Shelf Life

Tuesday 24 January 2023

Day 4 – 20th Jan, Drake passage day 2

It is our second day crossing through the Drakes passage. Every hour we progressed further south than most of us have ever been, and excitement built as soon we would arrive at the Antarctic continental shelf.  Today, everyone in the team was feeling slightly better and we ran our first official seabird and marine mammal surveys. The weather conditions were better than yesterday but swell was around 3m with high winds, so we were still testing out the strength of our newly found sea legs. Despite the chill we were keen and ready with many layers to begin our surveys out in the open on deck 7! 

Today marks our very first effort of marine mammals surveys, with our two teams alternating every 1.5 hrs, MarMam 1 (Camille, Rebecca, Emily) and MarMam 2 (Heather, Jessica and Simone). The sightings started off fairly quiet and we were beaten to the mark by the expedition team calling some early blows in the distance (one unidentified big baleen whale). We learnt a lot – for example, how to use the reticle binoculars, data entry into the tablet and most importantly to rotate after every 30 minutes so that one person isn’t left frozen on the windiest side! We powered through two more shifts with the odd far off sighting. As we got closer and closer to the shelf everything started happening. In the distance we saw a blow, then another, then another one… and another one… you get the picture – in total we counted 6 fin whales on the starboard side in one go. Suddenly more shouts on the port side with Rebecca spotting 2 more blows within a matter of minutes. The marine mammal shift ended well with a few more sightings from Heather, allowing every team member to catch a sighting before the end of day.

Looking for whales in the Drake (by Emily) and one of the distant fin whales (by Kelly)

Survey team ready to go on the bow (by Kelly)

It was a similar story with the bird surveys, although we caught a glimpse of our first tiny Wilson’s storm petrel walking on the water. Shifts passed by fairly quietly with maybe one or two entries per sheet and the creation of our new Antarctica playlist (shout out to Julia, Seb and Nadia for busting out some dance moves between shifts). As the day passed, albatrosses started appearing all over with some exciting species gliding right past our noses like Wandering, Grey headed and Light Mantled albatross. We also had two special visitors, one very lost American Kestrel who must have been blown off course into the open ocean and took refuge on the ship and our first cape petrel, curiously circling the boat. As we sat down for tea we could see it had recruited some friends and there was about 5/6 now cruising around. 


Cape Petrel (left) and American Kestrel (right) flying around the ship (by Kelly)

Grey headed albatross in the Drake passage (by Kelly)

Throughout the day we also had multiple science talks. One talk was conducted by the science team on board, who are collecting DNA samples of humpback whales. Using a particular part of DNA, they can understand history of female individuals in the population. They will be collecting the data from humpback whales we encounter on this expedition!
There was also a lecture about the scale of organisms which we helped out with. The onboard science officer Helen had a length of rope with various markings to show the size of different types of organisms, and Sonja had brought a life size minke whale to help show the passengers the true scale of the whales here. Some of us assisted with parading the whale around the ship so everyone could get a good look at it, as it is hard to judge size accurately from high up on the decks and the whales can end up looking quite small!


To close the day we then regrouped, debriefed and planned out tomorrow for our very first landing.

The life size minke whale demonstration (by Sonja) and looking at maps to think about the coming days (by Emily)

written by Emily (right)

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