Raine Island - Nature's Cradle on the Edge of the Coral Sea
Satellite Web Cast From Turtle Heaven and Hell
Journal Entry - 01- 27 - 03 Season of plenty.
The weather is changing. There is a major cyclone out to the east (way out to the east) and a series of low pressure cells across the top of Australia which are affecting the weather patterns in our little corner of the world. Yesterday by noon the wind had died right off and the water was flat clam with just a hint of a ripple. Then last night the wind swung around to the west and picked up force. The boat went for a bit of a ride during the night and those of us in the forward cabin were granted the additional luxury of the symphony of waves breaking and slapping against the bow. The sky was grey with thunderheads on the horizon at dawn. The wind blew until late afternoon when it began to settle flattening the water with it. The wind is to shift again to the south but the weather is expected to remain good which is a surprise for this time of year.

Tawny nurse shark.
On the natural history front we witnessed one of the more fascinating spectacles to be found here at Raine. In the past researchers to the islands have commented on the emaciated condition of the resident tawny nurse sharks. While we have been here during the turtle nesting season we have found them to be in good shape, big healthy fish, and today we saw why. Early this morning our skipper noticed a disturbance in water next to a dead turtle which had been washed into the surf by the tide. The turtle had died on the tide line, in sight of the surf, just given up. Why this happens is anybody's guess but there have been a number of these events while we have been at the island. It is some how more poignant to find a turtle, dead, in sight of the water which will give it life. This in contrast to those which find themselves trapped under ledges or caught in the open many meters from the water well after the sun up.

Tawny shark and dead turtle.
There were two tawnys feeding on the turtle in the surf line and on several occasions they found themselves high and dry, flapping their tails and wriggling their bodies madly to get themselves back out into the surf. Turtles must play a major role in the tawny nurse shark diet. It is fair assumption that turtles and turtle eggs play a major dietary roll for most of the predators at the island which take advantage of the seasonal plenitude.

Tawny shark and dead turtle.
We also had a visit from a large pod of dolphins with two species mixed in: common dolphins and bottlenose. They swam up to the Floreat and just hung around as though to call us into the water. Several of the team grabbed masks and snorkels and hit the water. My second thought after I started swimming away from the boat was, "I sure hope those tiger sharks aren't around." The dolphins remained in the vicinity for a good fifteen minutes and gave us all a chance to have a good look at them while keeping half an eye on the grey reef sharks darting about with the dolphins.
Our evening shoot was spent trying, in vain, to get close enough to the rufous night herons to get acceptable photographs. They are such wary birds that Richard Fitzpatrick even with a super long telephoto (twice longer than any of my still lenses) on his video camera can only get a 1/3 of the frame filled. I was able to watch some dramatic predation sequences as the herons scanned the beach from the beach edge just above the water, as though blocking any escape for the hatchlings and then when they detected movement they pounced or ran over and grabbed the hapless hatchling in their beak. They then began to shake their victim. I never did see a hatchling swallowed.
And then the rain came. Not hard but just enough to really ruin the light. And then I watched the two hatchlings I walked alongside to the waters edged, protecting them from birds, go the way of the dodo. One was taken by an beautiful tern in one elegant swoop! And the other by a three foot black tip reef shark. This critter, I am pleased to write, took several passes to get the job done. But boy, was that dorsal fin fine looking in the last silver light of the day as the shark sliced in once then cut back not once but twice.
Talk about frustration.

But, there are many hatchlings here......by design.

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