be seated on the left side of the craft, and yesterday, most of greenback turtles resting on the mud flats where on our side.

Greenback turtle resting on the mudflats.

We came to rest on damp but firm, tidal mud flats across the bay. Miles then took us to where nine footprints of an adult dinosaur are, plus several smaller prints that have been identified as a juvenile of the same species. Miles did say what type of dinosaur it’s been identified as, but the name escapes me now. It has been identified as a herbivore though, that I remember that much. Apparently these foot prints were made approximately 120 million years ago, how awesome is that.

To demonstrate the regularity of the prints, Miles picked nine of us to each stand in one of the adult footprints. They were definitely a regular distance apart, and one could almost visualise the huge, gentle giant meandering through the clay with her feet sinking several feet with each and every step. Clearly, from the small footprints, the juvenile was wondering along in the care of it’s parent, presumably it’s mother.

I don’t begin to profess an understanding of how the footprints came to be preserved, but from the explanation given, I have a vague idea. It involves solidification of the mud, and the rising up of Gondwana…..Ha, that much I got!  Those nine prints are something that have to be seen. Photographs couldn’t show the regularity that demonstrates clearly what they are.

Next, Miles showed us two more footprints, these ones on a higher rock shelf. In these ones it shows the compression of the foot prints. Paul’s attempted to photograph these. Knowing what it is, we can clearly see the absence of the layers caused by the compression, but I’m not sure it’ll be evident in the photo to anyone who wasn’t there to see it in person. Anyway, see what you make of it….

Giant foot print

Apparently, the Kimberley region, and particularly around Broome, there’s an unparalleled number of dinosaur tracks, Australia’s own Jurassic park. 21 species of footprints have been confirmed, with one of them being the only confirmed evidence of the Stegosaur. Additionally, the largest footprint ever recorded has been found here. By contrast though, no skeletal remains have been found here. Apparently, the climate here means the bones would have been broken down but the elements and literally would have turned to dust.

After the science lesson, we were presented with a glass of bubbly, and a table was set up on the mud flats with a fantastic variety of canapés as the sun set. We hardly needed dinner when we arrived back at our caravan park.

If you have an interest in pre-historic life, then this tour is a must. And if you don’t have much of an interest in pre-historic life, I’m sure this tour would tweak your interest. It certainly did for us. Dinosaur stories will never be the same again – it’s given them a reality that goes way beyond the Jurassic Park movie.

The Spotted Bower Bird

Bowerbirds are small, rather slim birds approximately 30cms long, closely related to birds of paradise.They’re unremarkably blackish-brown, apart from a lilac, retracting crest at the nape of the neck of a mature, bower owning, male. The lilac crest is vivid in colour, but only when he chooses to display it. They’re predominantly an eastern states bird, but we’ve seen quite a few in and around Katherine.

The lilac crest displayed on a male Spotted Bowerbird.

The lilac crest displayed on a male Spotted Bowerbird.

They’re well known for their complex mimicry vocalisations, including mimicking a dog barking, or the noise of a bird of prey should they feel threatened.

The male bowerbirds use twigs to weave a courtship tunnel (or bower). At both entrances to the bower he builds an intricate, colour co-ordinated, display court. Some of these bower sites may be retained by successive generations for upwards of 20 years.

Twigs used to build an intricate bower approximately 400 cms in length.

Twigs used to build an intricate bower approximately 40 cms in length.

There are several different species of Bowerbirds, and each builds their display courts in their own colours.

The richly coloured, yellow Regent Bowerbirds decorate their avenues with snail shells, berries, pebbles and leaves in colours of red-black and yellow-brown. Satin Bowerbirds decorate with blue coloured objects, and Spotted Bowerbirds construct neat piles using white, silver/grey and pale green objects.

Very close to where we’re camped we’re fortunate enough to have a Spotted Bowerbird busily tending his bower and court. He’s fascinating.

If you look closely at the objects in the mounds you’ll see lots of white and silvery grey pebbles, pieces of silver paper, white snail shells, broken pieces of green glass, a few nuts and bolts (most of which have green heads on bolts), and there’s even a 20 cent coin. There’s green leaves and small wild green lemons and green baby mangos.

Note the green heads on the bolts, and the 20cent coin near the left of the courtyard.

Note the green heads on the bolts, and the 20cent coin near the left of the courtyard.

Shiny pieces of crumpled aluminium foil.

Shiny pieces of crumpled aluminium foil.

A clothes peg, and piece of broken glass carefully chosen to colour co-ordinate

A clothes peg, and piece of broken glass carefully chosen to colour co-ordinate

Even the small wild lemons are chosen according to their colour.

Even the small wild lemons are chosen according to their colour.

I’ve raided my sewing box and have placed some small pearly buttons, some green buttons, and a few other pieces of shiny beads etc nearby. It’ll be interesting to see if these pieces take his fancy and end up in his display.

He’s managing to attract a few females to his bower using his special courtship style. This involves walking in wide circles with a raised head, open beak, cocked tail and drooped wings. He often uses props during his display carrying either brightly coloured leaves, pieces of fruit, or items from his courtyard.

He’s a joy to watch, but I’m not so sure he’s finding it such a joy to have us watching him. We’re distracting from both his house keeping, and his courtship. Sometimes nature provides entertainment for which there is no man-made equal.

What a pleasure.

Dunmarra Road House – worth a stopover

We left Mt Isa and headed for Katherine with two stops on the way. The first was uneventful at Barkley Homestead. The second at Dunmarra Road House had us socialising with some special locals.

