After a full night sleep free of listening to: SchshhhhhhhhhhthchhBEEEEEEPhhthhchhchhhcracklBEEEEP snaphrhchhchchchchrhchhcsh the team woke up well rested and ready to go at it again!
Unfortunately for us the wind had picked to a nice 40+ knots, unfavorable conditions to try to tag an animal. We decided instead to continue with our visual surveys to see where more whales might be. We left our friendly Piccard Cove, home of happy whales stuffed full of krill, headed north through Wilhelmina Bay, and approached the beautiful Gerlache Strait. Soon after, Ari spotted something unusual far in the distance. Small blows could be seen from what looked like tens of animals. Could it be minkes? No, too many detectable blows and surfacings. Could it be killer whales? No, dorsal fins are too small. Could it be… No it can’t be… YES! It’s Arnoux’s Beaked Whales!
Excitement rang in the air as Arnoux’s Beaked Whales are rarely seen and not much is known about them. Arnoux’s Beaked Whales are found mainly in Antarctic and Subantarctic waters and they can dive for up to an hour, making them somewhat elusive. We launched a small boat and most of the visual survey team (Andy, Lindsey, Eletta, and myself) had the honor to approach the animals to try to get species identification photos. The group of about 75 whales were socializing intensely at first, as we observed tail slapping and several breaches. They later split into several subgroups that were traveling and synchronously diving (15-20 minute dives). Our small boat approaches did not seem to startle the animals as a few even came towards us and crossed our bow – an amazing sight for all of us on board. The animals were dark grey, heavily scarred, had a bulbous forehead with the blowhole close to the melon, and had a long beak.
After the small boat had finished with the species confirmation we headed back to the Gould to resume our visual surveys. We steamed toward Errera Channel and had ourselves a beautiful afternoon. The sun was out, skies were clear, and humpback whales and Antarctic fur seals were abundant in this narrow channel surrounded by snow peaked mountains. We even sighted our first “waddle” of penguins (a group of penguins on land) – 10,000 or so Gentoo penguins hanging out on the shoreline. A great end to a great day. Tomorrow we will attempt another tag deployment, weather permitting. Till next time…
p.s Happy Birthday Carita Feliz!