Posts Tagged ‘killer whales’

Visiting Pourquoi Pas Island in the Antarctic

February 19th, 2010 at 11:19 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Monday, February 15th – It was the second day on the Antarctic Peninsula so far, and we had an early start as Bud, our expedition leader, decided we should visit Pourquoi Pas Island as we headed back north.

In addition to both the regular shore visit and a Zodiac tour, we were also given the option of kayaking in the area, so that’s what we all did.

The National Geographic Explorer includes an easy to assemble kayaking platform which floats in the ocean

The National Geographic Explorer includes an easy to assemble kayaking platform which floats in the ocean

We were in the Group B kayak group, meaning we left the National Geographic Explorer at 9:15am by Zodiac, getting to a special floating kayak launch platform in the open seas, and then getting in two-person kayaks. Bas and I were in one kayak, and Linda and Krystyana in another.

Krystyana and Linda in a kayak at Pourquoi Pas island

Krystyana and Linda in a kayak at Pourquoi Pas island

We spent about an hour paddling around, looking at the floating chunks of ice, the glacier cliff, and various critters on bits of land (and a penguin on one of the ice floes too).

Another gorgeously colored glacial ice berg

Another gorgeously colored glacial ice berg

The bits of ice in the water ranged in size from the size of a pack of cards to larger than our house. We were warned during our briefing to stay away from anything taller than us because they were dangerous and unstable.

One small iceberg had an Adelie (pronounced “Ah-Dell-Ee”) penguin on it, and on a nearby rock outcropping we found a group of fur seals.

Fur seals line the rock outcroppings at Pourquoi Pas Island

Fur seals line the rock outcroppings at Pourquoi Pas Island

I also took the opportunity to approach a smaller “berg bit” and break off a chunk of ice to taste it. I was surprised to find that it tasted pure – not a bit of salt. Apparently, with glacial ice, even floating in the water, the saline of ocean water does not penetrate beyond the surface of the ice.

After our kayak workout, we were taken to shore at nearby Bongrain Point, a landing on Pourquoi Pas Island, where we found numerous small groups of Adelie penguins on a broad expanse of rock rubble and a glacial moraine (deposits of rock left by receding glaciers).

Adelie penguins observing the National Geographic Explorer

Adelie penguins observing the National Geographic Explorer

Penguins prefer to enter the water in groups to reduce the risk of predation of any one particular penguin

Penguins prefer to enter the water in groups to reduce the risk of predation of any one particular penguin

Adelie penguins leaping into the water to go feed

Adelie penguins leaping into the water to go feed

A swimming Adelie penguin

A swimming Adelie penguin

We found many of the rocks on shore covered by lichen, a fungal spore “plant” which can be hundreds of years old and grows very slowly. Lichen are the most populous plant family found in Antarctica, as regular tall plants simply cannot survive the climate. There’s a rare specie of grass, two flower plants, and several mosses that grow in the Antarctic, but not much else that will grow on land.

Lichen grow surprisingly abundantly in the Antarctic

Lichen grow surprisingly abundantly in the Antarctic

Close-up of the same lichens seen previously

Close-up of the same lichens seen previously

A different set of lichens on a rock at Pourquoi Pas Island

A different set of lichens on a rock at Pourquoi Pas Island

Later in the day our progress was interrupted by a pod of over twenty killer whales, and we got to spend nearly an hour following them around.

Six orcas swim together in the frigid waters of Antarctica

Six orcas swim together in the frigid waters of Antarctica

We stumbled across some crabeater seals relaxing on an ice floe while watching the orcas nearby

We stumbled across some crabeater seals relaxing on an ice floe while watching the orcas nearby

Two orcas with a glacier in the distance

Two orcas with a glacier in the distance

Our cetacean mammal researcher, Stephanie Martin, went out on a Zodiac in order to use her special crossbow and quarrels to try an obtain a DNA sample from one of the orcas, but after a half hour was forced to return to the Explorer, unsuccessful in her efforts.

