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Day 5 - January 29, 2011 -  At Sea on the way to South Georgia 

By Uli Kunz - Oceanographer and Zodiac Driver

 

Coordinates: 52˚41’ S, 48˚55’ W
Weather: Bright with scattered clouds, overcast in the afternoon
Air Temperature: 4 °C, 39.2 °F
Sea Temperature: 5 °C, 41 °F
Pressure: 1005 hPa
Wind: 35 km/h


The unpleasant swell we experienced yesterday died down in the morning, so everyone could recover and enjoy the breakfast buffet as the Prince Albert II continued their voyage towards the island of South Georgia!

We resumed our lecture program beginning with Geologist Juan. He talked about the origin of our Earth and the movements of the continents. The surface of our planet, the so-called crust, consists of several plates that float on the liquid mantle. They move approximately with the same speed our fingernails grow and are in a continuous process of compression, folding and subduction. Along the edges of the oceanic and continental plates, the place where they collide, we find a high tectonic activity, expressed by earthquakes and volcanoes. Around the Pacific, this zone of geological activity is called the “Ring of Fire”, as the highest number of active volcanoes is in that region.

In the afternoon, Fisheries Biologist Luke talked about three of the main fisheries that take place in the Southern Ocean: Toothfish, Krill and Mackerel Icefish. These fisheries are somewhat controversial, as scientific research is inadequate for accurate stock assessments. The Krill is at the base of the food chain in Antarctic Waters and almost all life in the sea is dependent on it. Most of the krill catch is used for aquaculture and aquarium feeds and in the pharmaceutical industry. Any fishery that is not sustainable will endanger the survival of seals, penguins and whales in the Southern Ocean! Without krill, the ecosystem of this part of the ocean would collapse.

Marine Biologist Robin Aiello presented the third talk about amazing animals living beneath the surface of the Southern Ocean. These creatures have to be adapted to extreme temperatures and therefore are sometimes found nowhere else on the planet. Robin showed us the immense diversity of marine life and presented highly intriguing facts about these little critters. Did you know that the first Antarctic Icefish ever discovered in 1842 during the James Clark Ross expedition could not be investigated further as it was eaten by the ship's cat? Did you know that the “Sea Angel”, a tiny winged snail, would better be named “Sea Devil”, as it is a true predator and feeds on other winged snails? You didn't? Join Aiello for her next talk on another voyage!

I was just preparing a recap about some species of whales we are likely going to see when Expedition Leader Robin called from the Bridge and told me that the Captain had spotted fin whales. What a coincidence! The outer decks were swarming with guests soon after the announcement and everyone watched as four of the second largest animals on earth passed the ship. Fin whales are sometimes very difficult to observe and to follow as they constantly change direction. But these four whales were quite cooperative and approached our ship several times. The shape of the blow and their body size, together with the falcate dorsal fin, make a fin whale quite distinctive and easy to tell.

After we had resumed our course, the daily Recap & Briefing meeting, postponed without hesitation because of the sighting of the whales, could take place in The Theatre. There was still time for Robin Aiello to give information about the life and behaviour of fin whales before Expedition Leader Robin West presented the program for the next day. In the afternoon, we will pass the Shag Rocks, steep rocks protruding from the water in the middle of nowhere, where we hope to see more whales!

 

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