Sampling and Surprise Sightings

It wasn’t long after I got back from Australia before I had fieldwork again. In fact, it was so soon after coming back that I hadn’t actually changed the time on my alarm clock, so I ended up not quite waking up on time, so that was a good start!! Luckily, we didn’t end up heading off too late, and given the time of the tide that day, it didn’t really matter. Several people at the university, including my supervisor have been contracted by MPI (Ministry of Primary Industries) to do some research into the impacts and the recovery of the intertidal communities following the earthquake. I know that we were kind of looking into that before anyway, but now it’s official contracted work, which is great. This time, I was going up to Kaikoura with two other people – Tommaso and Shawn, who both work for another person on this contract. Even though we were all going up together, we had separate sections of the contract to be working on.

Due to the timings of things this time, we’re only going up for 4 days of work – but we got to work within half an hour of arriving in Kaikoura!! This was the first time that I’ve had to go up using the inland route, as State Highway 1 was closed at the time, following rainfall and slips. Our first site was one called Wairepo – which I have worked on before in January with Islay. At the time, we had described it as a plateau where everything was dead. Although, for the most part, there still isn’t much macrofauna, or living organisms at the mid and high shore, it was nice to see that the low shore was doing much better. My work here is following a similar plan to what I’ve done before, only this time, I’ve been trusted to do it all myself. I have to find appropriate transects ant the high, mid and low shore, and then do between 5 and 10 random quadrats specifically looking for starter snails, Lunella smagradus, and limpets, Cellana denticulata. If I find more than 50 within the area, I had to collect 15 individuals for further lab analysis. Given the current fisheries ban (particularly on things like shellfish) that is in place along much of the north west coast of South Island, w had to get a special permit from MPI in order to legally collect these samples (just in case anyone reading this thinks that I’m writing about something illegal).

Since we arrived at the turn of the tide, there was only so much work we could get done on the first day. The others do actually have quite a bit more work to do than me, so I’ve been helping them out where possible. Although when there are a lot of animals in the quadrat, I have a lot of work to do (because all the organisms that we’re studying have to be measured), if I don’t have many – or any – individuals in my quadrats, then I’m done pretty quickly. Tomamaso and Shawn have to record everything in there 1m by 1m quadrats, both the seaweeds and the invertebrates, as well as having to take marked photo quadrats. I ended up taking quite a few of these photo quadrats. They had to be taken sat a specific point along the tape measure so that they can repeat these photos over the period of 18 months to see how the plot is recovering. I have to admit, I quite liked the feeling of power that I got from taking these photos. Anything I took a picture of, they have to go back to and take another picture of for at least another year and a half.

We followed the same sort of system at all of our sites, so I won’t go into too much detail about the ins and outs of all that. The initial plan was to work on 4 sites, some of which had been looked at before, but we encountered some issues with one of them. In the end, we completed 3 of the 4 sites planned – which isn’t that bad at all, given that we had about  and a half days to work on them. Our other two sites were in Sandstone bay and Sharks Tooth Point, around the south side of the peninsula. Since I hadn’t found any limpets at Wairepo, I quickly found out that if I have to collect 15 limpets, that will significantly increase the length of time I will be working at a shore height. To get them off the rock, I had to use a blunt knife, and slip that between their shell and the rock before they realise what I’m doing and completely clamp down. At least this kept me more or less up to speed with the others. I still had time to help out with the photo quadrats though!!

The highlight of this trip, though completely not-work related (as in, it did not fit in our quadrats) was whilst we were at Sharkts Tooth Point. It was also where the most annoying part of the trip happened, but mad you will see, it was something that Shawn was very happy about and Tommaso and I are still bitter about. From our site, we could see what looked like a penguin standing up and basking in the sunlight on the other side of the peninsula. I did know that occasionally you do get Penguins in Kaikoura, but it’s not common, as Kaikoura isn’t really in range for any of the species. A quick check through the binoculars confirmed that it was indeed a penguin – a yellow-eyed one at that!! We decided that we would go over for a closer look once we had finished work for the day. Tommaso and I finished Shawn, so we were sitting, looking over at the penguin, while Shawn finished up his final quadrat. As Shawn came over, we both turned around to offer him some cake someone had made us when – “Oh my god, is that a whale!??!!!” In the few seconds that Tommaso and I turned around to give him food, Shawn had seen a humpback whale breach out of the water, RIGHT WHERE WE HAD JUST BEEN LOOKING!! Of course, we immediately turned around to have a look, but the moment had passed. Shawn was, understandably, excitation, while Tommaso and I couldn’t believe what happened!! We walked over to the other side of the peninsula, hopefully looking out for a repeat performance, but it never happened. We learnt our lesson though – never be nice and offer people food.

Despite the disappointment at missing the whale (which we’re both bitter about – especially since Shawn tried to fool us again on our next field trip, but neither of us were buying it), the penguin was still amazing. We got as close as we can (there is a legal distance you need to stay back, so we kept to that), and it was completely unfazed by us!! For the most part, it just stood around and enjoyed the sun. You could see it thinking about changing rocks, but it didn’t really do much about it. It preened and sat about, and I think quite enjoyed the attention. For the only yellow-eyed penguin in probably several hundred kilometres, it did really seem quite happy. Eventually, we did have to call it a day, as we still had  30 minute walk back to the car. Whilst we were out on the rocks, Tommaso and I spent the whole time glancing over our shoulders, just in case.

Due to the time of the tides, on our last day we actually had quite a lazy morning. Tommaso and Shawn went free diving, and I enjoyed some of the feijoa that Tony (who’s apartment we were staying in) had given us. Although the day started out quite clear, it got steadily cloudy throughout the day. By the time we actually got into the field, it had started spitting – but at least (at first) it didn’t get too much worse than that. Because of how the low shore is laid out, I spend quite a bit of time slithering up and down the Ulva covered rocks, so I ended up quite wet and cold. Luckily, as there wasn’t too much for me to sample, I soon got into my nice, warm (massive) rain coat. Shortly before the other two finished sampling, it started absolutely tipping it down. If you’re thinking I just mean that there was heavy rain, you should at least double the rainfall you have in your head – as it was terrible. When you factor in the wind as well, you would need the most heavy duty raincoat imaginable (which, luckily, I had on – didn’t stop my legs and feet from getting wet though). It was actually quite difficult to see in front of us on the way back. The penguin seemed quite happy though – but, given the circumstances, we decided against going over and saying ‘hello’.

The first thing we all did when we got back to the house was change into dry clothes, and put the heaters on. All of our field notes were laid carefully in front of the heater, because for some reason, they were all quite wet. In hindsight, we probably should have loaded up the car when we were still in our wet clothes, because even if we had started out the loading dry, by the time we were ready to leave, we were back to being wet and cold, which isn’t ideal when you have a 3-4 hour drive ahead of you. My feet had only just warmed up by the time we got to Culverden, so I decided against using our little stop to get out, stretch my legs and go to the toilet. I think one of the problems was that the car was so full I had no way of really stopping some of our wet gear from dripping on me. Back in Christchurch, we had to unload, and I had to deal with the live samples (which Islay was there to help me with), before we could all go home (and get some sleep so we were ready for work the next day!!)



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