Day 7 |
Oct 19, 2010

En route to Salavery / Peru

By Brigitte Fugger, ornithologist

Midday position: 05° 45’ 80 “S, 81° 17’ 00” W
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: 16 °C
Sea Temperature: 15 °C
Wind: 3 SSE
As we are continuing our sail south from Ecuador to Peru we are getting deeper and deeper into the Humboldt (or Peru) Current. The water temperature has dropped considerably to a mere 15°C as has the air temperature. For the first time on this voyage, it is time to put on a jacket when going outside. The cold, oxygen-rich Humboldt Current branches off from the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and runs up the west coast of South America as far as the equator where it turns west – heading for the Galápagos Islands. On its way it causes coastal upwelling and a lot of nutrients are brought to the surface. This then starts the food chain from plankton to fish, which would be primarily anchovies in this area.
So life in and, consequently, also above the ocean is much richer here. Early in the morning I already spotted a couple of storm petrels and shearwaters, Dominican Gulls, Peruvian Boobies, Blue-footed Boobies and a Waved Albatross. This magic bird breeds on the island of Espanola or Hood in the Galápagos Archipelago, 1000 km off the coast of Ecuador, and flies all the way to the coast of Peru to make use of the rich food supplies of the Humboldt Current. The many fish also attract marine mammals, and indeed – already at breakfast time - quite a large number of Common Dolphins was spotted all around our vessel along with some huge South American Sea Lion bulls.
The talks set up for this morning went well. At 09.45 our Guest Lecturer Captain Lawrence Rudner proved his expertise in celestial navigation and taught us how to identify all of the brightest stars visible. Soon after, at 11.00, Claire Allum, our onboard archaeologist, started her lecture entitled “Myth Versus Reality – The Ritual Life of the Moche”. Until recently the Moche civilization (100 to 750 AD) had been known mostly for their elaborate pottery. New excavations however revealed that the horrific scenes of torture and sacrifice painted on some of this pottery reflect what actually took place.
In the early afternoon, at 14.00 hours, our Marine Biologist Astrid Guenther-Weigl invited all guests to join her in the Theatre for a lecture on “Sea Turtles – Ancient Mariners in a Race for Survival”. We learned how perfectly well these astonishing reptiles are designed, but we also learned about the many dangers they face. While Astrid was talking, the first large group of dolphins was spotted. As it turned out, this was only the start of a series of what could be the best whale and dolphins observations I have ever had in my 18 years at sea.
We saw different Humpback Whales breaching and lob-tailing in the distance and a mother and calf right beside the ship. They are on their way from their winter calving grounds off the coast of Colombia and Costa Rica to their summer feeding grounds in the Southern Ocean. Large groups of Peruvian and Blue-footed Boobies were accompanying an even larger school of a Short-beaked Common Dolphins, shooting down like fighter jets into a sea that was literally boiling with fish and dolphins. 
And – the absolute highlight of the day – a Blue Whale, the largest animal that ever lived on Earth on our port side, rather close but getting out of view much too fast! And shortly after a second Blue Whale, so close that its spout sprayed the vessels’ bow! We indeed all got worried that we might have hurt the giant of all giants and checked with our binoculars as this magic animal was quickly vanishing in the distance – it seemed unharmed, thank god! There are only between 4,000 and 7,000 Blue Whales left in our oceans and we really would not want to injure a single one of them!
After these spectacular sightings came a period of rest. Food is patchy in the oceans and you really cannot expect to have marine mammals around you all the time. So at 17.00 our Botanist Hans-Pater Reinthaler found enough listeners for his talk on the rain forest of South America entitled “Green Hell – Lost Paradise”. In this lecture Hans-Peter introduced us to one of the most important ecosystems on earth and gave us a deep insight into this fascinating green world and its problems. 
At Recap just before dinner Marine Biologist Robin Aiello greatly enlarged our knowledge of the formidable Blue Whale, followed by myself with a short contribution on “Boobies and Dolphins”, Hans-Peter introduced some tropical fruits and Claire added some information on the “Moches”. As usual Expedition Leader Robin West presented us with all the practical information we needed for tomorrow’s excursion to the archaeological complex of “El Brujo”. Later that evening – after dinner – we had still another activity planned: Star gazing with Larry Rudner! This time however luck was not with us, the cloud cover just refused to lift!