Day 5 |
Nov 29, 2011

At sea  

By Kara Weller, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 52° 39’ S, 48° 57’ W (noon position)
Weather: sunny
Air Temperature: 3° C
Pressure: 993 hPa
Wind: 22 km / h
Humidity: 86%

The sun rose at 4 am – a fact that most people did not observe personally, but this day at sea was off to a promising start with clear skies, calm seas and plenty of seabirds circling around the ship.

Many people took the opportunity to sleep in and enjoy a relaxing morning, while others got up and headed outside to watch the birds and look for other signs of sea life. The beautiful speckled Pintado petrels flew constantly around the ship, their dark heads and stout little bodies skimming over the waves, turning and gliding away and around the foaming waters. Black-browed albatrosses once again followed us, their massive and yet elegant forms gliding like jumbo-jets with never a flap of the wing or any other effort (or so it seemed) made to keep them aloft. Prions were spotted as well, small delicate birds with a dark W shaped band across the back of the wings. Only the most expert birders can tell the difference between the various species found in these waters. And the ever-present giant petrel with its mottled dark body also swooping and circling our ship as they continued flying in their constant search for food.

The sun shone most of the day and the waves were quite moderate, making it a pleasant day to be at sea.

But there was some business to attend to as well, and at 10 am Robin called everyone together in The Theatre for a look at the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operator’s rules (IAATO) that we must follow in regards to our behavior while visiting Antarctica and South Georgia.

Just as lunch was starting, a shout announcing that whales had been seen came from the deck. A small group of fin whales had been spotted in the calm sea conditions – their huge dorsal blows having been spotted from a long distance away. The Captain turned the ship to give us better views and 2 whales came up less than 20 meters from where everyone was standing and watching them out on deck. Fin whales are fast swimmers and they didn’t stick around for us to observe them again that closely, but more and more blows were spotted in the distance so for those who stayed out on deck the whale watching continued to be quite good. After asking the engine room about the temperature of the water, we also realized we had just crossed the Antarctic convergence – the biological boundary of the Antarctic. South of the convergence, cold water results in high productivity and large numbers of krill, which is the main food source for many marine animals. Clearly the fin whales had found a good feeding area.

After lunch quite some time was spent dealing with the biosecurity measures required for South Georgia, and all guests slowly filed through the mudroom to have their parkas and other outer clothing and backpacks vacuumed out and checked for seeds, in an attempt to avoid the inadvertent introduction of new species into South Georgia.

One more lecture and recap followed in the late afternoon before we once again found ourselves in the dining room for another excellent dinner, and a pleasant and relaxing evening.