April 15, 2005
Funded by the
National Science Foundation
Office of Polar Programs
Location: 64 19.497S, 61 20.510 W
Temperature: 0 C
Wind Chill: N/A
Port Wind: 5 knots
I am not quite sure who was the visitor and who was the host, but we woke up this morning in the midst of a pod of humpback whales. They seemed relaxed, playful, and curious. Groups of two or three would log around for a while at a safe distance, resting or maybe planning the approach to the "big red," five times the size of the largest humpback. The background noise of the idling ship engines was periodically interrupted by the hissing sound of the pneumatic pump and the whales blowing, as if the two were exchanging greetings. After a proper introduction the family of whales would gracefully get a bit closer, following a protocol known only to them. Then, our polite guests took a dive only to reappear right next to the ship and announce their presence to surprised onlookers on the Palmer's deck with a loud blow. They rolled and spun and showed off their flukes. They rubbed their bellies against the ships sides as if to shake hands, but probably just to get rid of itchy barnacles. Courteous as our visitors were, they would repeat their joyful routine on the port side giving everybody an equal opportunity to take that perfect photograph. Then they dove off again, waiving their flukes as business cards. "Don't forget us and come visit again when in the neighborhood. That was the most satisfying belly rub I have had in a long time." That's at least what I think they wanted to tell us.
Some of us actually did have an opportunity to eavesdrop on the humpbacks' conversation. Thanks to our brave Katie who, along with electronics techs Brent and Jeff, climbed all the way up to the science mast and helped repair the antenna we were able to deploy a "sonobouy" and hear the magnificent humpback song. Their vocalization is the most complex in the animal world. It is produced primarily by the males to advertise their presence.
The whale sighting lasted for hours and nobody aboard was immune to the charm of these gentle giants. We were rushing from starboard to port, from the first to the second deck and back to view and capture their spectacular presence through the camera lens. I am guilty of taking almost 150 still shots and over 15 minutes of video, before I paused, put the two cameras down and started truly enjoying the encounter with these marvelous creatures.
Drilling continues here in Hughes Bay and so does the string of challenges that has been following the scientists and drillers lately. The till on the ocean floor has proved to be hard to drill and the equipment was malfunctioning. Nobody is losing hope yet and an alternate drilling method (piggy-back) will be tried.
Humpback whale, Hughes Bay
Humpback whale, Hughes Bay
Humpback whales, Hughes Bay
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