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Crocodiles and dinosaurs in Australia

Are crocodiles dinosaurs?

Crocodiles are in the news again, for all the wrong reasons.

They are reptiles like lizards, turtles and snakes and they have a very ancient lineage.

Crocodiles belong to the clade Archosaur. A clade is a group of organisms that have a common ancestor. Interestingly, Archosaurs also include dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

The earliest fossil crocodile known, lived more than 300 million years ago and the crocodilians developed alongside the dinosaurs.

Like birds, which are now considered dinosaur descendants, crocodilians survived the K-T extinction, 66 million years ago.

Why aren’t crocodiles considered dinosaurs also?

There are a number of reasons particularly surrounding the Archosaur “family tree” and when crocodiles branched off. For you and I, the answer is fairly simple.

A key aspect of dinosaur morphology, or shape, if you like, is that their hind legs are positioned directly under their body. This is true for birds, for instance, but not for crocodiles.

For this reason, also, pterosaurs, flying reptiles from the time of dinosaurs and prehistoric marine reptiles, such as ichthyosaurs, pliosaurs and plesiosaurs are not dinosaurs.

In recent years, crocodiles have appeared in our news as the culprits in attacks on humans. This shouldn’t surprise us and, in fact, crocodiles are fairly easy to avoid.

Those who’ve been attacked took unnecessary risks either through bravado or ignorance. In Australia, the warnings about estuarine crocodiles are clear and simple.

Are crocodiles dinosaurs?

On a bank of the Annan River in Far North Queensland is Blackie, the five-metre male crocodile that is said to rule the area. Photo: Jocelyn Watts

 

 

Where are crocodiles found in Australia?

You can expect crocodiles in any watercourse or basin from Fraser Island, across the northern coastline, to Shark Bay in WA.

Don’t go in or on the water, even in small boats or skis and kayaks. Don’t develop habits such as fishing, cleaning fish or dumping fish or meat scraps in the same place regularly. Crocodiles are smart and they learn.

Crocodiles are quite common in Australian tropical waters and the largest grow to at least 5 metres. You are not going to survive a meeting with an animal that size.

How big are crocodiles?

The largest measured crocodile was Lolong, which was captured and measured at 6.17 metres. Lolong was captured in the Philippines. He was suspected of the deaths of several people in his vicinity.

There have been claims of bigger crocodiles, including Krys. He was shot in 1958 near Normanton in Far North Queensland and was claimed to be 8.64 metres long. The accuracy of this measurement is contested though.

There is a skull in the Paris Museum that is 76cm long. Lolong’s skull was only 70cm.

Returning to prehistoric crocodilians, the largest known was Sarcosuchus imperator which may have grown to 12 metres.

Feature photo: Crocodile in the Northern Territory of Australia, by Jocelyn Watts.

Take a reef tour of Hinchinbrook Channel with Swainie

UPDATE: Experienced fisherman Andrew Heard, 69, is believed to have been taken by a crocodile near Hinchinbrook Island on 11 February 2021. 

For details visit https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-13/body-found-missing-fisherman-andrew-heard-crocodile-attack/13152026

For details on how to be croc wise visit https://environment.des.qld.gov.au/wildlife/animals/living-with/crocodiles/croc-wise

Top 5 ways to unwind with a reef tour from Cardwell, but be croc wise!

If you’re looking for a top spot to relax, far away from city crowds and office desks, the Hinchinbrook Channel near Cardwell is one of the best in Queensland.

Port of Call skipper Annette Swaine lives and breathes a boatie’s life, taking reef tours through the channel and helping people with their boating and fishing supplies.

“I’ve found my happy place,” she beamed.

I met Annette, affectionately known as ‘Swainie’, while recently visiting one of my sons, Steve, and his family in Tully where they now live and work, in paradise.  And I thought I was lucky just to visit!

When Steve suggested taking a reef tour through the Hinchinbrook Channel with Swainie, he didn’t have to twist my arm. The tour is listed on TripAdvisor as one of the best in the region. I quickly agreed.

Swainie was a terrific host, sharing lots of information throughout the four-hour trip onboard Osprey, Port of Call’s Sailfish Cat.

Here are the top 5 things I learnt about the area that day:  

1. Crab fossils wash ashore at Ramsay Bay

Annette Swaine showing fossilised crabs found at Ramsay Bay

Annette Swaine shows fossilised crabs found at Ramsay Bay on Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland.

