DAY 27 WAVES

Blues of The STC! (Written on Jan 25, 2014)

 

Surging at the surface, the head of the Antarctic Blue whale creates quite a bow wave! Photo credit M. Jenner

Surging at the surface, the head of the Antarctic Blue whale creates quite a bow wave!
Photo credit M. Jenner

At midnight a small patch of moonlight tried to shine through the cloud, but quite unsuccessfully.  The wind remained steady on 15-18 knots from the NW and the swell was only 2 m until 2 am, when I found a couple of potholes and slowed a few rpm to smooth out the ride.

Knowing that we are in blue country, around the dinner table last evening, I consulted with the troops enquiring as to whom would like to be woken – should an animal, by chance be found in the middle of the night.  There was a general hesitation, you could say in the form of quietness, to give me the go-ahead to wake people from their much-needed, night-time sleeps.  Sam broke the silence and cheerfully announced that it didn’t matter, they would all hear any way!  In essence, he proposed that being given an option, was nice but totally academic!  He put forward his case, as such, “Well, you know with the Whale Lander Tag…”,  having previous experience – he gave the finding of the Whale Lander Tag as an example.  He is learning scientific principle!  Both he and Resty had been sound asleep when they were woken with a great noise of shrieking and thumping.  Popping their heads out of the cabin door they saw me pointing and calling out “There it is, there it is!” and jumping up and down on the Portuguese bridge!  The floating Whale Lander Tag had been located near Whale Song, a few hours after it detached from the whales’ skin and this was fantastic for the data collection!  Talk about a needle in a haystack, I thought I had reason to be happy!  Sam outlined his thoughts clearly and jokingly, “If you find something then the whole crew will be woken just with your excitement, whether we like it or not!”  The concept of asking was polite, but impossibly impractical!  Sorry crew, I do need to do a lot of apologising in advance!

A Pygmy Blue whale at the STCZ! Several physical features distinguish between the two subspecies Pygmy blues and Antarctic blue whales. Note the chunky caudal peduncle (the area from the dorsal fin to the tail) of the Pygmy Blue whale. Photo credit M. Jenner

A Pygmy Blue whale at the STCZ! Several physical features distinguish between the two subspecies Pygmy blues and Antarctic blue whales. Note the chunky caudal peduncle (the area from the dorsal fin to the tail) of the Pygmy Blue whale.
Photo credit M. Jenner

An Antarctic blue whale, one of which we saw yesterday, let’s see – the largest mammal, the largest marine mammal and the largest animal on Earth! These are some great statistics!  Antarctic blue whales are listed as Endangered within the Threatened Category on the IUCN Red List and their population of 240,000 now numbers approximately 1,700 individuals.  Pygmy blue whales once numbered around 13,000, from whaling data, are now recorded as approximately 1,000.

Let’s stop for a moment and be amazed by Antarctic blue whales…

  • their heart is 2 tons in weight, the size of a small family car
  • it pumps 230 l with each beat, with only 5-6 beats/min
  • it has 18-20 beats vs our 120 beats under-load
  • the heart pumps 10 tons of blood through 1 million miles of blood vessels
  • the valves are the size of hub-caps
  • a child could crawl through the aorta (the main artery leaving the heart)
  • it would take 6 men to drag a blue whale heart across the deck of a whaling ship with oil lubricating the decks
  • a calf born at 18 foot (6-7m), gains 250lbs (114kg) per day, drinking 1400 gallons (365 l) milk per day
  • a blue whale uses 270-395 baleen plates to filter up to 5 tonnes of water and krill with each mouthful.  It can take 1 tonne of food in its stomach, which is equivalent to 8000 hamburgers and then do it all again 2 hours later
  • the tongue weighs as much as an elephant.  You can play a game of bridge at a card table for 4 in their mouth and their lungs pump 2000 l of air, 500 times more than our lungs.
  • Wow!

