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Dogs on a Boat

Unexpected Engine Problems!

5 May 2020

It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon. The sun was shining, and the sea was calm, so team members Nan, Stan, and Katie, along with four excited dogs, Juneau, Miko, Kali, and Jack, set out on the ocean in the 25-foot inflatable for an afternoon at sea. With our hydrophone, camera gear, and voice recorder onboard, we were hopeful that maybe we’d find some whales. Because the Cook Islands amazingly continues to remain COVID-free, we are very fortunate to still be able to get out of the house and spend a day on the water!

Before leaving home, we had had some trouble getting the engine started, but we thought we figured it out. At 14:00, we set out from the harbor without a problem and began heading north.

We traveled a few miles offshore and turned off the engine so we could drop the hydrophone, hoping to hear some sperm whales nearby. We put the hydrophone in the water at 15:30 and listened for five minutes but did not hear any whale sounds, so we prepared to continue onward. This time, however, the boat would not start.

Nan tried all of the tricks she had previously used to get the engine start, to no avail. We again inspected everything, wiggled some wires, cleaned some contacts, and took a close look at the engine. Nothing we did would get it started. So we all agreed, it was time to get out the paddles.

Fortunately, we had a kayak paddle on board, so we took the two halves apart and started paddling. Leaning over the pontoon with a short half-paddle was not the most comfortable or efficient way to paddle a boat to shore, but we made do with what we had. The three humans took turns paddling, while the four dogs lay on the bow of the boat, quite literally “sick as a dog.” This was the first time all four dogs had been out to sea, and it turns out that they all suffer from seasickness.

Couple on a Boat Heading Towards an IslandWe paddled and paddled, straddling the pontoons, arms burning, and backs aching. The island didn’t seem to be getting any closer. We were still a couple of miles away. While Stan and Katie paddled, Nan continued trying to get the engine started. We hoped that it would miraculously come back to life, but we kept paddling hard anyway. Eventually, that hope faded, and we accepted the reality of our situation: we would be paddling all the way home.

In order to make it back into the harbor, we would have to carefully navigate through a passage in the reef. Missing that opening would put us in danger of being caught in the breaking waves and smashed into the reef. Along our journey, we had to fight a current pushing us east of the harbor mouth. This was not the easiest vessel to steer with two miniature paddles, so we zig-zagged our way home.

Despite our fatigued muscles and fear of being stranded after sunset, we kept our spirits up. We powered onward with the help of chocolate-covered peanuts, joking about our misfortune and laughing at the poor dogs’ seasick faces. The dogs clearly were not having as much fun as we had hoped.

The time ticked by slowly. The sun gradually became lower in the sky, and we feared it would be sunset before we knew it. We had been paddling for about two and a half hours. Rarotonga’s mountains appeared slightly larger, so we knew we were getting closer, but we were still a mile or two away. We could make it home, but we would surely end up paddling in the dark. With our backs cramping up and blisters forming on our hands, we were ready for this to be over soon. Then suddenly in the distance, we spotted a boat zipping out of Avatiu Harbor. Nan jumped up on a bench and waved her half-paddle in the air, and finally, the fisherman came to our rescue.

We were delighted to see Nan’s friend Ngu Marsters, Couple on a Boat Steeringwho tied us to the back of his boat and gave us a tow back to the harbor. It was then that we realized how far we really were from the island. Considering that it took 30 minutes for us to be towed in, we certainly would have been paddling way past sunset. We were very grateful to have been spotted and rescued by Ngu before dark!

It was definitely not the kind of day we expected to have on the water, but as whale researchers, we always have to be prepared for the unexpected. It’s exciting to wake up in the morning, never knowing what the day will bring, and seeing what new adventure comes our way!

 

Couple on a Black and Red Boat Closeup of a Dog Side by Side Boats

Volunteer Next to Beached Whale

Ziphius cavirostris stranding (#2) at Muri Beach, Rarotonga Cook islands

Another rare beaked whale came over the reef a few days after we successfully rescued the first one. This whale was found washed up dead on the reef between Motutapu and Onearo. Marisa and Gracie waded out to the whale across the lagoon and collected complete measurements with skin samples! What a wonderful job they did! Hayes and Nan met them out there, and we all wandered back together as Hayes droned the whale in the lagoon for a National Geographic TV special. A few days later the volunteer veterinarians helped Gracie and Nan necropsy the whale. It was starting to decay, and the smell was atrocious. The crew from Te Ara Manu were amazing, and thank goodness they were there. Nan had started a new medication for her CRPS that day and explained that she was feeling like a total space cadet. Just in the knick of time to catch the tide, Elise and Jesse showed up and finished removing the head. They floated it to Avana Harbor where we had to wave down the crew of the Vaka to come help us lift it into the truck. They were all smiles until they saw all the blood and blubber, but they were good sports. Off Nan headed in the truck towards Takuvaine Valley. Upon arrival to the valley, Nan realized that she needed to get this head out of the truck by herself. She lay on her back and pushed with both feet until it slipped easily off the tailgate.

