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All photos copyright of Michael Scott Smith


Cat Dogs


GBRMPA updates on coral mortality rates

It is important to note when viewing this Youtube that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority only manages the reef up to Lizard Island around the tip of Cape York. The reef continues past there all the way past the Torres Strait Islands up to Papua New Guinea.

This massive unmanaged part of the reef also suffered from severe mortality (50 percent) in the last bleaching event.

Incredible mullet. Running by the ton

mullet 2

By Mic Smith

The mullet fishermen at Kirra can get 30 tonnes of mullet in one good shot, but this year’s mullet run has been relatively quiet thanks to the June rains.

The fresh water flooding out of Tweed and other rivers sent many of the mullet too deep for the Kirra mullet fishermen’s nets.

Instead of heading along the beaches like usual during the winter spawning season a fair part of the annual of mullet run made a b-line across the ocean to North Straddie.

Good news for the Perry family waiting for the mullet run on the North Straddie beaches with their nets, utes and boats.

Ben Markwell, who owns the mullet fishing license between Kirra and Southport, never takes his eyes off the ocean. The season isn’t quite over yet so he scans for mullet in the waves, watching for the tell tale signs of jumping fish and the dark shadows of a shoal among the Kirra surfers.

ben markwell

Like the Perrys on North Stradbroke, the Markwell’s fishing tradition goes back generations alongside their rivals the other big Gold Coast fishing family, the Boyd brothers.

Ben says the mullet run is a very sustainable commercial operation.

  • Even though they can net between 300kg and 30 tonnes in one shot they are only catching less than 1 percent of the fish
  • They follow the mullet closely then run the nets really tight around the shoals so they get very little by-catch.
  • All the fish they catch are big at least three years old because the mullet stay upstream until that age.

During the season Ben watches the ocean at Kirra from dawn to dusk. The fish come out of the rivers and most years will run up the beaches to North Stradbroke Island and beyond before they head out to sea.They spawn out at sea for about week and return to the rivers they left from, along the bottom. So there’s no mullet run on the return migration.

mullet 1

He says sometimes the dolphins cooperate and sometimes they don’t.

“The mullet might head out to sea and the dolphins will bring them back. Or we might just be getting the nets around them close to shore and the dolphins will herd them out to sea. You never know.”

He says sea eagles sometimes sit on every light pole on the road around Kirra Point when there is a feast of fish to have.

And there’s no problem with sharks on the point when the mullet are running.

“There’s too much going on for them. There might be more of a problem on the open beaches.”





Video discusses cultural lens of wildtrade

Fun rhino video from my trip to Kruger

When this guy mock charged me I took off for about half a mile, before I stopped and thought about going back.

Strange whale behavior turns out to be a humpback giving birth

Soon after locals witnessed a group of whales behaving strangely at Nobby Beach, the whales moved up to the Seaway and the female gave birth.

Evolving Shark Control Program makes Gold Coast shark nets safer for whales

Last Saturday was the first whale entanglement in a shark net on the Gold Coast for the 2016 whale season.

But with 24,000 humpbacks whales going up then back in Spring more entanglements in the coast’s controversial shark nets are bound to happen.

Migrating humpback whale numbers are increasing every year so the Gold Coast’s Shark Control Program through DAF has been adapting to face the challenge.

Shark Control Program manager Jeff Krause says the program’s response to whale entanglements has improved in the last few years.

“We are evolving with time to release whales and be notified,” Mr Krause says.

“If an animal is caught in shark control gear it is our responsibility,” he says.

Mr Krause encourages anyone who is concerned about a whale to contact the hotline on 1800 806 891 or 132523.

Distressed whales will thrash about until they tire, while another sign is seeing the shark nets out of alignment.

If you make a call the SCP has four ways to assess the whale’s situation

  • Use surveillance cameras that can zoom onto the shark net (SCP has remote control of local Coastalwatch surf cams so they can check the nets)
  • Contact the local surf lifesaving club or SLSC Command Center to get their assessment
  • Contact members of the Volunteer Whale Spotter Program in high rise buildings near the shark nets
  • Contact boating and fisheries
  • Send own staff to assess the situation

With the introduction of these initiative there has been a 90 percent reduction in false reports.

He gave a recent example where a local called because pod of whales was behaving strangely near shore at Mermaid Beach.

Mr Krause said the conditions were unclear so he couldn’t see the shark nets using the Coastalwatch so the team called the local surf life savers who confirmed the whales were safe.

If the clubbies had said a whale was either entangled or swimming with netting the SCP would have sent the specially trained Marine Animal Release team who launch a small rubber IRB off the beach at the site and are supported by a larger ship. Alternatively Sea World would send a boat with a specially trained team or the two teams work in conjunction.

A SCP spokesperson says the MAR team are specially trained in whale behaviour and use special cutting devices that don’t harm the whale.

Mr Krause says, technically under the nature conservation act anyone can attempt a release if they say see a whale entangled in gear but untrained people around whales are “destined for disaster because they are such big animals.”

He says the whales interact with the shark nets in different ways. He has responded to calls and found whales in no danger sleeping against the nets or feeding their calves.

Many people have questioned the need for Gold Coast shark nets in recent years in relation to the yearly humpback whale entanglements and the security they provide for bathers and surfers.

The Seaworld team was successful in cutting the first whale caught in shark nets free on Sunday. Let’s hope they can continue that success for the rest of 2016.

Whales in the surf break: play or distress

IMG_3769All photos copyright Mic Smith

About 6.30am at Heron Avenue Mermaid Beach a group of locals saw a pod of humpback whales apparently having a good time very close to shore.

“An amazing show”.

By 7am more locals were becoming concerned by the whales almost in the surf break.


“It’s not normal behaviour.”

“Are there fish?”

“Maybe it’s the mullet run. It’s on at the moment.”

“There are a lot of birds.”

A big whale comes in from the deep and visits the pod. He stays a while and then moves off to the north. The original pod which includes a calf moves backwards and forwards along a 100m stretch of beach, close to the surface.

They circle each other spouting.

As the whale leaves a local surfer Gary says it’s a sign that the whales are in trouble; a whale coming to answer calls of distress.


“I wonder if one of them is tangled in the shark net.”

“Can’t see anything on them. But where is the shark net? Maybe they’ve dragged it in.”

The men on the platform discuss calling SeaWorld but I say we should call the government shark net department. I search for the number on my phone.

Best to alert them early, I say, as they were too late to save the whale that drowned in the shark net at Tugun a few years ago. The response had been slow because of the distance and because it was a Sunday.

A few years ago, some Tugun residents had seen a whale splashing, acting strangely close to shore. They informed the lifesavers first but the lifesavers said they couldn’t interfere with the shark nets and it wouldn’t be safe either. The couple had then called the Shark Control Program (SCP – part of DAF) hotline 1800 806 891 or 132523. They had come but by then the whale had drowned and sunk to the bottom. The couple swam out and took some pictures.

After he makes the call Gary leaves. “I can’t watch these poor whales.”

However it’s still unclear if there is any distress or if it is some other behavior.

I hang around taking photos for another hour, with the whales still moving back and fourth. Then they disappear. How can you tell the difference between whales playing and whales in distress in time to save them if they are tangled in some net?


Recent footage of entangled whale at Double Island Point.

Legally anyone is able to try to free an entangled whale if they can, but be careful if you aren’t fully trained.

FCCT – Tiger Temple Conference