Day 6 |
Feb 26, 2010

At Sea

By Will Wagstaff, Ornithologist

Co-ordinates: 53 00 S, 046 2

Weather: A mostly overcast day but there were several sunny spells during the morning on a generally calm day.

The hubbub at breakfast showed that that the calmer seas were enabling everyone to get up and about this morning. The Prince Albert II was now at full speed and making good time towards South Georgia. The first part of the day was taken up with the mandatory IAATO briefing where Robin explained the landing procedures we would be following in South Georgia and again in Antarctica and the reasons for doing so to protect these fragile environments. Judging by the questions following this briefing, everyone was already involved with the very special places we hoped to visit.

Having had the theory it was then time to do the practical, which involved each deck being called in turn down to the mud room where all the outside gear we had used in the Falklands was inspected and if necessary cleaned. Although there was not much cleaning to do, this process took up the rest of the morning. Just before lunch I had a call to say there were two birds stranded aboard the ship. So, as the designated person dealing with birds that had stranded themselves overnight, I went to locate them. The two Antarctic Prions seemed dry and healthy, so I was able to release them out to sea. It was nice to see them back in their environment, flitting low over the waves, and to know that our plan of reducing the outside lighting at night, which disorientates these species, was working.

For those who had done the bio-security check and those waiting their turn, Hans-Peter twice gave his lecture entitled ‘Cabbage and Pearlwort – Plant Life on the Southern End of the Earth’ which gave an overview of the flora and vegetation of this fabulous region.

Just as we went for lunch, a small group of Fin Whales was sighted close to the ship. These were the forerunners of a steady stream of sightings during the day. Most were Fin Whales but we did also see two Humpback Whales and a couple of small groups of the ever-delightful Hourglass Dolphins. The latter, with their distinctive black and white pattern on their sides, typically only stayed around the ship for a while before heading back out into the open sea.

Following lunch, the first lecture of the afternoon was ‘The Mighty Albatross’ by Juan Barnett during which he gave us an introduction to these enigmatic birds and their breeding biology. It was rather special to be able to listen to the information and to be able to glance out of the window to see one of these magnificent birds glide by.

Although the calmer weather is not really to the liking of the larger albatrosses, there was enough breeze during the afternoon to enable them to fly. At one point we had at least five different Wandering Albatrosses circling the ship, the browner, younger birds seemed fascinated by the bow judging by how close they came at times. It was a good afternoon for seabirds with the expected Black-browed Albatross being joined by a superb Grey-headed Albatross with its grey head showing well as it glided towards the Prince Albert II. In all, I managed to see fourteen species of tubenose during the afternoon. This pelagic family is the Holy Grail for many seabird fans, so to be able to see so many in one short time was rather special.

Juan Restrepo gave his lecture at 1700 entitled ‘Glacier Ice- The Life and Death of Land Based Ice’ during which he showed the many types of glacier and where we might see them in this part of the world. He also gave a run-through of the many glaciological terms we might come across and what they referred to.

As we were getting ready for recap, Expedition Leader Robin announced that there were more Fin Whales close to the ship. By the time I got to the Bridge, many of the guests were already enjoying very close views of these enormous mammals as they blew and dived quite close to the ship. However, as far as I was concerned, there was something even more special on show in the shape of the Light-mantled Sooty Albatross that was gliding over the ocean only a short distance away. This most graceful of albatrosses can turn any day at sea into a red letter day, and that was certainly the case as it elegantly flew only a few metres from the Fin Whales.

At the recap I was able to answer some questions about the seabirds we had seen today before Stefan explained some of the Falklands geology; Hans-Peter talked about the plants that helped the sailors of yesterday avoid scurvy, and Juan Restrepo finished with a short comment about the variety of nationalities we have on board and how we all get along. Then it was time to head for The Restaurant for yet another excellent evening meal.