The morning observations continued from the fly-bridge, the air is warming (18 degrees in the afternoon) but the wind, ‘on the nose’ still has a little chill… News in emails from home includes worries about Perth homes at risk of fire, updates of the womens’ and mens’ finalists in the Australia Open and Micah writes that Perth is experiencing another regular 350C summer day!  We have already had to turn on the ship’s air-con and it is only 18 degrees!  Hmm, we are going to feel pretty hot when we get back, I would say!

Listening in on the sea – Rob prepares a sonobuoy. Both Pygmy Blue whale and Antarctic Blue whale calls have been detected in the last few days. Photo credit M. Jenner

Listening in on the sea – Rob prepares a sonobuoy. Both Pygmy Blue whale and Antarctic Blue whale calls have been detected in the last few days.
Photo credit M. Jenner

Noon Observations Jan 25, 2014

 

Lat/Long: 410 54.6 S 1210 10.2 E

Dry Bulb Temp: 16.80C

Wet Bulb Temp: 16.30C

SST (Sea Surface Temp): 15.00C

COG (Course Over the Ground): 0100

SOG (Speed Over the Ground): 6.6 knots

Barometer: 1015 hPa

Beaufort SS (Sea State): 4

WS (Wind Speed): 17-20 knots

WD (Wind Direction): N

Swell: NW 2.5 m

Wildlife: Pygmy Blue whale, Black-bellied Storm Petrels, Wandering Albatross, Shy Albatross, White-headed Petrels, White-chinned petrels

WT: GSG – 5

Antarctic Fact: The fronds of the biggest kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) grow up to 30 cm per day during the summer despite low water temperatures.

Antarctic Slang: RTA – (Australian) to return to Australia supplies, materials or specimens.

On and on the body rolls before the dorsal fin, very small in this animal, appears. Photo credit M. Jenner

On and on the body rolls before the dorsal fin, very small in this animal, appears.
Photo credit M. Jenner

I had just finished the noon weather observations and sent it to the BOM via email at 1214 when I lifted my bowl to sample the yummy beef teriyaki with rice and baguette that Resty had served me for lunch.  Yum, the chillies were hot, all was good!  Two mouthfuls into my enticing bowl and while standing at the central driving station, in the starboard half of the front window – I saw the head of a huge blue whale surfacing, travelling from starboard to port, just 0.3 nm from the bow!  “There’s a whale, there’s a whale!” I began calling down to the main saloon lunching gang!  Almost choking on my mouthful while sounding the alarm, I reluctantly put my bowl down and the wheelhouse filled with crew.  It was action stations again!   Clothes were thrown on, as we never know how long we will be on deck, gear procured.  My usual routine – get the downtime, make the notes and take some photos!  “What flavour cetacean do we have today?”

On deck we began the same procedure as yesterday, the tagging and biopsy gear was positioned on the bow and I stayed on the Portuguese bridge to get photo-id shots, planning to move forward with any close passes.  The whale took three breaths and then was down for 7 minutes.  The next blow seen was 1 nm further to the SW, we followed but when we saw another blow 2 nm out, we were reluctant to go any further in that direction, as this was towards the eye of MOB (‘Mother of the Beast’) of whom we have carefully been avoiding.  As the whale swam perpendicular across the bow, I was able to get a left lateral body photo-id of this animal and with the surfacing style and head size and shape, we decided this was a Pygmy blue whale!  This is indeed blue whale country!  And yes, Sam was 100% right (!), asking about waking was totally academic as shown by my lunchtime sighting!

The afternoon observations proceeded from the fly-bridge, but towards the end of the day we observed from inside the wheelhouse as the wind was getting rather boisterous.  One blue whale a day, what more could one ask for?  Roast beef with corn/peas, rice, broccoli, baked carrots and sweet potato and coz lettuce with carrots delighted the gang for dinner, as well as the delicious mango, raspberry and passion fruit salad, reminding us of the summer we are returning to.

As the sun sets and we experience regular nights again, we bounce towards home!  Yahoo!  One more system from the Southern Ocean will throw nastiness towards us, but Whale Song and her determined crew are bolting for home!

Mich

Centre for Whale Research

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