Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Hermit Island
by -- January 25th, 2015

 

Over the last three weeks Zach and I have spent almost all of our time at sea level, chasing whales in our Zodiac. So we were excited to get a very different perspective today, by climbing up to the peak of one of the islands in our study area. The whales have thinned out over the last couple of days, so we thought we’d take a look for them from a different vantage point.

 

AJR on Hermit 2

Andy working his way up the slope on Hermit Island. Photo by Zach Swaim.

 

Hermit Island was named after a surveyor who stayed alone on the island in January 1957. It is only about a mile long and 100 meters high, but provided enough of a vantage for us to be able to survey our entire study area. As we pulled up to the island, we were greeted by a juvenile Antarctic fur seal and a couple of southern elephant seals, lounging on a cobble beach.

 

Hermit Island E-seal

A juvenile southern elephant seal watches us as we approach Hermit Island. Photo by Andy Read

 

We anchored our Zodiac and climbed up the granite outcroppings, passing Antarctic skuas and kelp gulls, which nest on the island. We clambered over mosses and lichens (yes, some plants do grow in the Antarctic) and reached the peak.

 

Mosses and Lichens

Mosses and lichens grow on the northern (warmer-facing) slope of Hermit Island. Photo by Andy Read.

 

At the top we found several giant petrels on nests. Unlike the skuas and kelp gulls, the petrels were nonplussed by our presence and quickly went back to napping or squabbling with family members.

 

Giant Petrel Head

A giant petrel nesting on Hermit Island. Photo by Andy Read.

 

Today was one of the very few clear days we have had since we arrived and we were completely mesmerized by the view. To our east we could see the mountains that form the spine of the Peninsula and we watched as one of the other Zodiacs drove by, dwarfed by an enormous iceberg.

 

Krillers

The krill survey team is dwarfed by a giant iceberg. Photo by Andy Read.

 

In fact, our attention was so drawn to the scenery that we completely missed two humpback whales that swam in to the study area. Our colleagues below called us on the VHF and we scrambled down the steep slope to go out and find them. It’s hard to admit to being disappointed by a whale sighting, but I think we would have both enjoyed another hour or two at the top of Hermit Island.

 

View from Hermit

The view from the summit of Hermit Island. Photo by Andy Read.

 

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