Our cetacean specialist Stephanie pursues a bull killer whale with a crossbow to get a DNA sample

Our cetacean specialist Stephanie pursues a bull killer whale with a crossbow to get a DNA sample

Our day ended with what is likely to be our only passage through an ice pack. The ice pack was loose, composed of countless chunks of varying size of ice. But what was thoroughly impressive was the loud grinding noise that accompanied our ten minute passage through the ice pack.

Linda and I watched the forward progress of the Explorer through the ice pack on the TV in our cabin, and the trailing progress from our balcony at the rear of the ship. Pretty amazing.

Each cabin on the National Geographic Explorer has a TV on which the view from a forward mounted camera can be seen - here we are in a loose ice pack

Each cabin on the National Geographic Explorer has a TV on which the view from a forward mounted camera can be seen - here we are in a loose ice pack

This is what the loose ice pack looks like - it was not cold enough to freeze solid while we were there

This is what the loose ice pack looks like - it was not cold enough to freeze solid while we were there

The National Geographic Explorer's wake through the ice pack it is breaking through

The National Geographic Explorer's wake through the ice pack it is breaking through

 

Drake Passage, Feb 12, 2010

February 13th, 2010 at 9:16 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

I have not recently posted anything for the blog, but I thought had gotten some great shots of birds and killer whales and my dad is trying very hard not use many of my photos, so I might as well show them. This for the showing of some great photos but also for birds we actually saw, identified and got photos of on our first full day on the boat.

Southern Giant-Petrel

Southern Giant-Petrel

My mom, Bas, and I were sitting in the lounge of the National Geographic Explorer and listening to a lecture about the different species of sea birds we would be seeing as we head to Antarctica (not including penguins), which was given by Tom Ritchie. We got as far as the Cormorant, after hearing about the Petrels and the Albatross along with photos, when we heard the announcement over the speakers…”We have just spotted killer whales off the starboard bow” I immediately grabbed my bag and took my camera out. Bas and I headed to the bow of the ship with mom close behind. I heard yells and saw pointing fingers in the direction of the killer whales, and so, I immediately started snapping photos of the killer whales with my camera, zoomed in as far as it could go. The ship started turning into the direction of the killer whales to get closer to them.

Killer whale with mist from their spray hovering above

Killer whale with mist from their spray hovering above

Whoops…had to go for a few minutes. My mom and I just saw Humpback Whales off the back of the ship! Bas and my dad did not see it but I got a few photos of the whales. It’s actually Feb 13 as I write this.

So, continuing…When the killer whales were submerged, it gave me enough time to get some shots of birds. My mom had offered to get my parka and gloves so I could keep on shooting and so she had left to get it. By the time she came back with the warm clothing, my hands were stiff and cold, but I sure did appreciate the parka and gloves when they came. The killer whales were not really cooperating when my parka arrived and they kept appearing for pictures, so I kept on taking photos while my brother helped me put on my parka.

Wandering Albatross butt

Wandering Albatross butt

I managed to get photos of: Wandering albatross, Wilson’s storm petrel, Southern Giant-Petrel, Black browed albatross, and of course, the killer whales.

Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross

Wilson's storm-petrel

Wilson's storm-petrel

Of the killer whales, one of the adults had a mangled dorsal fin and 2/3 of its fin was bent over. There were two calves and two adults.

Three Killer Whales with One having a Mangled Dorsal fin

Three Killer Whales with One having a Mangled Dorsal fin

The lecture did not continue after the interruption and we were told that we new enough of the basic information.

Feb. 13
This morning, we saw Chinstrap penguins and Southern bottle-nosed whales (I did not actually see the whales). I did get some photos of the penguins as they were porpoising, or basically jumping in out of the water while heading towards wherever they are going and they were sort of zigzagging. And the Humpback whales…

Humpback Whales off the stern of the ship

Humpback Whales off the stern of the ship

Chinstrap penguins

Chinstrap penguins

Other pictures can be seen on Flickr at a later date when we actually have a strong internet to upload them.