Two Rescuers Assisting a WhaleTeam of Volunteers

All was fine until a storm came a couple of days later. It was raining so hard that Nan went to make sure that the head was okay… but it wasn’t. It had started to float down the river. She ran up to the house putting on operating room scrubs and a raincoat. Brenna watched with the headlights from the truck as Nan jumped into the stream. The head had floated way down stream and Nan held onto it as hard as she possibly could, trying not to damage her right shoulder that was recently operated on. Soon the water came over the bridge. The power of the water swept Nan and the head down the stream for a good five minutes. She had to let go of the head with great sadness so that she wouldn’t drown. Grabbing onto branches from a tree, she climbed out on the shore and lay there in the dark. For the next 15 minutes Nan did an army crawl with one arm through the dark, thick jungle. It was pouring rain and all she could think about was centipedes and spiders crawling all over her. When she reached a patch of banana trees, she knew she was closer to home and started yelling for help. Brenna heard the cries and helped rescue her.

The next morning Nan and team member Stan searched the stream and unbelievably found the head all the way down by the ocean. It was pretty smashed up by that time, but Nan grabbed all her necropsy instruments and cut the rotting flesh off the head. She put it in the tall grass, away from people and animals, only to find it the next morning dragged out into the middle of a field, where the neighbor’s dogs were chewing on it like a big dog bone. Stan had an idea of filling one of the large garbage bins full of water, where it has been soaking for the past 6 months. Yes folks, it still needs to be analyzed! To be continued…

Woman Holding up Tools to Assist Whale

Finding the Cause of the Beached Whale

Team Surrounding Beached Whale

Beaked Whale Stranding

I love waking up in the morning and having absolutely no idea what new adventure might present itself. Exhausted from a very busy and intense whale season, we were out in bad weather yesterday hoping to find a singing male humpback. The calls started coming in at about 10:12 AM. “Hello, is this Nan? There’s a whale stranded on the reef at Muri Lagoon!!! Can you please come quickly?” The calls and texts just kept coming in concerning the urgency of this stranded whale. 20 minutes later a text from Josh Mitchell read that the whale was swimming around inside the lagoon! Having two boats on the water already, we drove full speed up along the reef and went into Avana Harbor. Luckily Tom and Lucy were there to pick us up! We had called the rest of our team to meet us at the whale ASAP. They were all there in no time.

Luckily the owners of Kura’s Kabanas rang us just as we were going past their driveway. They could see the whale in the shallow water of the lagoon from there. I looked out from the shore and could tell immediately that it was a beaked whale. It had turned on its side and was holding its breath. Whales, of course, are mammals and need to be able to breathe air just like us humans. We got to the whale as quickly as possible and turned it so that the blowhole was up. The whale was in dire distress. Amazingly, more and more people showed up and everyone swung into full action! Before I knew it we had a team of locals, Muri businesses, biologists, National Geographic filmmakers, school children, and tourists. We even had a dog out there! The determination of every single person involved was so impressive. To look at all of the healing hands on this very old (probably around 45 to 50 year-old) whale was a beautiful sight. Then there were those that were leading the way by clearing a path through the lagoon so that we could move the whale along towards the pass at Avana Harbour. Everyone was moving rocks and coral to prevent more damage to the whale!

The whale had washed over the reef up by Koromiri Motu. It swam until it was too shallow. When whales strand they go into a stress mode and often die from kidney failure and other organ malfunction . We had to keep this whale calm as everyone moved it a few metres at a time. thank goodness for the brainstorming of Paul Mangakahia who brought the proper cargo nets and carriers to lift this incredibly heavy whale!

The lagoon was full of sharp coral, and the whale was very cut up and bleeding in many spots. But with the efforts of a magnificent team and constant reassurance to the whale with hands, soft voices, and staring into its eye (it was blind in its right eye!), we eventually made it to the opening of the harbor!! Shrieks of joy came from all those involved!

