Dingoes Under The Spotlight, Toad Busters, And Mother Nature At Her Finest

Winter is in full fling in Australia, but someone forgot to tell Mother Nature. On Fraser Island we’ve been enjoying balmy weather during the day and some crisp, starry nights.  The fruit of the Midjim Berries (Austromyrtus dulcis) have disappeared, but Wide Bay Boronias (Boronia Rivularis) are in bloom and Hervey Bay’s holidaying humpbacks (Megaptera novaeangliae) are breaching off the east and west coasts of Fraser. We’ve even seen them off the end of Kingfisher Bay Resort’s jetty.

The uber-talented Sean Scott captured this stunning image in the skies above Lake McKenzie.
Winter is also a time that dingoes (Canis Lupis Dingo) give birth and protect their young and their territory. We’ll have to wait for September and the start of spring to see pups leaving their den and starting to explore their World Heritage-listed backyard… and although the pups are adorable, please remember to be Dingo Safe on island.

Dingo and son at Fraser Island's Eli Creek.
This month, our island team has welcomed the news that University of Sunshine Coast academics have won two grants to research dingoes and dingo behaviour on island. The University is also involved in a third grant project with the folks at the University of Queensland.

What does this mean?  The more we understand about these animals, the better we can manage them.  One team lead by USC’s Dr Clare Archer-Lean will evaluate the interaction between people and dingoes on the world’s largest sand island with a view to improving current safety messages for visitors.

USC’s Ecological Genetic and Modelling Expert, Dr Gabriel Conroy, will run a pilot project to estimate the number of dingoes on Fraser and monitor population trends.  Rounding out the three, Associate Professor, Jennifer Carter, will collaborate on a University of Queensland research project specifically looking at non-invasive ways of monitoring dingo diet and health.

Look, but don't touch. Pic Air Fraser Is.
DID YOU KNOW that Fraser Island’s dingoes appear lean because they are very active? These crazy critters can travel up to 40km each day on island.  The good news is that Fraser Island’s dingo population is healthy and studies have shown that adult dingoes on island have a higher-than-average body weight that their pure counterparts on mainland Australia.

In our commitment to bring you Fraser Island ‘warts and all’… we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that last month marked 80 years since Entomologist Reginald Mungomery unwittingly unleashed one the of the greatest environmental disasters on Australia.  Back in 1935, Mungomery introduced Cane Toads (Rhinella marina) to control Cane Beetles (Dermolepida albohirtum) and other grubs that were damaging cane crops.

RANGER FACT!  Since the thirties, the toad population in Australia has exploded in leaps and bounds – if you’ll pardon the pun – with an average clutch containing more than 30,000 eggs.

According to the folks at the Fraser Island Defenders Organisation, Cane Toads arrived on Fraser Island on flood debris washed down the Mary River several decades ago. Their appearance coincided with a dramatic reduction in snake numbers, particularly Death Adders (Acanthophis antarcticus).

Check out how toad-busting scientists are waging the war on these villainous pests.

Cane Toads can snatch small vertebrates. Photo: NT News
Four Fast Facts 
(Plus 76 more if you follow this link...)

Prior to 1935, Australia was devoid of toads. Mungomery sourced 102 cane toads – an equal split of males and females - from Hawaii.  It took one week for the toads to start laying eggs, and another three days for the eggs to start hatching. Within weeks they had thousands.

The toads were initially released throughout Tourism North Queensland and it took just 10 years for them to reach Brisbane. The sad fact of the matter is that nobody realised that cane toads couldn't jump very high and couldn't reach the beetles they was supposed to eat - so the invasion has been for nothing.

Toads compete with native species for sheltering sites and food resources, and while feed primarily off insects, will also snatch small vertebrates.   Female cane toads grow to about 12cm in length, with males smaller in size. However, they are among the biggest frog species in the world.

Toad toxin contains both adrenaline and cardotoxic steroids, which means it gets your heart racing in order to deliver its poison shock faster. Key takeaway message - don't lick a cane toad.
(Source: Brisbanetimes.com.au 27/06/15).

