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|Newsletter October 2013|
East of Flores, Impressions from an Exploratory Cruise, 25 Aug - 05 Sep 2013
By Benjamin Kahn. Photos: Benjamin Kahn & Andreas Muljadi
It's not often to get an invite to cruise a remote part of east Indonesia in total luxury. But that is exactly what happened to us! Better still it was ok to bring our 1.5 year old along, already a veteran of Komodo sailing. So that day in late July my wife and I looked at each other for a split second and said... Yes! And off we went to the airport for a local flight to Maumere. Below are just a couple of highlights from our adventure exploring the islands East of Flores.
Pelangi Pinnacle - A rainbow of colours and reef life
On the way to investigate a new dive spot one day, we turned the corner at Rusa Island. Jos and Pi saw a broad pinnacle flashing under the speedboat so we stopped to check it out and decided to change our plans and dive this instead of the other site we had been aiming for. Exploring means being flexible and so we tumbled in. No current, great visibility and teeming fish life greeted us right away. We dived along 20m and circumnavigated the whole pinnacle, which was much larger than we expected.
A top site we named Pelangi Pinnacle (Pelangi meaning rainbow in Indonesia): excellent coral, drop-offs teeming with schooling fish including rainbow runners, striped barracudas, dog tooth tuna, long nosed emperors and 100's of large surgeon fish following us along. A colourful and vibrant reef spectacle not often seen anymore in East Indonesia, we ended up diving this site 3 times during the trip, also exploring the deeper stepping stones. "Too big for just one dive" was the conclusion. Several great dives to be had here, great new find!
On one occasion along the top of the reef we found two mating octopuses. As we were settling in and filming the amorous pair connected by the male's "hectocolylus arm", the male was rudely and suddenly interrupted by an attacking moray eel dashing out its lair. The poor guy had to wrap his 8 arms around his head for cover! Amazing footage. After wrestling free from the eel, it didn't take him very long to re-connect with his romantic interest. This was all captured on video and gave a great insight into animal behavior on Pelangi Pinnacle.
Whale of a Day
Another day we dedicated to "whale patrol", surveying our known cetacean hotspots off southern Pantar and Alor. To make the most of it we left anchor at 4am to be offshore on the edge of our survey area by daybreak. Then we set the track SE-E-NE-N as a hexagon with 8nm sides towards our planned dive at noon. This way we planned to cover areas between the 2000m and 3000m depth contours and through a local upwelling zone. Well, we never made it to the planned dive at Treweg Island...
At 8:30, after just two hours of us scanning the horizon Yvonne yelled "BLOWWW!!! ONE O'CLOCK!!! It's a sperm whale". That's an impressive search time, as we routinely spend 8 hours on average searching for sperm whales (even that is exceptional when compared to other areas worldwide). We set course for the blow and soon 8 sperm whales were sighted, spread out over a mile or so around the Seven Seas. The whales were all heading in the same direction and are positioned along an imaginary line. We found a typical sperm whale family unit of about 8-12 animals, sweeping through the area while making coordinated feeding dives.
As sperm whales in the tropics routinely dive to 800-1200m depth for 40-45 min with a surface interval of 8-10 minutes between dives, there is not much time to get the boat positioned close to a pod of whales. Especially as our boat handling with the sensitive sperm whales means we have to tip-toe in from about half a mile onwards. So it's hit and miss but after an hour these efforts pay of as the whales get used to the boat's behavior around them and then start to ignore it altogether. That's our goal - to see whales in their natural habitat doing natural behaviours (and not whales being busy with avoiding boats). This takes some time and that's why we decided to ditch the dive plan altogether and spend the whole day with these whales - and see what else we could find in this special area. Back in 2005 we witnessed how 4 orcas attacked a sperm whale calf and 2 adults not far from here. Only a handful of researchers have ever reported on such attacks... Well we didn't find Orca's but ran into a Blue Whale instead...
The Seven Seas - Grahalia Tiying Gading 18, Suite 1 - Jl Tukad Pancoran
Panjer Denpasar 80225 - Bali - Indonesia