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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


Gold sunrise

Photos copyright Mic Smith

Storms form part of coastal community life

Photos by Mic Smith.

During last nights storm the Burleigh baths and beachside restaurant was inundated by the highseas.


The damage was severe. High winds had whipped up the seas and uprooted trees. Some areas were blacked out from early yesterday. The rain pelted down and the streets were covered in pandanus leaves

When I got up this morning the sky had cleared but the seas were massive


IMG_3567I heard about the restaurant getting smashed up at Burleigh so I went for a look. For the first time that a lot of people could remember the seas had breached the rocky headland and washed into the park. The swells looked like Hawaii. Well over 10 foot


Nobody was surfing. Except one in the corner.

IMG_3594No way to get out and too much north in the wind. The morning hightide gave the baths and restaurant the reprieve that the previous night’s hightide hadn’t. The 7.40 am swells stopped short of the broken windows.

The restaurant had been closed for 3 years since the last time the seas rose. It hadn’t been open for long. Last night’s sandbagging efforts had been in vain.


The owner of the baths said it was the fourth time it had happened in 12 years since he’d been there.

Blue awning in a storm

Brace comes off. Compression fracture T12

IMG_3216I had expectations that at the hospital they’d take the brace off and check me out. No. Very little ceremony at outpatients clinic.It was routine for the spinal specialist, he could have just phoned or sent a pamphlet in the post.

He said the generic brand advice. Take it off for an hour a day for a couple of days and build up slowly to having the brace off completely within two weeks or a month.

Didn’t even require an xray unless I wanted one which I did. You’ve got to be assertive.

At the xray room I had a great personal moment and took the brace off while standing. Standing without a brace for the first time since 7.20am Jan 2, was a cool feeling.

The specialist had a look at the xrays but he wouldn’t have if I hadn’t asked him to. Basically he didn’t have any doubts that the brace had done its job and now I just have to wean myself off it.

Do whatever you want he said, you are the best judge of what you can do and what you can’t do. He obviously doesn’t know me very well. What about surfing? I said. That’s a bit unpredictable, not till June. Chin ups? No. Running? No. Walking? Yes. Swimming? That’s the best. Touch my toes? Why not, if it doesn’t hurt? Can I take it off now to go home. No. Take it off when you get home. Just as well I’m a journalist and I know how to interview people.

No bedside manner or extra tips in public health. But while I’m complaining about the impersonal service and the implicit requirement that I involve in my own recovery, I want to thank the hospital and the large team of staff who have been responsible to get me here. It’s been a journey. I’m ok. I’m walking. I’m gonna surf again. And it’s been free. Thanks.

Goals – recovery from compression fracture T12

Life can change so quickly. A minute before the surfing accident when I broke my back on a shallow sandbank at Burleigh, I had no idea what was coming.

I paddled against the sweep to get back to the point to catch another barrel. I passed a guy with long blonde hair on a short board on my right. We both smiled at each other with every cell in our body. One of those moments of connectness. No need or desire to talk.

My goal was to catch another two waves, go home and work on my confirmation paper.

A minute later my back was in half

My goal suddenly was to get to shore without doing anymore damage to my spinal cord. And a huge goal it was. My feet were working but tingling. I’d done some trauma to the spinal cord. After a discussion in my head I decided when I got to the beach I’d need hospital and an ambulance.

It was humbling. From that scene of me on the beach, broken, face-down surrounded by people in the shallows until now, I owe a large part of my recovery to the people, the community, the friends and family, the volunteers, medical staff and specialists who were there to help me. As much for the need for practical necessity as for respect for the help of countless people, my goals needed to become much simpler than had my T12 not been crushed. Smaller though they were, they were equally challenging.

Once in hospital relatively comfortable and safe, I needed to find out what damage I’d done, get into contact with someone to let them know what’d happened and sort out my phone, car, surfboard and flat if needed.

Then with the news of a week stay in hospital, I wanted to regroup, get my research materials and some clothes up to me. Getting back to work and getting on with my confirmation paper were goals at the forefront of my mind.

Finding out smaller details of my injury was a goal. I really wanted someone to tell me about the damage to my vertebral disks,

I asked a blonde senior specialist who’d brought in a group into my room on a ward tour. You’re very interested in your disks aren’t you… Well it’s my back… I’ll have a look at your scans and come back later…

You learn in hospital that when someone says they’ll come back later you’ll never see them again. Getting information from specialists in hospital is not a practical goal.

I had goals like spacing out the pain relief. Push the 10mg of Endone to every eight hours instead of four. Often it felt like seven hours but it was only three. Sometimes I called for a bed pan. Thanks to Endone I was filling up with the hospital food I was forking into my horizontal mouth. Dumping that gutful was a goal.