Spotted and shared by @noelr70 on Instagram
And in closing, regular Jetty Hut visitors witnessed the cycle of nature in full swing as a young Short-beaked Echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) unwittingly took its life into its own paws when it went for a stroll on Sunset Beach.

It seems the unsuspecting Echidna – whose only natural predators on Fraser are Goannas, Snakes and Dingoes – may have skirted too close to a large Python in its winter curl in the sun.  Whilst onlookers were rooting for the Echidna, who seemed to escape unscathed at the time, neither animal has been seen since.

That’s nature folks.  On Fraser Island, we’re looking forward to sunny September and all the wonderful wildlife that spring brings. This is Ranger J signing off for the last time as I hand the reins over to Ranger Annie.

Fraser's All Finned And Feathered

Whale Watching off Fraser Island has just entered its 29th season in our region and, at this time of year, visitors are in the box seat to see one of the largest animals embarking on one of the longest migrations.

Hervey Bay Humpbacks indulge in a little people watching and put on quite a show while they do it. Pic Richard Campion
Sixty Minutes’ Charles Wooley once described the rise of Humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) population numbers as one of Mother Nature’s greatest comebacks.  Here is an animal that was hunted to the brink of extinction for products such as whale oil, bones and blubber.  This year, those in the know report that more than 20,000 are expected to make the annual migration along the east coast of Australia with around 8,000 of those taking time out of their migration schedule to socialise and wallow in the calm waters on the lee side of Fraser.

RANGER FACT In the late 18th century, whale bones were popular in whips, umbrellas and corsets, whilst blubber was melted down and used in candles and as a base for perfumes and soaps.

Whales were hunted to the brink of extinction.  Photo courtesy of: treasure-explorer.nla.gov.au
According to NSW Wildlife Officer, Geoff Ross - in his recent interview with ABC – better conservation practices have helped Humpback numbers bounce back from overharvesting.  However, with the increase in numbers comes an increased risk of potential boat strikes, strandings and net entanglements.

Here in Hervey Bay, boat skippers are obliged by law not to approach within 100m of the Humpbacks (or 300m if there are three or more vessels present). They also can’t approach a whale head on nor can they herd or chase them or separate mothers and calves.  For those visiting region, they can

Now that's a bit cheeky. Pic: Cody Doucette, Matador Network
It’s not just all about the whales though as Fraser Island is the Tailor (Pomatomus Saltatrix) capital of Australia.  These feisty sport fish are already beginning to school up in the deeper water of the Great Sandy Strait with 45cm fish sighted by locals recently.

You can catch Tailor all year round on Fraser but August is prime time – as that’s when mature fish school near the food supplies to spawn - but there is always plenty of action right up until October.  The Ranger team always encourage our visiting fisher folk to take what they need and then catch and release what they don’t – this helps maintain marine park resources.

DID YOU KNOW that Tailor can grow up to 10kg, but are usually between 1 and 2kg? They’re easily identified by their elongated bodies – the lower half is silver and the top is dark green.

Last month, we spoke at some length about Migratory Bird Day and the importance of Fraser Island as a key wetland of international importance for migrating birds.  It was with some interest that we read an article in The Courier Mail recently that pointed out several species that have yet to make their migration to Siberia for the annual breeding season – including terns (Sterna hirundo) and godwits (Limosa).

Crested Tern (Thalasseus bergii) on 75-Mile Beach
Scientists have yet to decipher how birds navigate, so the current theories for this lack of movement suggest the birds haven’t been able to fatten up enough (possibly because of low pilchard numbers) or that they’ve been disturbed by vehicles.

Both Federal and State environment ministers have yet to respond or commit to a proposal to close 18km of the island’s ocean beach at the southern tip for migrating shorebirds. WATCH THIS SPACE, we’ll keep you updated.

And, until next time, stay warm tree huggers… and if it’s not warm where you live, well, we’re still swimming on Fraser Island so come and visit us.  Cheers, Ranger J.