Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Errera Channel (Thurs., 5/21/09) – Don’t Distract Us from the Scenery
by -- May 22nd, 2009

As we cruised passed Cuverville Island, we could see the tell-tale signs of penguins hauling out and resting on the snow. As one of the observers noted, it was a good thing there weren’t many whales to distract us from the scenery.

A day after minke-mania, we were all eager to see what was in store when the sun came up again.  Overnight the whale we had tagged did something slightly novel, it moved.  At first light we found ourselves at the junction of the Errera Channel and the Gerlache Strait.  Fortunately, the weather was relatively calm and we were able to track down the whale.  Soon thereafter the tag was off, and beeping for us at the surface.  Once downloaded, we found that the whale spent the early night time hours foraging between 200-300 meters in Andvord Bay and then suddenly, it began to move out of the Bay.  It cruised through the Errera Channel, continuing to feed in the upper 50 meters, and ended up where we found it when the sun rose.  With calm seas and a blue sky we decided to survey back into the Errera Channel in hopes of finding more whales to tag.  Oddly enough, we were fortunate not to see many whales.  The water became glassy, the shadows lengthened and the ice bergs, glaciers, and mountains cradling the channel was epic.  Small bands of broken glacier bits were scattered around, while gentoo penguins porpoised along with us.  As we cruised passed Cuverville Island, we could see the tell-tale signs of penguins hauling out and resting on the snow.  As one of the observers noted, it was a good thing there weren’t many whales to distract us from the scenery.

The sun lost its grip around 3pm and we retreated to our night time activities.  In total, we have deployed 8 tags and collected over 110 hours of data, a fantastic amount.  Overnight we will be sampling the water column around the Gerlache Strait and then moving north to test the waters of the next large embayment to the north; Charlotte Bay.  On the map, it looks to be similar in shape to Anvord and Wilhelmina, but slightly larger and more open to the north.  Our plan is to survey the area both visually and with our echo sounders to get an idea of whether it is a place to return on our next leg.

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