Wilhelmina Bay (Mon., 6/1/09) – A fond farewell to Wilhelmina Bay

June 1 was the last day of major operations in Wilhelmina Bay, our most frequented portion of the study area, and the place with the biggest signal to noise ratio of life I have ever seen.

I’ve always been impressed with the Bay of Fundy – her big tides make everything seem amplified there. But all that fades in comparison to the things I have seen here. For starters, there are still A LOT of humpbacks in Wilhelmina, despite the fact that the entire southern portion of the Bay (Piccard Cove) is now chock-a-block full of thickish pancake ice. The ice cover in the bays were have been working in as has grown significantly during our trip, and from our surveys today it is becoming clear that this thick new ice is excluding the whales from the southern end of Piccard Cove. During our visual surveys today we crossed a line into thicker ice – about 8 to 9 tenths cover – and no more humpacks were sighted. They weren’t being obscured by the low pancakes of ice, they just were not there. Andy noticed that they appeared to be replaced by pinnipeds though, mostly furs seals, which seem to take advantage of the ice as haul out space.

(97) Penguin Print
penguin print

We also saw lots of Adelie penguins today while surveying, many of which were up on ice flows, staggering around and looking somewhat confused. The examples of their tracks across the pancake ice flows are hilarious – little foot prints zigzagging through the snow, punctuated by flat areas where the penguin has flopped forward on it’s belly, melting the snow under it’s torso and wings to create their own version of a snow angel. We’ve had plenty of chances to see how graceful penguins are underwater over the duration of the cruise, and more than a few chances to see their short-legged comical gait on land as well. What was missing, for me at least, was a lasting mental image of their transitions from sea to land. Today, Elliott and Pat got some good photographic evidence that those transitional events don’t always work out. This picture illustrates what happens when a penguin comes up short on an attempt to board an ice flow. Smack! Reminds me of an old Loony Tunes cartoon! Today also brought us an opportunity to set eyes on King penguin, bobbing amidst the pancakes in the southern part of Wilhelmina Bay.

After recovering the final tag in Wilhelmina tomorrow it looks like we will move back out into the Gerlache Strait to conduct some visual surveys out there. Last two times were surveyed the Gerlache we had some cool sightings – killer whales and Arnoux’s beaked whales. Chances are we’ll see something equally cool and exciting. Can’t wait. Hi to everyone at home, won’t long now till we are back to summer in NC!

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