 

Waves, Birds, and Orcas in the Drake Passage

February 12th, 2010 at 10:44 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The waters in the Beagle Channel last night as we left Ushuaia were only mildly wavy, but as we entered the open ocean and passed the vicinity of Cape Horn, the southern most piece of land of South America, we encountered the much rougher waters of the Drake Passage.

The peak of roughness was around 3am, when anything not firmly fixed in place in our stateroom ended up sliding to the floor and our curtains opened from the tossing about. However, in terms of how rough the crossing can be, it wasn’t that bad, with swells estimated at only as high as 10 to 12 feet (3-4 meters). We were very happy to have loaded on up seasickness medicine however, and even so, staying in any vertical position for long (sitting up or standing) resulted in near instant queasiness. Fortunately, it was still night time, and being horizontal was a natural inclination for us (pardon the pun).

The waters had calmed a bit by the time our wake-up call came in (that would be Bas, who was ready for breakfast). I tried to eat a piece of bacon, but was too queasy to continue. The rest of The Traveling Richters had no such major issues. Bas, Linda, and I all went back to our cabins afterward to sleep until lunchtime – that felt wonderful and we were all doing pretty well after our nap and a nice lunch.

A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land

A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land

A southern giant petrel almost touches the water with its wing as it flies behind our ship

A southern giant petrel almost touches the water with its wing as it flies behind our ship

It was interesting to see that even a couple of hundred miles out to see, we still had various birds trailing the ship, including giant petrels, wandering albatross, and others.

During an afternoon presentation by Tom Ritchie on the various types of flying birds we would find during three weeks of adventure, the Captain came across the announcement system to tell us there was a small pod – two adults and two juveniles – of killer whales, also known as orcas. Tom’s presentation, with an apology by the Captain, was cut a bit short and everyone rushed to get their cameras and parkas and head to the bow of the boat. We spent about a half hour circling the area following the orca pod and attempting to get lots of pictures.

An orca with a black browed albatross in its wake

An orca with a black browed albatross in its wake

A closer shot of one of the killer whales in the pod we were following

A closer shot of one of the killer whales in the pod we were following

The mist from the blow of the orca is just barely visible between the albatross and the killer whale

The mist from the blow of the orca is just barely visible between the albatross and the killer whale

Three of the four members of the killer whale pod surface at the same time - blowing - and note the middle one has a missing chunk of dorsal fin

Three of the four members of the killer whale pod surface at the same time - blowing - and note the middle one has a missing chunk of dorsal fin

We were cold but elated by the sighting, and I know Krystyana got some excellent photos of both the orcas and the sea birds in the area. She said she’s planning a post of her own here with some of her shots shortly.

Krystyana and others on the bow of the National Geographic Explorer, waiting for orcas to surface

Krystyana and others on the bow of the National Geographic Explorer, waiting for orcas to surface

Linda, Bas, and Krystyana in the bow of the National Geographic Explorer during our watch for orcas surfacing

Linda, Bas, and Krystyana in the bow of the National Geographic Explorer during our watch for orcas surfacing

If you look at the GPS track in the prior post you can see a flag marking where we saw the orca pod and if you zoom in you can see the circular route we took while following them.

After we resumed on course, we were treated to a presentation on the “Winds, Currents, and Productivity of the Southern Ocean” by Steve MacLean in the large central lounge of the National Geographic Explorer. Steve explained weather systems, the Coriolis effect on currents, and climate and season issues affecting weather and ice in the Antarctic. Quite fascinating. And here we are at only our first day aboard ship, and a day at sea at that. I can’t fully imagine what it will be like when we start doing landings on the Antarctic peninsula in the next couple of days.

A few more photos from the day are here on Flickr.  A map of where those photos were taken can be found here.

<img src=”http://www.thetravelingrichters.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/20100212-001-A-wandering-albatross-hundreds-of-miles-from-land.jpg” alt=”A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land” title=”A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land” width=”400″ height=”198″ class=”size-full wp-image-661″ />

A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land