A Killer Day

Thursday 2 February 2023

Day 8: 24th Jan, an eventful day on board and a final penguin colony visit

Starting our day with breakfast at 7:30, the group had low hopes for a successful day of marine mammal and seabird spotting as fog clouded the panoramic windows. However, it soon blossomed into what would become many of the group’s favorite days of the trip.

By the time 9am hit, the students on survey on deck 7 were met with the incredible experience of seeing one of the most elusive whales in the Antarctic, as one of the Hurtigruten staff shouted out “ORCAS!”. A total of 7 orcas were spotted by the team including a calf sticking close to its mother, Identified as B type Orcas as indicated by their larger white eyespots and yellowish-brown tinge due to diatom staining.

I was a little late on the scene having returned to my bed after breakfast, and I awoke to a ship-wide broadcast announcing a possible orca sighting on the starboard side, which caused me to leap out my bed, scramble towards the window, rip the curtains open in a half-sleep, half adrenaline-filled daze. This woke up my roommate, who quickly joined me by the window. This happened just in time for us to see at least 4 Orcas surface only a couple meters in front of us, one diving beneath the ship perpendicular to our room window. It was truly magical and the best possible wake up call!

Male and female type B orcas in the second pod (by Kelly)

Soon after, the cape petrel group (our group) was called to board the zodiacs, we were confronted in the most incredible of ways by the sight of the magnificent glacier on Gand Island in Fournier Bay. Standing 6km wide, the glacier was covered in caves and deep crevasses, some covered with a delicate powdering of newly-fallen snow. It was amazing to see literal hundreds of tons of ice balanced so finely upon one another , where calving had begun. Safe to say that the zodiac drivers kept a good distance.

The team launches in their zodiac (by Kelly) and the massive glacier face on Gant island (by Jo)

Later on, the group settled down to sort through our data, although this was rapidly abandoned as Imogen spotted the unmistakable dorsal fin of another Orca just out of the window where we were all sat working! Now we were frantically moving from one side of the ship to the other to find out that we were looking at a completely new, and much larger, pod of Orcas from the ones we had seen in the morning. It was estimated that there were over 20 individuals with at least two large males, we couldn’t believe our luck. In fact, Hurtigruten staff soon informed us that they tend to see Orcas only twice per season, never mind twice in one day, as they are never in one place and roam far distances underwater.

The day didn’t end there, we completed our final penguin surveys on Cuverville. With over 7000 gentoos on the island, it’s no wonder we left with the strong smell of penguin lingering on our jackets  – which I can only compare to rotten shrimp.

Gentoo penguins on the Cuverville colony (all by Kelly)

While the rest of the group were watching a lot of pebble stealing and projectile poos, Melanie and her helpers for the day, Julia and Simone, carried out microplastics sampling. This project involved washing the rocks and grit of the beaches and filtering the resulting solution to trap any plastic fibers that are in the Antarctic substrate so that we can investigate whether microplastic pollution was present in Antarctica.


Melanie sampling for microplastics on the beach (by Jo) while a Weddell seal snoozes nearby (by Kelly)

It was a rush to get back to the ship for dinner as our landing time had got delayed well into the evening. However, the Hurtigruten dinner staff had our backs and very kindly waited for us to arrive, even though it was way past last entries. Their kindness didn’t end there, generous wine pours (Shout out to Theo and Pearl!) led us to the explorers lounge once again to celebrate our hard work so far.

Written by Jo

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