Special Sighting: Wild Ocean Tasmania

My sister Helen and I both enjoy wildlife related activities, so when we got to Tasmania we sought out responsible eco-tours in the area. I stumbled upon Wild Ocean Tasmania, a small company owned by Damo and Suzy. They run the business out of a shipping container in their backyard and use a small 12-person pontoon boat to explore the Tasmanian coastline. Their focus on adventure and education sounded perfect to us. 

We arrived at Eaglehawk Neck around 9:00 a.m. and were supplied with cozy dry suits before Suzy drove us down to the marina. Damo was already there and loaded us on the boat. They warned that swells had been large the previous day and rain was in the forecast. Helen and I had explored the area on foot the previous day and had encountered some snow at the tip of Cape Huay.  

Helen lives on the edge...

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We set off to explore some of the rock formations of the Tasman peninsula. With a small, maneuverable vessel, we could duck into caves and around towering dolerite monuments. Damo explained that these columns were part of a single 4000-kilometer-long formation which extends from Australia all the way to Antarctica. The formations are the result of volcanic activity, most likely formed during the Jurassic Period. 

We slowly made our way along the coast towards the cape. I had my eye out for albatross, and as we came around a corner I got my first glimpse of one. I pointed it out, and Damo confirmed that we were looking at a shy albatross, which can grow to have wingspans of over 8 feet. He also told us that of the 22 species of albatross currently in existence, only 3 are expected to survive the next decade. Plastic pollution is one of the biggest problems facing these magnificent creatures. Over the course of the trip, we would see at least a dozen more.  

We also noted some black faced cormorants resting on the rocks. In the air we spotted crested terns, silver gulls, a sea eagle and an Australasian gannet. 

We made our way around the Totem pole, a magnificent dolerite column at the tip of Cape Huay.

 The Totem Pole stands almost 1,000 feet high.

The Totem Pole stands almost 1,000 feet high.

The rock shot straight up in the air for hundreds of feet. A few Australian fur seals lounged on the rocks near the base. 

We headed off in the direction of Cape Pillar, which Damo and Suzy thought would be the best spot to see fur seals. On our way over we noticed a huge swarm of dark brown birds. They were short-tailed shearwaters.

These amazing birds travel thousands of miles to all mate on a single night on the cliffs of the Tasmanian peninsula. They soon engulfed us as they dove for krill. 

After watching the shearwaters for a while, we headed into some of the fur seal spots. The swell was large, but we decided to attempt to take a look in the water. 

 Fur seals in the water with the shearwaters.

Fur seals in the water with the shearwaters.

Damo and Suzy have engineered a unique platform which allows snorkelers to lie still. That way Suzy could use a small, very quiet motor to drag four people at a time through the water with minimal kicking and splashing so as not to disturb the seals. 

The water was very cold on our faces, but our bodies were nice and cozy inside the dry suits. We entered the water 200 yards from the nearest seals; then Suzy quietly drove us away from the boat and we waited to see if we would be approached. 

The plant life on the sea floor was beautiful. The kelp swayed in time with the swell, and we saw krill and semaphores drift by. One male Australian fur seal swam up to us, but only stayed for a few seconds before zooming underneath us and out of sight. 

Due to the large swell, Suzy decided to pull us out of the water. We climbed back on board and drank some hot tea while watching the fur seals on shore and in the water. 

On our way back a group of common dolphins began to bowride off the vessel. Damo slowed to accommodate them. They were engaging in playful behavior in our wake. I was able to see some social behaviors happening underwater as well, including lots of touching and swimming upside-down. 

The dolphins stayed with us for a few minutes before we headed back towards Cape Huay. We heard reports of a leopard seal that had just eaten a cormorant near there, but we were unable to locate it. 

Our journey back was filled with more wonderful albatross sightings as we enjoyed the beautiful sunny weather and turquoise water. 

Upon our return to their property, Susie showed us the baby wallabies she rescues. Many of their mothers are hit by cars. She feeds them by hand until they are big enough to be released back into the wild on their property. She told us that now the wallabies she rescued are showing up with their own joeys. 

We rewarded our successful trip with coffee and a picnic overlooking Eaglehawk Neck.

Finding a picturesque coffee bar and the ensuing picnic table dance

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I will certainly be back to experience the wildlife of Tasmania again. I highly recommend touring with Susie and Damo for an unforgettable, eco-conscious experience.