Day 9 |
Mar 05, 2009

At Sea, West Of Chiloé Island

By Dr Chris Edwards, Geologist/Glaciologist

Co-ordinates: Noon Position: 42 degrees 57 minutes south, 74 degrees 35 minutes west

Weather: Morning: bright sunshine and warm. Afternoon: Cloudy and overcast, with thunder and occasional brief showers.

Air Temperature: 14 degrees Celsius

Sea Temperature: 13.5 degrees Celsius

Pressure: 1013HPa (millibars)

Wind: WSW 2 m.p.h.

This morning, the Prince Albert II was northbound off the island of Guafo, located southwest of Chiloé Island. The gently rolling swell was punctuated by a few sooty shearwaters, but there were not many other birds flying due to the lack of wind.

At 9:30 a.m., Claudia Holgate gave a detailed description of the phenomenon of ozone depletion in the upper atmosphere. Just as she was finishing, a cry went up from the bridge that whales had been spotted. A steady stream of guests made for the outer decks to witness this spectacle as the ship approached a number of gigantic whales that appeared in the sea ahead of us. Our Naturalists and Expedition Staff quickly identified them as blue whales, the largest animal ever known to have lived on the planet, and here we were, surrounded by them!

The Captain announced that he was slowing down the ship, and the Prince Albert II circled around for the next 1.5 hours for a closer look at the various whales that appeared. It became apparent that the whales were obviously not interested in us, and went about their feeding without interruption.

Blue whales can measure up to 30 metres in length, yet the water we were in was no deeper than about 120 metres. Unfortunately, the whales rarely presented the tail flukes that everyone was keen to see, although some flukes were observed from a distance. Some smaller whales, presumably juvenile blue whales, were also spotted in close proximity to some of the adults.

It is interesting to note that the presence of this concentration of blue whales has only been known in scientific circles since 2003, and this area represents a nursery and feeding ground for these whales. Where they migrate to after leaving this area is presently unknown.

The planned lecture programme was temporarily suspended while we observed a plethora of leviathan behaviour and sightings. After a while, the Captain decided that in order to make Niebla at a realistic time, we had to depart the whale feeding grounds. Nevertheless, blows were still being spotted, including those of blue and humpback whales, as we steamed northwards after lunch. At noon, our position was about 14 miles off the southern end of Chiloé Island.

The weather then became more threatening and sultry as the wind dropped, and a rain cloud to the west dulled the atmosphere.

The lecture programme resumed in mid-afternoon with Claudia Roedel, who provided some instruction on how to improve digital photographs using various computer programmes to manipulate the images.

Later, the Head Sommelier, Vanja, gave an instructive demonstration of wines, particularly various champagnes, and finished with a flourish as a cork flew out of the bottle with one deft touch of his knife blade.

Next, Berenice launched into a lively discussion on the Patagonian Forests and their importance. She drew particular attention to the species of Alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides) and Cipres de Guiatecas (Pilgerodendron uviferum), which can live for more than 3,000 years.

Ignacio began the evening recap with the obligatory plans for the following day. The recap continued with a short clip of amusing footage taken from the bus by Pam McGaw, one of our guests. During our tour of the Torres del Paine, a grey fox pursued a skunk, but soon the tables were turned as the pursuer turned pursued across the steppe.

Claudia Holgate managed to convince the Technology Specialist to animate a diagram showing the depletion of ozone over the Antarctic during the winter and early spring.

Andrew enthused about all of the blue whales we had seen during the day, and were still being observed just prior to the evening recap. He explained that this concentration of whales to the west and south of Chiloé Island had only been recognised scientifically in 2003.

Finally, Peter provided a brief introduction to the history and development of the Niebla/Valdivia area prior to the planned visit tomorrow morning.

As the Prince Albert II continued to gently roll northwards in a long swell, the evening drew to a close with another fine meal in the restaurant.