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Thursday, 17 January 2019

From on board True North. Great Whites in the Bight

#expeditioncruising .

Itinerary: Southern Safari
Location: Neptune Islands, SA

Our Great White Shark was a little late to the party, but here he is. (RE)

Ever since the 1975 thriller JAWS burst onto the cinema screens, the world has been terrified of sharks, the Great White Shark (GWS) in particular. It's true, the GWS is the only shark species that targets mammals, feasting on pinnipeds wherever they can be found – and very occasionally mistaking us for the flippered variety.

Here aboard True North we're sailing through the nutrient-rich waters of South Australia's Eyre Peninsula, perhaps the most populous location in the world for these monstrous beasts. It was here, just outside Port Lincoln, where the famous cage scenes from JAWS were filmed – with a live shark.

In recent years, Australia has been in a minor media frenzy with a blip in shark attack numbers and numerous theories are being put forward. But from a public perspective, the biggest fear we have stems from our ignorance of these animals who are, for all intents and purposes, just going about their business.

Alf Dean World Record 1200kg Great White caught at Ceduna in 1959. The bait? A dolphin.

In the early and mid-20th century, fishermen would revel in the chase, eagerly displaying their trophies including the largest fish ever caught on a hook and line, Alf Dean's 1200kg Great White landed right here at Ceduna. Great Whites over 6 metres and 2000kg have also been recorded, caught using harpoons and barrels. GWSs have been a protected species in our waters, along with all sharks, since 1990.

For more than ten years, shark cage diving has been available in Port Lincoln with two or three operators including Rodney Fox and Calypso Star, with True North using the latter since Southern Safari was first offered. As this is my second Southern Safari, so it is my second dive with Calypso Star.

Get a bite of this!

Now, as you can imagine, there has been some debate about the merits of shark cage diving especially when it comes to attracting the animals with fish guts. Rules have tightened, so it is now no longer permitted to feed the sharks, just lure them.

Our day started slowly with lots of schooling trevally hoovering up the tuna scraps while the water rinsed thick with blood. It wasn't until a couple of hours had passed until our only circumspect candidate arrived, a modest 3-4 metre specimen (pic above). No thrashing or breaches, our shark merely cruised among the frenzied fish for perhaps an hour, then decided there was nothing to eat and wandered off toward the nearby seal colony. A sighting nonetheless. Tick.

Even though there was no comparison to my first wild encounter where three sharks fought tooth-and-nail for the bait, True North guests certainly had an up-close experience with the ocean's apex predator and hopefully found a new respect for these perfect animals, the product of millions of years of evolution.

More information on True North Adventure Cruises:

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

From on board True North: Peaking Pearson

#expeditioncruising .

Itinerary: Southern Safari
Location: Pearson Island, SA

Australia has more than 8000 islands within our maritime borders and there aren't too many uninhabited in that total. Pearson Island is the second largest within the Investigator Group at 213 hectares and the the group's highest point at 231m.

Named in 1802 by, you guessed it, Matthew Flinders who did not state the source but Flinders typically named his discoveries after benefactors or crew.

Today a group of us will summit the imposing granite outcrop on this human-free island, inhabited only by the cutest rock wallabies, some tiny dragon lizards, a few bird species and a scattering of pinnipeds.

Australian fur seal greets us (RE)

We are accompanied by Pat Walsh, a ranger with SA Parks who gives us the lowdown on this isolated archipelago.

“There has never been any human habitation here on Pearson,” he tells us, “but sheep were run here for a short time in the 1840s.”

The islands have enjoyed progressive levels of protection since 1916 and now include the waters as a marine reserve, an announcement that did not please recreational fishers who enjoy the rich bounty. More recently the Pearson Isles have been back in the news following Sea Shepherd's Operation Jeedara in response to BP's plans to drill for oil in the Great Australian Bight.

As our tenders put the landing party ashore, we receive curious stares from several fur seals cavorting in the shallows. Great expanses of golden granite extend all the way from the summit to the shore with large sandy patches sustaining sheoak, tea tree, ruby saltbush and rock fern. Pat was particularly chuffed to find a big West Coast Mintbush (Prostanthera calycina) which he tells us has all but vanished from the mainland because “pretty much everything likes to eat it”.

The delightful Pearson Island Wallaby, a relative of the mainland Black-Footed Wallaby (RE)

As I remembered from my only other visit here 10 years ago, a family of little rock wallabies live among the boulders, peering out occasionally as the clumsy bipeds shuffle around shore.

