Voyage Journal 7105 Day 7

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Day 7 - February 27, 2011 - Neko Harbour, Gerlache Strait

By by Luke Kenny, Fisheries Biologist

Co-ordinates: 64˚50.5’ S, 62˚32.4’ W
Weather: Scattered light rain showers
Air Temperature: 0 °C, 32 °F (12:00 hrs)
Sea Temperature: 0 °C, 32 °F
Pressure: 991.5 hPa
Wind: Calm in Neko Harbour, but gusting 30 knots out in Gerlache Strait


At 08:00 the Prince Albert II arrived off Neko Harbour, a small indentation of Andvord Bay on the eastern side of the Gerlache Strait. I was on Zodiac driving duty this morning for our combined landing and Zodiac cruise of the Harbour, so by our arrival I was decked out in full cold and wet weather gear ready to face the Antarctic elements. I joined two fellow Zodiac drivers in ferrying guests ashore while the rest of the drivers divided themselves between the remaining Zodiacs. Once the first half of the guests were ashore, I embarked 12 guests and set off out into the ice strewn Andvord Bay in search of Minke whales and other wildlife.

It was our Expedition Leader Assistant, Jarda, who first sighted the whales. She had watched the direction that both Juan (our Geologist) and I had taken and opted for a different direction, so that as much of the bay would be covered. I quickly changed course and joined the rest of the Zodiacs in the area where the whales were spotted. Minke whales are curious creatures, regularly approaching and examining small vessels. Sure enough, this whale was quite interested in all the attention being lavished upon him and swam around us for half an hour or more.

Minke whales play a cat and mouse game, often popping up where you least expect them. Occasionally though, they release bubbles that indicate their track, and it was such evidence that allowed us to be ready for one of our closest encounters. At this stage I had long since stopped moving and was allowing the Zodiac to drift in the area. A bubble or two indicated the creature’s proximity and suddenly we saw it some metres away, still about a metre or two under the surface, and coming directly for us. It glided smoothly underneath us, apparently effortlessly, with not the slightest chance that it might brush against or upset our little craft. The Antarctic silence momentarily broken by the oohs and ahhs of the excited guests all glued to the dark waters beneath us.

Meanwhile on the shore side, the guests were enjoying their continental landing, for Neko Harbour is a small indentation of the Antarctic Peninsula proper, as opposed to several other landing sites that lie on the nearby islands. A Weddell seal had hauled out at the landing site and was contentedly posing for photographs, while Ken, Hans-Peter and Will were leading walks past the gentoo rookeries and up onto a hillside lookout. The more adventurous of the guests took the quick way down, using their posteriors on the snow slopes, and letting slip squeals of joy in the process.

The highlight of my day to that point occurred whilst making my way back to the ship with the last of the shore party. The last two Zodiacs ferrying guests back to the ship had spotted a leopard seal and now it decided to investigate my Zodiac. It darted and swooped below us, first this way, then that until we were dizzy. Every time it seemed that collision was likely until at the last moment it would veer off and pass parallel to the inflated sides of the Zodiac. Such close encounters are quite rare, for these creatures generally are wary of humans, so this was a real gem and a moment not to be easily forgotten. How can other jobs the world over ever compare to such experiences?

Leaving Neko Harbour and Andvord Bay, we steamed around the corner and entered the Errera Channel, passing numerous icebergs and then both Danko and Cuverville Islands. We continued northeast up the Gerlache Strait. I joined most of my fellow Expedition Team on the Bridge where we squinted out through wet snow-lashed windows trying to glimpse any whales that might be sighted.

The sighting, when it came, was timely, given that Hans-Peter, our onboard Botanist had just finished giving his lecture on some of the lesser known life on the White Continent. It was Will our ornithologist who spotted the humpbacks. As fortune would have it, it was a group of three whales that were all too content to stay with the ship and afford us all truly wonderful views. On several occasions they passed within a hair’s breath of the hull, and from my lofty viewpoint on Deck 6 I almost swore that those guests on the foredeck below and nearly directly above the whales below, had been drenched in smelly whale blow.

It was then my turn to lecture. I presented my Antarctic Fisheries lecture at five o’clock. In it, I introduces our guests to the past and present fisheries of the Antarctic continent region, or more accurately of the Southern Ocean. Later, in Recap, I added to my lecture by highlighting the issue of incidental seabird mortality in fishing practices, and explaining the action being taken by concerned parties to try and save the birds most threatened, such as the albatrosses and petrels. Much education is still needed to prevent continued bird mortalities and all seafood consumers have a part to play in ensuring that the products they consume originate from sustainably managed fishing enterprises.

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