Taking us ashore at Ramsay Bay, Swainie showed us crab fossils that had washed onto the beach. The species was unknown. Could they be rare Fiddler Crabs?

The Discover Port Hinchinbrook website reads:

“Fossilised crabs, including a species of Fiddler Crab (6000 years old) are found in the creeks of the Island and on the shore of Ramsay Bay.

“There are only two other places (Southern California and the Panama Canal) in the world where fossilised Fiddler Crabs have been found.”

Alas, Dr Marissa McNamara, Queensland Museum Collection Manager Crustacea, said this fossil was not a Fiddler Crab.

“It is a crab, but unfortunately the species cannot be determined from the photograph,” Dr McNamara said. 

“This crab specimen is termed a subfossil. It is probably 5000 to 8000 years old, and as such represents one of the same species that we see living in the area today.

“Subfossils are often casts of crabs that have been in their burrows and gotten smothered with a heavy load of siltation from a flood.

“Generally soft-muddy bottom inshore or mangrove species are found, like mud crabs or sentinel crabs.

“Fiddler Crabs are not typically represented.

“Often fossils like this are deposited during times when the sea level was somewhat higher, and that is why they can get washed out of river banks or mangroves during cyclones or any change to the path of creek channels.

“They often turn up around the mouth of the Brisbane River, and Magnetic is another hot spot, but they can be found in many places, including Hinchinbrook Island.”

2. Hinchinbrook Channel is a nature photographer’s paradise

Sea creature at Ramsay Bay

Sea creatures can be found on the beach of Ramsay Bay.

Heavy fog blanketed Cardwell as we set off about 8 am but soon we were beyond the fog and cruising across the tranquil waterway towards Hinchinbrook Island.

A few nautical miles out, eagle-eyed Swainie spotted a saltwater crocodile in an area they liked to frequent. She said crocs were regularly sighted there.

Saltwater crocodiles can be found from the tip of Cape York to as far south as Gladstone, and sometimes even further.

Queensland Department of Environment and Science records show crocodile sightings were reported at Burrum Heads and Toogoom as recently as April 2020.  

Swainie said Hinchinbrook Channel was a major feeding ground for dugongs.

“Dolphins, green turtles and a wide variety of fish and crustaceans also live in the waterway,” she said.

Fishing wasn’t on our agenda but I was able to photograph garfish as they skimmed across the water’s surface. It was a photo opportunity too good to miss.

The area also supports a rich diversity of birdlife, including Torresian Imperial Pigeons, Torres Strait Pigeons (Ducula spilorrhoa) or nutmeg pigeons.

While ashore at Ramsay Bay, we were on the lookout for the vulnerable beach thick-knees (Burhinus neglectus), but we weren’t that lucky.

On Hinchinbrook Island, the tropical habitat also provides refuge for many endangered species including the giant tree frog.  

3. You can get closer to nature on the Thorsborne Trail

Hinchinbrook Island, Queensland.

The Thorsborne Trail winds its way along the eastern edge of Hinchinbrook Island.

A few days earlier, Swainie had dropped off some backpackers at Ramsay Bay as they set off to hike the Thorsborne Trail (commonly known as the East Coast Trail).

The Discover Port Hinchinbrook website lists the Thorsborne Trail as one of the world’s best backpacking adventures.

“This 32km trail winds its way along the eastern edge of the magnificent island in the shadow of the rugged Mt Bowen,” it reads.

“It snakes its way through a tropical wilderness, along spectacular ocean beaches and crosses numerous crystal clear mountain streams.

“Campsites are on beautiful beaches, beside freshwater streams or near magnificent mountain stream waterfalls.”

As part of our reef tour, Swainie picked up the backpackers from George Point on the island’s southern end and ferried them back to Cardwell, all with cameras holding hundreds of photos of their adventure.

4. Charter a boat and go fishing   

Port of Call Boating and Fishing Supplies at Cardwell

Fishing is a popular pastime at Cardwell and Hinchinbrook Island in North Queensland. 

 Throwing a line in the water might have provided us with a dinner of fish that night, except this was an impromptu trip.

With some forward planning, things might have been different. 

Swainie said North Queensland was internationally renowned as one of Australia’s tourism destinations.