We set off uphill in a steady climb to the summit, calves burning as we pick our way through the low scrub which gives way to spindly shrubs and finally bald granite at the top where a stiff breeze keeps us in check. No parkour for me. The prospect of a heavy fall through the ample gaps bearing on my mind. Obligatory snapshots completed we head back down where True North sits like a child's tiny bathtime toy out in the bay.

Back aboard, chefs Luke and Gav have a healthy feast of abalone, fresh caught whiting and colourful salad waiting for us.


From on board True North: Pinnipeds on Parade

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Itinerary: Southern Safari
Location: Thistle Island, SA (near Port Lincoln)

Cruise attendant, Jaimee, cavorts with a local at Hopkins Island (RE)

The Australian Sea Lion is certainly one of the darling species in the South Australian wildlife catalogue. Best known for their favourite beach at Seal Bay on Kangaroo Island (KI), these delightful critters are distributed all along the southern and western coastline between KI and as far west as the Abrolhos Islands. But all is not well in the pinniped* world.

As we swim among them here at remote Hopkins Island a few clicks offshore from Port Lincoln, the young animals taunt and tease us with playful antics, posing for our cameras and nibbling curiously on our fins. It's an idyllic life out here for them. Or so it seems.

Australian Sea Lions
Australian Sea Lions haul out on Hopkins Island (RE)
Australian Sea Lions have enjoyed protection for almost 100 years since the hunting of all pinnipeds ceased in the mid-1920s. While their boisterous cousins, the fur seals, have recovered substantially in that time, the story has not been the same for the sea lions.

Fur seals and sea lions were hunted to the brink of extinction in the 19th century.
Sea Lions fared particularly badly as their populations are slow to recover.

“Sea Lions have a peculiar site fidelity called philopatry,” Natalie Hill, our resident naturalist aboard True North tells me, “which means once a colony disappears, it's gone for good. With no females left to pass on the the hunting and breeding history to their offspring, the colony will never reestablish. Fur seals, on the other hand, can recolonise pretty much at will.”

As a result of the unregulated hunting throughout the 19th century, the sea lion has vanished from all sites in Victoria and Bass Strait and populations elsewhere have been painfully slow to recover, so much so that perhaps fewer than 12,000 individuals remain.

Young Australian Sea Lion comes to check me out (RE)

“Sea lions are listed by the IUCN as EN (endangered) and the slow breeding animals are particularly vulnerable to habitat disturbance and are unfortunately still found in bycatch, “says Natalie. “but methods are now in place to hopefully reduce this with the introduction of Seal Exclusion Devices (SEDs) in trawler nets.”

A Seal Exclusion Device is designed to allow seals to escape trawler nets.

They are also on the menu for the only mammal-eating shark, the fearsome Great White.

Swimming with these fun-loving mammals is certainly one way to draw attention to their plight and commercial swims are available out of Port Lincoln and Baird Bay for regular tourists.

True North continues its voyage through South Australian waters before concluding in Ceduna.


* pinnipeds are all Seals, Sea Lions, and Walruses

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

One Ocean Expeditions new itineraries for 2019

#expeditioncruising .
One Ocean voyages

After welcoming the new year, One Ocean Expeditions (OOE) is looking toward an exciting 2019 with the launch of new innovative itineraries, continuing the thread of their core pillars of exploration, and enhancing science and educational programming with an array of special guests and experiences.

New Whale Watching Voyage from Lindblad Expeditions

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Lindblad Expeditions Whale Watching Voyage

If you like spontaneity and have flexibility, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic has just added three upcoming expeditions that could be the whale watching experience of your lifetime. Inside Magdalena Bay: Where the Whales Are is a special five-night voyage that’s unique, fun, wild, action-packed, close to home, and filled with extraordinary gray whale encounters.

This is no ordinary whale-watching experience. Magdalena Bay is where gray whale mothers, calves and juveniles end the longest mammal migration on earth. It has been part of Lindblad’s itineraries in Baja California for over 30 years, but this is the first time they are focusing an entire voyage on this splendid bay and its environs.

Guests will be literally living among the whales on the 31-cabin National Geographic Sea Bird, which will serve as the floating base camp for the adventure. See and hear them around the ship, and venture out in Zodiacs for exhilarating up-close encounters with curious calves and gentle mothers. You will be immersed in the rich marine life as the ship explores two distinct areas where whales congregate.

Beyond the whales, there is so much more. Explore the mangroves by kayak. Mountain bike over Sahara-like stretches of dunes (there is a fleet of bikes aboard). Beach comb endless beaches studded with sand dollars. Revel in the vastness and serenity as you view the many species of birds in this world-renowned region. Explore mangroves by kayak or paddle board. And explore it all with a team of expert naturalists and a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor.

