Southern Ocean Blues (Written on Jan 20, 2014)
A lumpy, moon-bathed sea was different for my night watch and as well a bright star, Venus I thought, was also a new nigh-time scenery addition. Heavy with cumulonimbus cloud, the sky was darker than the last few weeks whereby, we have had near daylight ‘midnight’ tones.
A few showers passed with 25-30 knots and only light rain. No shipping traffic, nor radio traffic, has been de rigeur for the last few weeks, but soon we will get back into the shipping lanes heading westward and eastward along the south coast of Australia. Dodging lows is becoming a sport! With 4-5 m swell we are feeling a little of the northern edge of one low-pressure systems known as ‘The Beast’. In the thick of this system 11m waves are predicted. By heading north with our tail between our legs, we are just managing to skirt the worst of the worst… Beautiful big blue waves pass the windows – simply a gorgeous colour, it is a remarkably intense hue. We look and look but no really interesting sightings all morning, even seabirds are scarce…
Noon Observations Jan 20, 2014
Lat/Long: 550 17.1 S 1180 43.3 E
Dry Bulb Temp: 5.00C
Wet Bulb Temp: 4.50C
SST (Sea Surface Temp): 4.40C
COG (Course Over the Ground): 0090
SOG (Speed Over the Ground): 7.0 knots
Barometer: 988 Hp
Beaufort SS (Sea State): 5-6
WS (Wind Speed): 23-23 knots, gusting to 30 knots
WD (Wind Direction): W
Swell: NW 3-4 m
Wildlife: Soft-plumaged Petrel, Broad-billed Prions, one Juvenile grey-headed albatross, Sooty shearwaters, 6-8 Hourglass dolphins
WT: KESG – 6.5
Antarctic Fact: Adelie penguins, the archetypical penguin, were named by French explorer Dumont d’Urville after his wife. They are black and white with a distinctive white eye ring. Breeding occurs all around the Antarctic continent and at some of the more southerly sub-Antarctic Islands. There are about 2.5 million breeding pairs known at 177 localities. It is believed there could be some new colonies in unexplored regions of the Antarctic coast.
Antarctic Slang: crèche – a group of penguin chicks attended by a small group of adults while most of the parents are out at sea hunting for food.
Hot Osso bucco graced our lunch table today from Restys’ menu! It is getting warmer, but it is still nice to have bowls of steaming soup! I am still wearing our nice warm gear, the long sleeved top and fleece-lined pants, reticent to give them up as it is so soft and comfortable.
Curt has been growing a ‘hockey beard’ for this expedition. When the Canadian hockey players (that is the real hockey, known in Australia as ice hockey!) enter the Stanley Cup Play-offs in the Finals each year around May and June , the guys from both teams deliberately stop shaving. The resultant facial fuzz appearing on all the players is the ‘hockey beard’. Curts’ rationale has followed the same theme. It is considered bad luck to shave and thus Curt has been giving us every chance of good luck on this journey. Micah and Grandma, you will notice some snow is dallying there! I quite like it, he does really look like an explorer whom has been somewhere, he’s looking a bit wild and woolly!
The waves from the west are building as we scoot to the north to pass a weather system, the afore-mentioned ‘Beast”. We watch and notice any tiny nuance on the sea, desperately looking for the tell-tale tall blow of a blue whale or any other cetacean. The bright blue water is a gorgeous colour and the observers even saw 2 pieces of seaweed, one a huge strand of kelp, actually Macrocarpus durvillea! More birds were present this afternoon, several tiny Black-bellied Storm Petrels, a Great Skua came by to check us out and a large flock (perhaps 100) Sooty Shearwaters, as well as 12 Broad-billed Prions moved quickly over the water surface. Towards early evening a juvenile Grey-headed albatross also came by for a look-see.
One year ago as we travelled from Fremantle to Jervis Bay we went south to the STCZ (Sub-Tropical Convergence Zone), a productive band of water in the region of 39-43 South. In this area, we found two pygmy blue whales and one Antarctic blue whale. Perhaps these blue whales are more localised than we realise and as such, maybe the blues in this region need not go all the way south to the ice, but are able to feed at the STZC. As always – here’s to hoping we can unravel this puzzle. As we pass through this STCZ we will continue to be on full alert. Our job as biologists is to piece together the delicate and elegant life patterns of animals. If only they could speak with us! Imagine what they would say?
Fleet pasta for dinner with mountains of pasta and beef sauce with cheese delighted the gang! In the middle of our meal, the dinner cetaceans visited! This time Hourglass dolphins! With mouthfuls of dinner we tried to get photos! They zoom so fast it is very hard to get good photos, but Russ and I persisted and they persisted! One hour later they were still on the bow! Their athletic bodies with beautiful black and white distinctive hour-glass patterns, so named for the hourglass shape, surged through the water in the low light, near a real sunset!
Thank you dolphins, lovely to see you,