The Beauty of the Antarctic! (Written on Jan 15, 2014)
The two humpback whales we sat-tagged yesterday afternoon continued to feed in their incredible synchronised style well beyond my 9pm bedtime… Knowing we had whales feeding right near the bow was part torture and part delight! Wanting to be on deck with them was the torture bit, but knowing I needed to rest, allowed me to sail into sleep comforted by Captain Hook and Scar Face being very nearby. Simon and Resty tracked the whales, and following with Whale Song we continued recording the krill biomass with the BioSonics abeam. The BioSonics echo-sounder has recorded continuously for more than a week now, creating a huge and wonderful dataset! Russ raced the decks filling every GoPro on board with wonderful footage of our synchronised feeders!
As I came on watch at midnight, I breathed a sigh of relief. At last the fog stayed away and we have clear vision. On all sides beautiful icebergs float and just generally look very pretty. Some bergs look like a puppy dog, we had a Beagle yesterday! A large, tabular one appeared as an air-craft carrier. This morning a mens’ golf shoe and a dolphin surfacing, as well as a whale fluke were all part of the beauty of these bergs.
Through my 12 until 3am watch, we followed the soft ice edge at a safe distance, aiming to stay near where the whale action appeared in this area. Simon deployed and monitored a sonobuoy hearing all the usual suspects, with a possible ‘Z’ Antarctic blue whale call, while I kept watch. At 0130 when Sam came on, the light was extraordinary – icebergs all around the horizon amazed us and when two blue icebergs took my attention we travelled nearby.
Stepping out on deck in the -2.1 air temp the chill set in quickly, but the blue icebergs were intoxicating. Pure ice is blue because it absorbs the red light most efficiently. When sunlight, which is white, shines upon pure ice, only the blue light is reflected back to your eye, as the other wavelengths are absorbed. The more bubbles the ice contains, the more white it appears; the fewer bubbles, the bluer it appears. By 3 am we had already logged four humpback whale pods with five animals. One pair was heading towards the boat and then turned to follow for a surfacing, that was neat!
Whales were everywhere today! This is downtown whale city! The vista is simply incredible. The horizon of the glassy, purple-toned sea is dotted with 45 huge icebergs. In bright, golden patches of sunlight and interspersed between the icebergs we found whale blows! We could use the bergs as guides, “See the swimming polar bear, well just to the right, there’s a blow, the next pod!” Mad! I can’t believe it is true, it is so beautiful. We had 11 pods before lunch, 10 humpback pods and a lone male, sperm whale with a 26 minute down-time after taking 27 blows at the surface. The sperm whale obliged nicely, by swimming near some very gorgeous icebergs! Another interested subbie (sub-adult or teenage whale) humpback also checked us out by following along. You got the feeling the whales had time to spend being very mellow and curious, as compared with the great feeding activity that begins from 3 or 4 in the afternoon. I reckon we should just change our research to begin the day at 3pm and go right through the night doing the tagging and photo-id. It is so light it would work. Maybe next time!
Noon Observations Jan 15, 2014
Lat/Long: 630 48.6 S 1170 32.3 E
Dry Bulb Temp: -0.50C
Wet Bulb Temp: -0.70C
SST (Sea Surface Temp): -0.50C
COG (Course Over the Ground): 0260
SOG (Speed Over the Ground): 6.0 knots
Barometer: 997 Hp
Beaufort SS (Sea State): 2
WS (Wind Speed): 5-8 knots
WD (Wind Direction): WNW
Swell: NW 1 m
Wildlife: Black-bellied storm petrel, 12 Humpback Whales.
WT: CRW – 8
Antarctic Fact: Large icebergs, at least 10 km long are given code names by the US National Ice Center, specifically relating to the quadrant and consecutive sighting. For example, an iceberg called C-16 could have been encountered in ‘C’ zone, 1800 to 0900E (western Ross Sea/Wilkes Land).
Antarctic Slang: Freshies – fresh fruits and vegetables that are much appreciated in Antarctica and rare between resupplies.
While driving towards many pods of humpback whales and a tall blow that might have been a blue whale or a tricking humpback, we
enjoyed bowls of Restys’ chicken noodle consume for lunch. The bergs were beautiful and we got to know each, as we spent the day travelling and searching for a pod of whales that was feeding. Heading near a fantastically sculpted “chair”, a designer seat upholstered in snow, a humpback whale began breaching! We followed and as we approached the whale it surfaced next to us. It appeared a tad confused. I think that the breaching whale was trying to attract a pod of three adults travelling nearby but the breacher attracted us first! Soon the three whales joined ‘Barnacle Bill’, (the Breacher) and these we named ‘Nick’, ‘Flat Top’ and ‘Tiny’. ‘Tiny’ was tagged with a Whale Lander tag which records precise heading, yaw, pitch and roll data and thus was given the handle ‘Tiny Lander’. This tag is designed to come off and thus we must retrieve it to gather the data. With this mind, we tracked and followed ‘Tiny Lander’ with all its’ cronies for the rest of the evening. For the afternoon and into the evening, a whale soap opera unfolded, The Days of our Whales! ‘Tiny’ joined ‘Hi Point’ and then pretty soon we had 12 different whales all swirling around in the vicinity, including ‘Barnacle Bill’, ‘Pointer’ and ‘Chunk’ – affiliating and disaffiliating with fluidity. Several more pods joined and we noted we had ‘Whitey’ and ‘Diatom’, a large whale with the smaller covered in yellow diatoms, very close and engaged in much social contact. Perhaps Diatom was a calf of last year, explaining its’ rambunctious behaviour. We followed behind keeping a record photographically and with video of all the activity.
After dinner, chicken/pork adobo with rice, salad and black bean sauce with pork we kept running outside, ‘Diatom’, covered all over in yellow diatoms on the belly and the tail flukes, which surfaced right next to ‘Whitey’, began breaching – wow! Crazy! Got some funny photos! Really enjoying this!
What a day! Whales everywhere, incredible icebergs and sunshine – what more could you want? Oh, and we had fantastic company too! GREAT team work – awesome job everyone!
Not able to believe how lucky we are. Now, we just have to keep ‘Tiny Lander’ in our sights…