Friday, February 08, 2013

Treasures of the Ross Sea

Greetings All,
Well we made it back through the pack ice in record time. The ice had dispersed while we were in the Ross Sea and we had a wide escape route. Before we left the pack ice entirely, we stopped to do a zodiac cruise. Slipping through the ice at zodiac level is a much different experience that crashing through in a 4000 ton ship.

We headed toward a brown blob on the ice. As we approached we could see it was a Crabeater seal taking a nap. Crabeater Seals don't actually eat crabs. They eat krill which like a crab is a crustacean. I guess Crabeater sounds better that Krilleater. They can weigh up to 400 kg and can dive to depths of 250 meters. The global population is estimated to be 15 million. They are the world's most numerous large mammal after humans. She was heavily scarred on one side. No doubt she had a close call with a Leopard Seal or Killer Whale.

Speaking of Leopard Seals we found one sleeping soundly on an ice floe. He lifted his head wearily to check us out. It's a good thing we aren't on the menu.

Leopard Seals are one of Antarctica's top predators. They hunt penguins and other seals. Males are actually smaller than females. The global population is estimated to be around 220,000. They can live up to 26 years and can wander as far north as the Great Barrier Reef.

As we headed back toward the Orion, our Zodiac driver spotted a whale! We were able to get within 50 meters before the whale would porpoise and disappear under the surface.

We followed him to the open water where we we treated to several views of his tail fluke.

As we returned to the ship, passengers had crowded onto the deck to photograph us and the whale. We talked to Olive, the expedition's whale expert and she told us it was a Humpback Whale. She was interested in Marc's photos of the underside of the whale's tail. They can be use to identify the whale. Olive will compare Marc's photos with a database to see if this whale has been identified.

Humpback whales are filter feeders. They sift great quantities of krill out of the water with a sieve-like structure called a baleen. They can consume up to 2 tons of krill per day and can weigh as much as 40 tons! There are around 16,000 Humpback whales. The ones we are seeing migrate 5000 km each year from their feeding grounds in the Ross Sea to the warm tropical waters of the Great Barrier Reef where they mate and calf.

With all these great mammal sightings it was easy to forget about the seabirds. They were doing their best to get noticed. The Cape Petrels were bobbing on the surface of the water and flying around the ship.

The Southern Giant Petrels were present in both forms, the more common brown form and the less seen white form. They too were flying around the ship and landing on the water.

The Albatrosses had also returned. We were seeing Light-mantled Sooty Albatross and Black-browed Albatross of which Marc got a great photo.

As we head north out of the Ross Sea we feel so prvileged to have seen such a remote and pristine place.

The world's oceans are under ever increasing threats such as overfishing, pollution and oil exploration. The Ross Sea is the planet's last undisturbed large body of water. Unfortunately, we learned today that this is changing. New Zealand has started a commercial fishery here. They are fishing for Antarctic Toothfish. We know it as Chilean Sea Bass. Please do not eat Chilean Sea Bass from the Ross Sea. Take my word for it - this place is a natural wonder and one of the last largely unexploited places on the globe. Let's keep it this way. The penguins, seals, whales and the myriad of ocean dwellers will thank you.
We hope all is well back home.
Peggy and Marc


Tom F said...

Looks like you are having a great trip! I think Leopard seals did hunt the men of Shackleton's expedition?

Jennifer Lynch said...

I like your last photo here and have read all of your blogs with interest! Am very happy for your easy return and glad you are having good trip.

WPF said...

you have to know...I, for one, can't promise never to have Chilean Sea Bass ever's sooooo good...:)

Safe travels guys. Stay warm...there's no hurry to get back here with all the snow snow on the ground...

Marc & Peggy Faucher said...

Hi Tom,
According to a lecture given a few days ago, Shackleton and his men were surrounded by killer whales while trapped on the ice after the Endurance broke up.