Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Wilhelmina Bay (Fri., 5/29/09) – A Delightful Snowy Day
by -- May 30th, 2009

In hand: snowballs. Note to self: Get revenge.

(91) Gorgeous sunset in Wilhelmina Bay

Gorgeous sunset in Wilhelmina Bay

We started the day in thick fog, searching for ‘Nacho’, our tagged whale, and we are ending the day again in thick fog as I write this blog from the bridge, watching the sun set in Antarctica- who knew shades of gray could be so stunning.  The sun is now rising at almost 10am, and setting before 3pm.  Five hours might seem like a small window of opportunity to study cetaceans, but in reality, we have tons of time.  During the daylight we run the small boats to deploy and recover tags, photograph individual whales and conduct fine-scale prey mapping, as well as complete visual surveys from the LM Gould.  When the sun goes down, we continue to map prey on a larger scale from the ship, and process LOTS of data (very important).

At first light, today seemed like it would perhaps be a dreary Snow Day: poor visibility due to fog and heavy snowfall, and substantial ice cover in the foot of Wilhelmina Bay.  We’ll recover the tag and then turn the reigns over to Meng and his team to do multiple CTDs (he just completed #100!) and a few MOCNESS tows.  However, we closed in on the tag when it came off the whale just before lunch (~11:30) in the ice-free Northern part of the Bay and the fog had lifted some.  Time to motor over in the small boats to retrieve the tag!

Gear up.  On person: long underwear, two pairs of socks, sweats, vest, fleece, orange float suit, neck warmer, hat, gloves, mittens, goggles, digital camera, chocolate bar.  In dry bag: Extra clothes, hand and foot warmers, water bottle.  In pelican case: Photo Identification camera.  In hand: handheld antenna, R1000 receiver, noise-canceling headphones.  Now sufficiently bundled, I go to the back deck to board the small boats: open door to go outside; walk around the container to get to the ladder, turn corner  WHACK!  Direct hit, point blank in the left eye.  Assault by snowball.  (Thrower’s name omitted to protect his identity).  Critical error: I should have had my goggles on.  Amendment to In hand: snowballs.  Note to self: Get revenge.

Depending on the conditions, locating the Dtag can sometimes take hours.  Usually we can box it in by diligently tracking from the ship and subsequently pointing the small boats in the right direction.  Today we did a great job of that, because the small boats recovered the tag in less than 30 min.  Since we are not deploying another tag today, what do we do now?  We can’t go back to the ship so soon; we just got out here!  There was a sighting of killer whales about an hour ago, but they are long gone now.  Hmmm.  Snowball fight!

(92) Mom and Calf

This curious mom and calf pair of humpbacks treated the small boats while they retrieved the Dtag.

After my team (myself, Alison, Andy and Dan) exhausted all of our ammunition by pelting moving targets in the other boat (Jamee, Julie, Doug and Ari), we received a most precious surprise.  A mom and calf pair of humpbacks that had been undoubtedly laughing at the spectacle from a distance decided to come take a closer look at the strange orange monkeys.  They spent the better part of a half an hour circling our small boats within just a few feet.  Our engines were off, the sea was calm, the fog was gone, snowfall had waned to a light dusting, and we stood with admiration and enjoyed their curious drivebys.  Staying close together they swam around, in between and under our boats.  Sometimes the baby underneath the mom; once at her side with mom’s glowing pectoral fin draped on her back, nuzzling her closer; and sometimes the small one would venture a few meters away from mom, but was quick to retreat back to the safety of her side again.  They slowly swam away and we all felt treated.  Ok, back to the mother ship!

One treat calls for another- break out the chocolate!

2 Comments

  1. Syberacuse Mom
    May 31, 2009

    Chocolate Snowballs???

    Watch out–with the Nestle Chocolate Plant a couple of towns north, someone just might pull off a “sweet” snowball…looks like target practice during those record setting snowfall Syracuse winters is coming in handy. Note to Linds: duck!

  2. Ben
    May 31, 2009

    Nice Treats!

    How sweet, a mom and calf pair! I’d imagine Ari would have some advantage in a snowball fight given his baseball background. Although Linds, you do sound like a force to be reckoned 😉

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