Has it really been a year already? Time certainly flies when you’re finishing your PhD. In the last year I’ve managed to do all the analysis, write up and hand in my PhD thesis, and I will have my viva (the final examination I guess) this week! Am getting pretty nervous about it but it will all be over soon, and that particular chapter of my life will come to a close.
My thesis has left me few opertunities to get out and take photos since my Northumberland trip. I managed a grand total of three trips to zoos in the year, and didn’t get back to Edinburgh Zoo at all until recently. On the plus side I did get to spend another season out on the Isle of May surveying the grey seals while they breed which is always amazing. I also got to go to New Zealand for about two weeks in december, and I had the time of my life!
I went to New Zealand to present some of the findings from my PhD work, and the conference was held in Dunedin on the South Island of New Zeland. The place was absolutely stunning and luckily enough was right next to the Otagu Peninsula, which has all kinds of unusual, endemic and endangered wildlife on it. While I was there I got to see the world’s most endangered penguin and sea lion species, the yellow-eyed penguin and the New Zealand sea lion. The sea lions were huge! and they were hauled out on the beach, not bothered at all by people unless they foolishly got too close. The penguins were amazing too, got to see them swimming in the surf and coming up the beach to return to their nests in the sand dunes. While we were there we also got to visit an albatros breeding colony! I have always wanted to see albatros, and we managed to see birds on nests with eggs, birds doing their courtship dances and pairs flying in sync with each other, was incredible.
Once the conference was over I rented a car and headed north along the east coast of the south island. There were several wildlife hotspots I’ve been dying to see my entire life along the way and I couldn’t wait to get to them! The first stop was a place called Akora to see the endangered Hector’s Dolphin, a very small dolphin species only found in coastal New Zealand. The company we went out with (Akora Dolphins, http://akaroadolphins.co.nz/) were excellent, they knew lots about the local area and wildlife to tell everyone on the boat and we saw loads of Hector’s Dolphins, they even tried to bow ride for a while! They aren’t really built for speed though so they couldn’t keep it up for long. On that trip we also got to visit a New Zealand fur seal breeding colony that had lots of tiny pups on it, was great watching the colony from the water as the seals weren’t disturbed at all, they make the most incredible noises I’ve ever heard from a pinniped! If you get a chance to go to the south island and are in the Christchurch area, I would really recommend going to Akora, not only is the wildlife amazing but its a beautiful place in spectacular scenery.
All too soon we had to heard north again though, this time to Kaikora. Any one who is a whale watching enthusiast knows that Kaikora is one of the best places to see Sperm Whales relatively close to shore due to the presence of a massive, deep ocean trench not far from the shore there. Its also a great place to see Dusky Dolphins, which I’ve wanted to see since seeing documentaries about their acrobatic antics as a child. The weather conditions were not great, but we managed to get out and see a spectacular male Sperm Whale, he was called Tutu! All the males are resident in that area so the whale watch guides (http://www.whalewatch.co.nz/) can ID and tell you who is who while you’re out there. We did only get to see one whale, spotting and getting on them is really hard work and I felt for the staff on the boat, Sperm Whales are hardly very surface active and they stay under for such a long time, really makes the lives of the boat staff difficult! On that trip we also saw wandering and white-capped albatros too which was great.
The next day I was very keen to try and see some Dusky dolphins. We got up really early and went on a 5am trip out to try and see them, and it was well worth the early wake up call! We went out with a company called Dolphin Encounter (http://www.dolphinencounter.co.nz/) and on the boat you can either get geared up and try to swim with the dolphins, or stay on the boat and watch them (and take photos in my case!). I was very wary of a company that advertises swimming with dolphins, but once we were out there I was pleasently suprised. We were really far from shore in very deep water, and we were on the pod periphery. Any dolphins that swimmers were near were there because they’d chosen to swim over to check the people out, which a fair number did! I personally prefer watching and taking photos to swimming with dolphins, but if that sort of thing takes your fancy then this company have got the right idea for doing it without harassing the dolphins. We found a massive pod of several hundred dolphins and it was an incredible sight, at any one time there were always two or three dolphins in the air breaching or doing somersaults, was hard to know where to look! There were loads of calves around too which was great to see, and loads of the dolphins made a beeline for the boat to bow ride much to everyone’s delight. All too soon it was time to go home, but it was an amazing experience!
After that I was unfortunatly running out of time on the trip. I drove to the northmost point on the island to Picton and got a ferry to the north island and Wellington so I could go visit the Weta cave! I am a massive lord of the rings fan, and didn’t have time to go to any of the actual filiming locations on this trip, but the Weta cave more than made up for it! Then I got on a flight to Aukland, which was where my international flight back to the UK was departing from. I originally wanted to drive up through the north island too but I ran out of time! Ah well, hopefully I will get to come back one day. I had a spare day in Aukland so I went out one more time with a wildlife tour to try and see some Bryde’s whales, which I’ve never seen before! There is also always the chance of seeing orca while you’re out in NZ waters… but I was unlucky on both counts this time, and didn’t see any whales or orcas. We did find a huge feeding aggregation of gannets and common dolphins however, which was an amazing sight with all the diving birds and fast moving dolphins. So that was a lovely way to end my trip, before the horrible long flight back to the UK!
So I had an eventfull time in New Zeland and was extremely luck to go there and to see so many amazing things. The next stop for me after my viva this week is a trip to Sarasota in Florida to work with the Mote Marine Lab on bottlenose dolphins, which is VERY exciting! In the mean time I have some recent shots from the highland wildlife park and keilder bird of prey center to sort through and upload, so I’ll hopefully get them up before I leave (but definately before another year goes by!).