“The Hinchinbrook Channel with its tranquil waters is an angler’s paradise,” she said.

“On the reef, you can fish for coral trout, mackerel, giant trevally or nannygai. Barramundi and mangrove jack can be found in the estuaries and rivers.”

5. Research history

Rugged mountains on Hinchinbrook Island

A warplane that crashed in the rugged mountains of Hinchinbrook Island in 1941 remains scattered at the site.

 If you’re into researching history, there’s no shortage of topics with which to while away the hours in the Hinchinbrook Island and Cardwell areas.

After picking up the backpackers from George Point, we headed back to Cardwell. On the way, Swainie pointed to where the wreckage of a World War II plane still lies.

A Queensland Government website that’s dedicated to World War II history reports (in part) that on 18 December 1941, a USAAF Liberator bomber known as ‘Texas Terror’ lifted off from Garbutt airbase, Townsville, for Iron Range on Cape York Peninsula but soon disappeared.

Searches were made but no trace of the plane was found until two Aborigines searching the gullies on Hinchinbrook Island for alluvial tin reported finding some burned US currency in the creeks at the base of Mount Straloch.

In early 1944, searchers found the wreckage on the southern flank of Mount Straloch. The aircraft had struck the face of the mountain some 150 to 180 metres below the summit, killing all 12 people on board.

The wreckage remains scattered over the area.

For more information on the wreckage, visit https://wanderstories.space/mt-straloch/ 

A return trip is on our bucket list

Our impromptu reef tour with Port of Call skipper Swainie gave us a preview of what we could see and do, in and around the Hinchinbrook Channel. A return trip is definitely on our bucket list.

Port of Call Boating and Fishing is located at Port Hinchinbrook, Cardwell. For more information visit https://portofcallshop.com.au/about-us/%20

Details on Hinchinbrook Island can be found at www.porthinchinbrook.com.au and https://parks.des.qld.gov.au/parks/hinchinbrook

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Port of Call Boating and Fishing Supplies tour of the Hinchinbrook Channel on the Great Barrier Reef.

 

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Rock around the croc at Cooktown Discovery Festival

Would you like to discover Cooktown’s history? 

When the 2017 Discovery Festival at Cooktown kicked off, even the wildlife put on a stunning show to welcome the deluge of visitors. 

Spotted on a bank of the Annan River just south of the town in Far North Queensland was Blackie, the five-metre male crocodile that rules the area.

Last time I visited Cooktown, locals said I’d catch of glimpse of Blackie but he was nowhere to be seen. He didn’t even offer a few bubbles of water to suggest his snout was just below the surface.

This week, however, he was there in full view where I could see him from the safety of a high bank on the opposite side of the river.

Rock around the croc at Cooktown

Blackie makes an appearance.

Organisers of this year’s Discovery Festival also went above the average watermark with a full weekend of festivities in celebration of James Cook’s landing in 1770.

Located at the mouth of the Endeavour River on the Cape York Peninsula, Cooktown is where James Cook beached his ship for repairs after sustaining serious damage on a nearby coral reef.  

In 1873, the town was settled as a supply port for the goldfields along the Palmer River. It was known as Cook’s Town until 1874.

Located about 330 kilometres north of Cairns, Cooktown today has a population of about 2500. Numbers swell radically every June for the annual Discovery Festival.

This year’s jam-packed program included activities and events for all ages starting with a Mayor’s Maroon Community Ball on Friday night. The 1RAR Army Band provided the music and again entertained crowds in Anzac Park on Saturday.

Fire dancers, fireworks, buskers, paintball, markets, street parade, helicopter flights, harbour cruises, dancing, workshops, competitions, tours and a wet t-shirt competition were just some of the other highlights.

The festival culminated on Sunday with a costumed re-enactment of James Cook’s historic landing in Bicentennial Park where still in place is the rock to which His Majesty’s Bark Endeavour was tied in 1770.

A huge crowd gathered to watch the impressive show that preceded a ceremonial firing of a full-size cannon by a lucky spectator who won the opportunity in a ticket draw.

Below is a glimpse of festival fun at Cooktown. To discover more about the town’s festival, visit  http://www.cook.qld.gov.au/community/events/cooktown-discovery-festival

Cooktown

 

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https://jocelynwatts.com/cooktown/

 

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