Saturday, 6 September 2008

Wait until you see the whites of their eyes...

Last night was a pretty wild ride, with gale force winds and the ship feeling like it was slamming through huge waves at times; at one stage a wave broke so that water was coming from above the back of the ship. We closed the back door between the fish lab and the aft deck at that stage! People got a fairly long sleep, even if whilst being thrown around, it wasn't necessarily a good nights sleep... Today the weather is fair again, and the sea has more or less calmed down.

On the CTD station we just did we were surrounded by about 6 humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). But not in the sense that they were just plentiful and all around the ship. These were right up against the ship, passing literally a meter away from the hull sometimes! Quite a few times, they passed right under the ship, upside down with their white undersides clearly showing. It almost seemed as if they were interested in finding out what this ship was doing, why it was making so many funny noises and what all these strange things that were being lowered overboard were all about. They frequently came right past the CTD hatch, which is about 2m above the waterline, so the people there got front row seats to the whole spectacle! They were so close that you wanted more of a wide angle lens than a telephoto lens at times.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so, here are a few thousand words worth! Henning, one of the crew members, has a small video camera and took some footage; I will try and edit together a short clip and upload it later on too.

Here, a humpback sticks its head right out of the water to get a better look at us. At the time, I had my head out of the CTD hatch and got a great view from the side. Sadly, for you, dear reader, my camera is film... This same whale did this at least 3 times; it seems to have a fairly distinctive growth on the right side of it's head that looks a bit like a soft coral (it's a creamy-pinkish colour if you look at the larger version of this picture). You can also see the humpback's distinctive long pectoral fins.

Shots like this one on the left can be used to identify individual whales; they have distinctive markings on the undersides of their tail flukes.

This whale obviously liked the look of us; as I mentioned, it did this three times on this CTD station and then followed us to the next station and did it again!

In other news, when we tried to do a bongo station, the wind took hold of the mesh of the bongo net and smashed one of the cod-ends against the ship so hard the plastic smashed and we lost the cod-end. Which was the last one we had (having lost one earlier to an errant jubilee clip). Fortunately, we managed to find something lurking around at the back of a cupboard that will do the job perfectly - one of the old multinet cod-ends from the Nansen, a piece of gear that looks rather less like your mum sewed it together in about 15 minutes and more like a serious piece of sampling gear (made by your dad in the garage in about an hour)!

The Whale Station was here.

Photos courtesy Magne Olsen.

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