This compact 6 days/5 night voyage includes three departures: March 13, 19, 24, 2019. Rates begin at $3,290 per person based on double occupancy in a category 1 cabin. Plus, book now and receive complimentary round-trip airfare from Los Angeles to Loreto.

For reservations or additional information on Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic voyages to some of the most beautiful and fascinating places on Earth, visit, call 1-800-EXPEDITION (1-800-397-3348), contact your travel advisor, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

Kids Free in Alaska with Lindblad

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*Bring a Child or Grandchild to Alaska for 50% Off, and Second Child for FREE*

Family Travel in Alaska

Following the recent launch of the line’s newest addition to their fleet, National Geographic Venture, Lindblad Expeditions has announced a special family offer for select Alaska voyages in 2019. Sister ship to National Geographic Quest - the line’s first ever new build which launched last summer, the new Venture brings the Lindblad Alaska fleet to four in 2019.

The family offer is applicable on select departures of the 8-day Exploring Alaska’s Coast Wilderness and is based on two full-paying adults bringing one child (22 and under) for 50% off, and a second child for free when traveling together.

The voyages are set aboard the 50-cabin National Geographic Venture and National Geographic Quest, and the 31-cabin National Geographic Sea Lion. Rates begin at $5,990 per person based on double occupancy in a category 1 cabin, with the starting rate for the first child $2,995. Savings do not apply to extensions. New bookings only.

Lindblad continues the celebratory spirit on any Exploring Alaska’s Coast Wilderness voyage with a new onboard Milestone Package. Geared for guests getting the whole clan together for a life-changing expedition to mark personal achievements and milestones—the big birthdays, anniversaries, multi-generational reunions, graduations, retirements, vow renewals—the complimentary amenities include:

• A special in cabin welcome gift upon arrival
• 5% off for groups of 8 or more
• A $150 Gift Card to use on board—for an item in the Global Gallery, a treatment in the LEXspa, a bottle of champagne with dinner, or to apply toward the bar tab
• A complimentary voyage DVD
• Complimentary custom group photograph taken by the LEX-NG Photo Instructor—to capture the moment
• A celebratory cake, served with flair on the evening of choice

The Milestone celebration is available for new bookings only, and must be communicated at time of booking. Group cancellation terms apply, and it is not combinable with certain offers.

For reservations or additional information on Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic voyages to some of the most beautiful and fascinating places on Earth, visit, call 1-800-EXPEDITION (1-800-397-3348), contact your travel advisor, or find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

From on board MV True North. Koala trouble on Kangaroo Island

#expeditioncruising .

Itinerary: Southern Safari
Location: American River, Kangaroo Island, SA

Kangaroo Island koala at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (supplied)

Everyone loves koalas. They're cute, furry and oh-so cuddly, but here on Kangaroo Island (KI) they are something of a bother, not the least to themselves.

With True North safely anchored in Ballast Head Harbor(1) at American River, our half-day coach tour aboard SeaLink was ready at 7am to whisk us from the jetty and off into the heartland of Kangaroo Island.

Our first stop is at Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, a privately run animal refuge covering 20 square kilometres of largely undisturbed mallee and eucalyptus wilderness. Opened in 2011 it mainly protects some 200-400 koalas, with 20 or so visible to visitors at any one time, sitting contentedly in their manna or bluegum trees.

Now there's trouble in paradise because the koalas are beginning to eat themselves out of house and home, exhausting their preferred leafy foodstuff. What I had forgotten was that koalas are not native to KI, instead in 1920 a small troupe of 18 animals was moved to the island from Victoria where they had been savagely hunted for their fur. This act of conservation has been somewhat too successful with numbers reaching around 50,000 today(2). What to do?

Lethal culling has been ruled out, relocation back to the mainland is too stressful for the animals (although trials are still be done in the Adelaide Hills and Blue Mountains), so a program of sterilisation is being undertaken with the hope further population growth can be prevented.

Visitors enjoy Remarkable Rocks (SeaLink)

With our knowledge of local koalas considerably enhanced, we set off again for more routine sites, namely the iconic Remarkable Rocks and Admiral's Arch with its resident fur seal population at the far western end of KI.

There's time for more fishing and local sightseeing in the afternoon before another superb dinner from chefs Luke and Gav.

1. Early Australian spelling used 'harbor' without the 'u' in all South Australian ports, including Victor Harbor, Ballast Head Harbor and even Adelaide's main commercial port, Outer Harbor.
2. modelling done by the University of Adelaide based on 2015 survey data.