20 October, 1996
Subject: Re: Journal 20 October 1996
Live from the Polar Duke in the Gerlache Strait
Location: 64.11S X 61.48W Wind Speed: 3.5 m/sec
Boat Speed: 0.0 knots Wind Direction: 130.3 degrees
Boat Heading: 146 degrees Barometer: 989.94 mb
Humidity: 79.4 % Air Temp.: -1.0 C
Salinity: 33.7 0/00 Water Temp.: -1.3 C
General Weather Conditions: Another beautiful day in the Gerlache Strait, that's two days in a row! The sunrise at 0400 was fantastic, there were reds and blues, reflections and backlighting, very difficult to describe.
Two seals kept me company at the tail end of the diel, while I pumped the 0400 sample into the carboys. Early morning seems to be the best
time of day for seal sightings. I think these are crabeaters, although, unless they are on the ice it is hard to tell. Weddell seals are also common around the Antarctic Pennisula. Quite often they will poke their heads out of the water as far as possible and take a long look
around, maybe to help them navigate? I assume that whatever they feed on is also active at this early hour.
Later on in the day at about 1800 I was up on the helo deck and spotted what I thought were dolphins. The dolphins turned out to be KILLER WHALES! There was a pod of about 15 that were about 200 yards off our starboard beam. Just about everyone on the ship dropped what they were doing and spent a few moments watching these beautiful creatures before they disappeared near the pack ice. This was a first for me, I had never seen killer whales (except once at sea world and I don't think that qualifies!).
The whalers have never bothered with killer whales, the population in the Antarctic is estimated at about 200,000. The average size of a male killer whale is 23 feet, females are a bit smaller at 20 feet, and on average they weigh about eight tons. They feed on penguins and seals and hunt in small packs. They will sometimes attack other whales, humpbacks, for example. Killer whales are toothed whales or Odontoceti. There are about 65 species of whales that are classified as Odontoceti, they are usually much smaller than the baleen whales or Mysticeti.
The ten species of whales that make up the Mysticeti family have been hunted to near extinction. All of the baleen whales have fibrous baleen plates that hang from their upper jaws. As they swim through schools of prey the baleen acts to strain out the food. Krill, a small planktonic crustcean enormously abundant in Antarctic waters, is the mainstay of the baleen whales' diet. Many of the baleen whales undergo amazing seasonal migrations between tropical and Antarctic waters.
I have been doing some reading about the Antarctic whaling industry and Deception Island. I'll share with you what I have learned soon.
Thanks for all of the mail!
NSF Teacher in Antarctica
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