The back brace arrived after six sweaty days on my back on the plastic hospital bed and pillow covers. I wanted to get to my feet.

Mr Smith would you like to try to put the brace on yourself. Not at this stage thankyou Nurse. You do it.

To put the brace on the two nurses rolled me on my side and slid one edge of the rounded U shaped brace under my ribs. They scooped me into the white plastic then rolled me onto my back and fitted the front of the brace over the back half. Both nurses did the straps, pulling tightly, securing the front and back sections with velcro.

“Sit up slowly. You’re going to feel a bit dizzy.”

To sit up I lay on my side, brought my knees up and hung my feet over the side of the bed. I moved my left elbow under my body and reached my right arm over my head to press my hand on the bed. I pushed with my left elbow and right hand until I was halfway upright and rested. Vertigo struck. I fought a few seconds. Lay back down. I repeated it but made it to sitting upright on the edge of the bed. The room spun. I lay down. Did it again. Sat there for 10 minutes till the spinning stopped. With a nurse either side I stood and took a step. They wanted me to keep going but I said no. Lay down again.

Do you want to try the stairs. No.

They left. I sat up and had my first walk around the bed on my own. Each thing I could grip around the bed was a goal.

The next goal was getting home. I had a long discussion in my head about that. I decided to call a friend who lives nearby Karlene. I accepted her offer of caring for me for a week till I was more able.

The hospital released me to home, however I realised at Karlene’s I was too helpless to go home. The smallest tasks were impossible. I was just a skinny helpless body with a broken backbone. I couldn’t go home. I would have had to call the ambulance to go back to hospital.

My first shower for a week was wonderful. Though I’d had sponge baths from the nurse I smelled like a freshly fucked camel. That first shower was the best shower I’d had in my life. The water felt like a miracle landing on my skin.

I didn’t have to wear the brace in bed. For the first week out of hospital I spent a lot of time in bed. Getting into and out of the brace on my own was a goal. It hurt but I did it. The edge of the back section dug into my ribs as a rolled over it. Being able to get myself up on my own restored a huge amount of independence to me. It gave me self esteem. Gloves to fight with.

Making my own coffee was a goal. Having a shit was a goal. The nurses said once I was upright, shitting would happen. I believed them but it didn’t happen. I’d been out of bed a few days. My stomach was huge. Nine or ten days it was. Like lancing a boil. I’d been getting worried, I heard constipation could cause serious problems. I think shitting was better than the shower. Too much information. Aaaaaahhhh. I tightened the brace.

I had some work to do online. Doing that was meaningful for me. Sitting for a few seconds was painful.  The optimum position for my back was over extended, but in the sitting position I slouched forward slightly in the brace. It took grit to get an hour’s work done.

The times when I didn’t have the grit broke me. The emotional side of recovery was lonely. The thoughts of determination, defeat and the shame that came with looking at work and walking away wracked me on some days. Loss. The severing of continuity with my research. I’d already been sad before the accident because my mum was so ill. The new feeling of sadness didn’t run concurrent with the old, it added extra, and even made the first worse.

I wanted to go to work 10 days after the accident, but I assessed myself at eight days and I had a long discussion in my head about it. In the time between 10 days and 17 days when I did go back, I learned a lot about how work can support an employee to return with an injury. The freedom to wear comfortable clothes and thongs. That support from work is so great.

Getting off Endone was a goal. Panadol are you kidding. Aspirin no way. Despite relying on it’s pain relief, I stopped Endone during the day, unless I needed it. Overdoing it is easy with a broken back. An outing that goes too long. A drive that goes to far. A session on the laptop pushed too much. Endone was the go-to drug if I overdid things.

After a few days at Karlene’s I cut back to one Endone at night before bed. Soon I found I didn’t need it to go to sleep anymore. But I needed one when I woke with pain in the middle of the night. After a few nights I stopped doing that.

That next day, I had a runny nose and I just couldn’t lift my head I was that down. inconsolable I was useless, standing broken in the passage, halfway between the laptop and the bedroom. That night I woke up about 2am in pain and I took one. I never took another one. I went to work for the first time the next day.

Getting back to work was a victory. I asked a work mate to pick me up. Work arranged a flat couch in a colleague’s office. I lay down to take the load off my spine, half way through my work. Karlene picked me up after work.

Everything to that point since the accident had been about returning to work. I was pumped to have pulled it off. The next day I crashed. I was sore from the exertion, but more than that I was depressed.

I needed to make more goals.



Kirra BIG Saturday

all photos copyright mic smith. #kirrabigsaturday


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