In Antarctica! 19 March 2017
Our second full day on board the Plancius was eventful to say the least. During the night we crossed both the Antarctic Convergence and 60 degree South latitude, meaning we are now both biologically and geographically in Antarctic waters – yay!
Marine mammal and seabird surveys began bright and early before breakfast. Having crossed the convergence, we’re now experiencing cooler weather (around 3 degrees Celsius instead of 7) and, much to everyone’s delight, far calmer waters. A low lying fog surrounded the ship, reducing visibility to less than 2 km, but still we persisted, determined for a successful second day of surveying. Soon enough we had our first sightings: a group of chinstrap penguins resting on the surface off port side, and a pod of around 6 hourglass dolphins proposing on the starboard side… And all before 9.30am!
By late morning we were into the full swing of things with cape petrels, Wilson’s storm petrels, black-bellied storm petrels, southern fulmars, and the occasional sooty albatross circling the boat regularly. Chinstrap penguins continued to porpoise past, and we kept our eyes scanning for our first whale blow… Finally, just after 11am, it happened. Two large blows were seen in the distant fog, and as they moved closer we saw the scythe shaped dorsal fins which confirmed our first large cetacean sighting: fin whales. As we moved closer more dorsal fins appeared, and soon there were 5 fin whales around 600m away from the boat. To say we were excited beyond all belief is putting it lightly – it was the moment we’d all been waiting for since leaving Edinburgh airport a week ago.
As the day continued we saw the occasional fin whale, and much to my joy, we encountered our first Antarctic fur seals since our first fur seal sightings (but South American) of them when leaving the Beagle Channel a few days ago. These charismatic otariid seals were seen porpoise past the boat, bobbing their heads up to take a look, and one even floated past, lying on its back with all four fins in the air. Surveys continued through until dinner at 7pm, where the whole dining room wad bustling with excitement about the day just passed and anticipation for the days to come.
By 9.30pm we were ready for some downtime. Looking around the lounge you could see half the inhabitants popping open bottles of red wine and pulling out a pack of cards, and the half were dozing off on sofas and half-falling asleep slouched over computers and books… I’ll give you one guess as to which half the ‘student’s on board were! Having well and truly morphed into our role as polar scientists, we headed off to bed early in preparation for another eventful day tomorrow.
written by Jules Sutherland
2 thoughts on "In Antarctica! 19 March 2017"
Well done to all the researchers down there. Keep up the posts and the pictures.
Fantastic report and pictures, all so exciting and can't wait to see and hear more reports of marine mammals and birds. Hope you are all savouring every moment of this wonderful experience. Hello Alec and lots of love from back home in snowy Yorkshire Dales!!!! Xxxxx