A Fish Out of Water

This blog originally appeared on the Coastal Walkabout site, and has been replicated here at the Gaia Resources site.

As part of the continuing behind the scenes exploration of what we’ve been working on, this post comes from Piers Higgs, the Director of Gaia Resources, who are our development partners for Coastal Walkabout. 

In late September of this year, I headed to the airport in the dark of the (very) early morning to head up and join the team from Murdoch University’s Cetacean Research Unit in Exmouth.  My role on this trip was to learn as much as I could over the weekend about what they do in the field, to help test the Coastal Walkabout apps, and to collate the feedback from the team.

Over the previous  few months my team at Gaia Resources has been working on developing the mobile apps for the Coastal Walkabout project, both for Android and iPhones.  We released test versions of the apps the week before my Exmouth trip for the teams to use, and we set about gathering feedback from the testers based in the United States, Exmouth, Kimberley and of course, back in Perth.

I’m not a marine researcher, (even though my original degree is actually coastal geomorphology), so I was a bit of a fish out of water on the trip.  However, the team quickly made me feel welcomed and I found out I could be of help on the trip in a few ways, ranging from just being able to spot animals (probably due to my birding experience), to being able to resurrect and recover data from a Windows 8 laptop that suffered a hard drive failure.

Each day I was out on the boats, either accompanying the tagging team or the acoustic teams.  The research that the teams are undertaking was very interesting in itself, and it was great to be in the field with teams that operate like a well-oiled machine.

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Along the way I had my Android phone with me.  I started logging records pretty quickly on the water; the Exmouth Gulf was teeming with life.  While it isn’t possible to log a record on a phone while you are hanging onto the boat with both hands, I still managed to record a range of species on the trip, including humpback whales, bottlenose dolphins, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, loggerhead turtles, and some other sharks and birds.

The app functioned well on the trip for me, and it had been working well for the team as well.  There were a few times we had some minor issues, but on the whole I was pretty pleased with how it went, and how readily I was able to record sightings (once I knew what the species were!).


With the internet connectivity being… patchy?… up in Exmouth, I held off on synchronising my records until I got back to Perth, where I uploaded a few hundred records (40 odd sightings, and a few hundred track points) to the servers.  This had a few glitches, but the team back here in Perth got onto that and resolved these issues – just what testing is all about.

Anyway, I came back with a range of really good feedback from the team.  I was also able to also get to see Shona when she returned the following week from her return from the Kimberley (her trip blog is on the MUCRU site here) and get some feedback from her (as well as a few thousand records!).  We wrapped up testing with these attempts to push onto the final stretch to get it out on the app stores for people to start using as soon as we can.  The restults are now live, after our launch this last week.

I’d like to put out a big “tak” (Danish for thanks!) to the team up in Exmouth that hosted me over the weekend, including Lars, Peter, Nina, Jules, Lie and Mafalda.  It was one of those experiences that will stay with me for a long time – I don’t think you’d readily forget seeing over 50 humpback whales in a day!


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