Thinking ‘inside the box’: Exploring the UTS Micro-CSI lab

UTS Micro-CSI on site at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Image: Andrew Frolows, 2016 / ANMM.

UTS Micro-CSI on site at the Australian National Maritime Museum. Image: Andrew Frolows, 2016 / ANMM.

The UTS Micro-CSI, on site at the Australian National Maritime Museum during National Science Week

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the ‘invention’ of the shipping container. As a cornerstone of the global economy, the humble steel box has revolutionised the way we live in profound ways. From the food on our plates to our clothes and mobile phones, there are very few items today that don’t travel to us by sea.

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National Science Week 2016 at the Museum

Micro-CSI Lab: University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Image: UTS.

Micro-CSI Lab: University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Image: UTS.

The museum will be running a series of exciting science-themed events and programs to celebrate this year’s National Science Week.

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Eighteen months on a leaky boat

 ‘Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket, Brachaluteres jacksonianus’

‘Southern Pygmy Leatherjacket, Brachaluteres jacksonianus’, by Ferdinand Bauer, lent by Natural History Museum, London

There is something intriguing about natural history illustrations. The plants look as though they are sprouting from the page but the animals appear slightly on the edge of reality, with blankly staring eyes and stiffly posed limbs. Perhaps this is because the immobility of plants permit them to be drawn from life whereas animals do not generally allow the painter that luxury unless they are in a more, well, deceased state.

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Visiting vessel RV Whale Song

Whale Song at sea

RV Whale Song at sea

We have a visitor at the museum! Whale research vessel Whale Song arrived last Thursday and will be moored at the museum wharves until 21 January.

On Thursday, I went onboard to have a look around. During my visit I met Curt and Michelle who live and research on the vessel with their daughter and two professional crew… Oh, and Skipper their fiesty little watch dog! Curt and Michelle generously showed me around the vessel and told me about their facsinating whale research.

I learnt that Whale Song is an ice class research vessel specifically built to conduct whale research throughout the worlds’ oceans.  Her hull and machinery are sound dampened so that whale songs can be heard using towed acoustic arrays (a series of underwater microphones) while the vessel is underway.  She may be one of the few vessels, besides navy submarines, that was ever designed to operate silently like this.  She has forward searching sonar and military spec night vision cameras (which we tested out, but no whales in Darling Harbour!) for locating whales in the most challenging conditions from the tropics to the poles.

RV Whale Song at sea with a pod of four whales at the bow

A pod of whales off the bow of RV Whale Song

Curt also showed me the impressive three dimensional real time bottom mapping software that allows scientists onboard to map canyons and seamounts where they find whales.

Most recently the team have completed the second season of a five year program funded by US oil and gas giants known as the Joint Industry Partners.  The project operated from Perigian Beach to the Queensland Sunshine Coast and examined the behavioural affects of seismic air guns on migrating humpback whales. Prior to that, Whale Song was in the Kimberley region measuring blubber thickness with stereo cameras set up on her gimballed 12m boom crane and applying satellite tags to northbound humpback whales off Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef.

After a brief stop in Sydney, Whale Song will head south around the bottom of Australia, studying pygmy blue whales, killer whales and sperm whales enroute to Fremantle where she will finish  her first circumnavigation of Australia.  The following months will be spent satellite tagging blue whales and humpback whales in preparation for an expedition to the Antarctic in the summer of 2012/2013.

Curt, Michelle and Skipper the dog onboard RV Whale Song

Curt, Michelle and Skipper the dog onboard RV Whale Song

Whale Song can be viewed from the museum wharves until 21 January.

For more information about Whale Song and the Centre for Whale Research, visit their website.

Carli, ANMM.

P.S Check out pics from my visit on Flickr.