We followed it out to the deep. It swam faster and faster as it realized that it was back into its own territory. Their were many tears of joy. This is the first time in my 30 years of helping stranded animals as part of my research that I have had a successful ending with a beaked whale stranding! We were well overjoyed to know that this great great great grandfather, whose species has been on this planet for tens of thousands of years, was back out in the deep water where it belonged. Thank you to everyone involved! The list is so very long. And a very special thanks to my team… Stan, Marisa, Gracie, George, Eva, Dave, Paul, Nicole, Brian, Adam, Dan, Hayes, Jeremy, Derek, Jaewynn, Tom & Lucy!  (more>>>>>)

 

More about this whale! A Ziphius cavirostris (Cuvier’s Beaked Whale):

In 2014, friends of mine used satellite-linked tags to track Cuvier’s beaked whales off the coast of California. They found that the animals dove up to 2,992 m (9,816 ft) below the ocean surface and spent up to two hours and 17 minutes underwater before resurfacing, which represent both the deepest and the longest dives ever documented by any mammal.

The whales’ rib cages can fold down to reduce pockets of air and decrease buoyancy.

Most studies of their diet have been limited to samples from the stomachs of stranded animals here in the Cook Islands and elsewhere. They appear to feed on cephalopods and small fish, including both bathypelagic and mesopelagic prey.

I will write more about this ancient whale in the coming days!

 

Fishing Boat Team

Floating Blob

Thanks to the fishermen, we were notified of a floating “blob”. It turned out to be a very, very dead whale! Dead enough to make our eyes water. From our GoPro footage we noticed the next day that 17 vertebrae were hanging underneath, wrapped in fibrous tissue and blubber… a biologist’s dream! With the help of Paul Mangakahia, our retrival mission was a success! Thank you to all the fishermen involved. Brendan, sorry your hook got caught in it, and that you had to cut it out while gagging! If you are wondering why we didn’t enter the water, it was because there were many sharks having a feed! Always an adventure to be had!

The Team in Oman

Adventures in Oman

Team members Nan Daeschler Hauser, Stan Wolfgramm, Natalie Barefoot, Hind the Saint of all Beings, and Colin Brown just spent time in Oman exploring possibilities of finding solutions for two endangered populations of humpback whales. Oman has the last endangered non-migratory population of humpbacks, while Oceania has the last endangered population of migratory humpbacks. Despite being on the opposite sides of the planet, we have many of the same issues and problems. We hope to learn together how we can protect these amazing whales.  

 

 

Glackma 2019

After traveling for more than 35 hours, crossing the Middle East, and losing her luggage, Nan Daeschler Hauser landed in Spain on Thursday (21 Feb). Nan is a special guest Speaker at the “Congresso GLACKMA Asturias – 2019.” The event is taking place in a coastal city in northern Spain, called Gijon.

She will be sharing her passion and her extraordinary work with more than 500 participants that are coming from all around Spain. After three decades of giving lectures and presentations around the world, this is the first time that Nan has been to Spain.

She is very excited to be here and so grateful to be part of this event. The event is organized by Carlos Caraglia. Carlos is a dedicated videographer and photographer that is committed to nature and climate change. His goal is to show the reality of climate change of the planet through amazing video and photography. Carlos is devoted and carrying out awareness-raising campaigns for the environment. This GLACKMA event brings together great collaboration between amazing people with inspiring stories.  

Thanks again GLACKMA for organizing the event and bringing together a great mix of professionals with important goals.

To watch a wonderful video about THE EARTH 360º GLACKMA Conference click here:   https://vimeo.com/324872179

Giants of the sea

Its always a joy to work with such a great film crew!

Doing an interview for the Giants of the Sea last week in Amsterdam.

Thanks everyone that was involved, especially my dear old friend Arjen Van Eijk.

Hans Duijfs birthday generosity!

A wonderful night at Hans Duijf’s new restaurant “aMusée” near the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam! Hans was generous enough to give up his birthday presents and asked his guests to please make a donation to rebuild the Whale Research Center in Rarotonga. It was a wonderful evening with many great people, including two Dutch Navy Admirals and their wives. The guests were lucky enough to see the premier showing of “Whale Guardian,” a new film about Nan Hauser’s work. The food was amazing, which was no surprise, since Hans previously owned “Pasta e Basta,” one of Amsterdam’s most well know restaurants.

Thank you Hans and Suzie for your generosity and unbelievable love for the whales!

Heres a link to his new restaurant https://www.amusee-amsterdam.com

Alexandra Sorgennicht

 

A very special evening full of love and gratitude with amazing and inspiring people.
Thanks so much to all that attended the evening, and to Alexandra Sorgenicht Institut für Intuitionstraining for putting a lot of effort and time into this amazing film!!! We had a blast and we are very grateful for all!
“Five Women/ Five Oceans” has been the largest outpour of support.