For our second boat trip, we were scheduled for a BRUV (baited remote underwater video) and seafishing trip – something I was really excited for. We started the morning on the boat getting everything prepared for a smooth BRUV drop at a reef site to collect data for Ralph’s catshark project. We helped prepare the bait canisters with sardines and recorded environmental variables at the site then set out to do some seafishing while we waited to get the footage needed.
It was my first time trying seafishing and the first site had lots of rays that kept taking my baits. I learnt through the skipper, Justin, who is also an experienced fisherman, that it helps to release some line when a ray starts nibbling on the bait as they are very sensitive to vibrations and will spit it out if they feel any movement. It was good getting the feel for how the line felt once the anchor hit the seafloor and learning to keep the line tight after that.
Ralph ended up catching a catfish which have venom-containing spines on the dorsal and pectoral fins so the handling was left to himself and Justin. Justin then caught a pyjama catshark, I was lucky to catch a leopard catshark and Megan also managed to catch a pyjama catshark. It was really exciting learning how to reel them in and learning all about what to do afterwards.
When the hook was removed from the mouth, we got a grey tarp out and wet it in preparation for putting the catshark onto it, grabbed the tape measure and took a measurement of the total length (snout to end of the tail). All three catsharks had yellow “spaghetti” tags alongside their dorsal fin already so we filled out a data card with the tag number, co-ordinates, length measurement as well as the date and time so that it could be sent off to ORI (Oceanic Research Institute). This way, more can be learnt about the individual growth rates and movement patterns across the different species that occur around the Mossel Bay area.
After our time was up and we retrieved the BRUV by locating the buoy then pulling the rope in and the chain attached to the frame, we headed back to the backpackers for dinner and to nap in preparation for our first seal survey which was to take place over six hours between 12am and 6am.
We woke at 11pm to prepare ourselves by dressing as warmly as we could, with as many layers as possible as per the advice of the field specialists who had taken interns out plenty of times. We packed food to snack on to keep ourselves awake and I ended up wearing 7 top layers and three sets of pants, a beanie, gloves and scarf and still got chilly in the wind throughout the night.
The great team that went out really made the trip. It consisted of three interns (Megan, Claudia and I) along with field specialists Justin and Olivia we were both really approachable and friendly. Us girls were super enthused and we all got so excited whenever we saw a seal swim by the boat with surrounding bioluminescence. It was really magical watching the bright blue trails and just knowing it was all from nature was pretty awesome.
We were based on the top platform of the boat so saw lots of seals going to and from Seal Island and recorded the time, whether they were leaving or returning through different mapped sectors around the island, group size and any additional notes about behaviours like headstands or boat interactions. We also recorded environmental variables every hour including the time, sea surface temperature, wind speed and direction, depth, swell height etc. Although we were tired and cold at times, we maintained a positive attitude, shared lots of food, talked and asked questions as well as sharing ideas.
It was really funny listening to all of the different seal vocalisations – some sounded like sheep, cows, people making silly noises and even Chewbacca! We also moved around a lot trying to keep warm and made up little songs and dances to keep us busy in between recording data.
When we were finished just after 6am we were all relieved to soon get back to the backpackers for a well-deserved sleep and saw a beautiful sunrise on our way back. Although my body-clock was a bit knocked after sleeping during the day, it was an exciting experience being on a boat during the night for the first time and I learnt a lot and gained practical skills and ideas for research also.