Curious Coral Creatures
I am constantly amazed at the unusual variety of birds and other wildlife that take refuge on our Coral Expeditions vessels as they move around the north Australian coastline. With birds, it seems that unusual weather events, such as cyclones, can drive them from their normal migratory patterns, causing them to intermittently end up on our decks in an exhausted state. A good example of this is the rarely-seen White-tailed and Red-tailed Tropicbirds, both of which have landed on our vessels in need of a good rest after strong weather.
This also applies to some of our land-based birds like the colourful Fruit-dove family. On several occasions when severe weather systems were nearby, these colourful little rainforest pigeons would take refuge aboard our vessel until the weather cleared up.
Because they are an ocean bird, Ospreys are never far from our vessels – at the wharf or at sea. Regularly they land on our mast head to satisfy their curiosity before getting back to their main task of catching fish to feed the family. On one occasion, we saw from the Coral Adventurer that they had built a nest on the mast of another vessel at Badu Island in the Torres Strait.
One of the most adaptable and widespread native birds in Australia is the Magpie Lark, which has learned to capitalize on and benefit from a human-modified landscape. They are equally comfortable on the carpeted deck of a ship as they are in a grassy paddock. As a result, we are often visited by them in most of our ports, and in Darwin, they are known to accompany us out to sea for several kilometers before returning to their home port. Guests are often amazed by the navigation skills of this land-based bird.
Other flying creatures occasionally seen on Coral Expeditions vessels include the small winged mammals called ‘microbats’. These are normally shy, nocturnal, sonar-powered insect-hunting specialists which sometimes show an interest in our outside night lights, particularly when at anchor. We have recorded quite a few species around our vessels & once or twice they have popped inside to chase the odd insect. Again, these records are important for science in understanding the distribution of these rarely-encountered & highly mobile flying mammals.
To complete this picture of wildlife species seen on & around our Coral Expedition vessels when in tropical waters, there are a number of reptile varieties, in addition to the curious large Sea Turtles & Saltwater Crocodiles which often swim out to our Kimberley overnight anchorages. I suspect this is mainly because commercial fishing boats throw the unwanted parts of their catch overboard to the delights of the resident crocodiles. Probably not a good idea, although this does give our guests an excellent opportunity to photograph these large reptiles in their natural surroundings.
The other commonly seen reptile variety in our tropical waters is the Sea Snake. Scientists continue to discover new species every year, and we have identified nearly 30 species in the waters of northern Australia. Many of them are highly venomous, but they are generally non-aggressive and often exhibit curiosity and a calm temperament. Occasionally, a sea snake may climb aboard the back of our vessels and seek rest. In such cases, we handle them with care and transport them to the nearby shore for a gentle release, providing a photo opportunity for our guests. We also share the photos and relevant information with the scientific community. Interestingly, one of our sea snakes turned out to be the most westerly recorded specimen of its species in Australia
One of the most exciting aspects of our voyages here at Coral Expeditions is the constant chance of seeing new wildlife species & behaviour patterns which were previously unrecorded. There are numerous stories and each voyage is a brand new adventure and experience!