Andvord Bay (Tues., 5/18/10) – Exploring Whale and Krill Abundance
by Greg Marshal -- May 18th, 2010
Today was another extraordinary day in one of the most majestic places on the planet.
The plan of the day was to explore, map and document whale and krill abundance and distribution in Andvord Bay, some 30 miles southwest of Wilhelmina Bay where we’d spent the last several days. Andvord, it turns out, is a quite a different place… spectacular in it’s own way with huge glaciers pressing into an largely ice filled bay. Palatial icebergs, smaller “bergy bits” and tiny car sized ice “growlers” patrol the bay in stately procession. It may be that all this ice and associated cold water currents that cascade down the canyons of this fiord push the krill deep… and perhaps out of comfortable reach of the whales. That is to say that, today at least, we saw almost no whales (just a couple of minkes that popped up for a few moments and then disappeared under ice). You have to wonder what they’re doing down there… in fact that’s what we do aboard this ship every day – wonder and work to understand what they’re doing down there. And one of the tools we’ve got aboard takes advantage of the fact that more than half of the human brain is dedicated to processing vision. So what if we could see what whales do when they disappear underwater? Well, with a “Crittercam” we can do just that.
A couple of days ago we deployed the first ever Crittercam on a whale in the Antarctic… and yesterday and today we were able to review the results of that deployment. I smile as I write this thinking about the wonderful world we experienced as we dove in the icy waters riding along with a powerful young humpback whale. The deployment was marvelously tranquil and smooth – Ari and Jeremy casually paddled the Zodiac up to the whale so that I could suction cup the Crittercam to its back.
After a moment or two, the whale (which we named “Logan” after my son) gently slipped under the water and took us on an incredible ride into its world. The 11 hours of video (plus environmental data) we captured reveals an intimate day in the life of one of the planets most iconic animals.
From cavorting with other whales, to diving through swarms of krill, to “playing” with kelp and blowing bubbles the secrets “Logan” shared with us through the Crittercam video help us understand these animals in an inaccessible and otherwise alien world. And there’s something else the images do… they inspire a special kind of bond with the animals as we recognize much of our own behavior in theirs – close social bonds, gentleness, curiosity, play. Sure, this is anthropomorphizing… but it’s hard to be strictly rational when your faced with the majesty of a humpback whale resplendent in its own world. Yes, there’s still lots of magic in the world… and some of it’s right here on the bottom of the planet at 64 degrees south!