I’m not sure what it is about cows and us. A lot of our more special memories from this road trip involve bovine creatures. We had read that Dunmarra has a few resident water buffalo, and if you’re lucky enough you may see one or two wandering between the caravans.

However, the water buffalo seemed to make a beeline for Paul ‘the cow whisperer’, and stayed nearby all afternoon and well into the evening.

Check out the span of those horns.

Check out the span of those horns.

Sharing an apple.

Sharing an apple.

I thought she was going to come inside.

I thought she was going to come inside.

Enjoying a head scratch.

Enjoying a head scratch.

We thought she was going to join us for a beer with the neighbours.

We thought she was going to join us for a beer with the neighbours.

But no, she just wanted another scratch.

But no, she just wanted another scratch.

There were two others that we managed to get close to as well, but these two were the most photogenic. We had a lovely time at Dunmarra. What a pleasure!

We’ve been in Katherine for more than a week now catching up with Kelv, and also our friends Bruce and Wendy. It’s been a busy time with lots happening. We look like having a spare day tomorrow,  so I’ll try and post again and bring you all up to date. There’s lots of news, and I promise – no more cows.

Juries back – thumbs down

Less than four weeks into our station experience and we decided it wasn’t for us. We were in it for the experience, but when the experience wasn’t proving to be a good one, we saw no point in slogging away at it for pay that worked out to considerably less than the minimum Australian hourly rate. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t in it to earn big money, we weren’t even in it to earn good money, but we had hoped for a pleasant experience for fair money. Neither were evident.

Not all bad though. Station life was something we’d wanted to have a look at,  so we’ve ticked off that box (even if in this case it’s more a big red cross than a tick), at least we’ve had a snap shot look.

Paul managed to get a few more snaps. The cows, although timid in station numbers, are quite beautiful. I’m sure in a very small numbers they’d make gorgeous pets.

Looking healthy and contented.

Looking healthy and contented.

Yum, lip smacking good 'cow lick'.

Yum, lip smacking good ‘cow lick’.

I had always thought the best sunrises and sunsets were evident over oceans, but  we’ve seen some incredible sunrises and sunsets inland. We were treated to some on the station that makes those over the ocean pale in comparison.

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Gorgeous sunrises

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And bright sunsets.

We had decided on Wednesday that we would leave. We were going to see out the week-end but it rained Wednesday afternoon, and with rain comes slippery mud, and with slippery mud, the ringers can’t work. So, work was off for Thursday and Friday. There seemed little point in hanging around, so we waited for the muddy roads to dry out enough to allow a safe and sure exit, and we left.

Leaving.

Leaving.

We’ve been enjoying a few days of down time in Mount Isa, which I’ll tell you about soon. I must say, it’s been a treat to start the days with a lovely ‘lie in’, enjoying a cuppa in bed as we peruse the internet. Yes, we’re back to full speed internet and phone cover – what a pleasure!!

Long awaited photos

We have today off, so have driven into town so as to be able to catch up with internet things, one of which is a quick a blog update with some photos from the station.

Before I get to those though – Paul’s dad? Last we heard Social Services were trying to get a care package in place for his discharge from Shawside, either last Thursday, or this coming Monday. We’ve asked to be notified. As we haven’t heard anything to the contrary, we’re presuming Social Services didn’t get their act together for Thursday, so we presume dad will be going home tomorrow – but we’re not holding our breath.

Monthly internet gets updated at the station on the 14th of each month, and runs slightly more efficiently for the first couple of weeks following the update. More efficiently, means we can almost guarantee we’ll be able to get emails through at some time during a 24 hour period, but it may mean going on line around 3am when no-one else is on line. After the first two weeks it goes really slow, and for the last few days before this months renewal we couldn’t get anything at all, at any time of day. Our mobile phone doesn’t get any cover at all, so for anyone trying to contact us, please use email, eventually we’ll pick it up.

And now onto some photos:

A few of the 28,000 head of cattle.

A few of the 28,000 head of cattle.

And a few more.

And a few more.

You’ll notice most of the scenery is miles and miles of wide open spaces, baron and brown. But there’s dams and water holes dotted all around, and the Flinders and Norman Rivers that provide water. With the water comes trees, with the trees comes birds – and with water, trees and birds, and no people for miles and miles comes a peace and tranquility that’s almost spiritual.

The murky, but tranquil Flinders river running through the property - croc habitat, so didn't get too close.

The murky, but tranquil Flinders river running through the property – croc habitat, so didn’t get too close.

The wondrous beauty of the Australia outback. But – would I like to live there forever. I appreciate it’s beauty, but it’s a bit too isolated for me for any real length of time.

Now – onto life at the station. Juries still out I’m afraid. I love the job itself and Paul’s okay with what he’s doing. However, we’ve often said we don’t care what we do, as long as we’re doing it for, and with a nice crew. And there in lies the problem.  We’d thought with only a small crew of around 15 all living on the station that there would be a bit of family type atmosphere with a bit of jovial comaradie. It’s not like that at all. There appears to be a big divide between the managers and the crew, and it doesn’t make for a particularly good working and living environment. It’s looking more and more unlikely that I’ll get to say, ‘what a pleasure’, and being a bit hedonistic, we like our pleasure. That doesn’t mean we don’t like the hard work, we don’t mind that at all. We don’t mind the low pay either,  but the atmosphere has to be right. There seems to be an undercurrent here of discontent, sometimes surfacing into full blown battles, between either management and the boys, or the managements off sider and the boys. Everyone’s unhappy, and the atmosphere gets  heavy.  Shame, it could have been good. But for now, we’ll wait and see. It’s still a bit early to make any knee jerk reactions.