Dispatch: May 28, 2006 - Whales! Mountains!

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Wind: 12-14kn
Air Temp: -3.3°C Wind Chill: -14.8°C
Surface Water Temp: -0.066°C

Day's menu: Fried chicken, baked fish, Spanish rice, carrots, green beans, cheesecake, bread pudding, banana bread and cookies; Spaghetti and meatballs, spaghetti and clam sauce, carrots, spinach, chicken noodle soup, and dessert from lunch.

Reminder: To see this Journal and related info on the web (feel free to share): http://www.whoi.edu/sites/antarctica
To Write Questions to the Ship/Outreach (through June 14 only): outreach@lmg.usap.gov.

» View additional images from today

We are steaming southwesterly in the Palmer Archipelago, toward Brabant Island, and we will do stations along the way. We can see the Brugmann Mountains on Liège Island to our port side. As the sun shines down on them from somewhere above the low clouds that obscure the enormous white peaks of those tall mountains, the day dawns and plankton nets are out. The mountains are about 22 miles away, probably partially obscured by the horizon at that distance, but the air is so clear here. I doubt I can capture it on film, but it is surely burned into my memory, I watched for so long.

The stature of these mountains should come as no surprise to us did you know Antarctica is the tallest continent? It has a majority of the highest peaks and plateaus in the world, making it average higher than any other continent. In the winter, the continent about doubles its size due to the freezing of the waters surrounding it (and this is considered to add to its land mass). Conversely, the continent shrinks to half it's winter size due to the 'melt down' in the summer months. We're hoping the winter freeze will hold off long enough for us to get south of the Antarctic Circle, to Marguerite Bay, over the next couple of days.


Humpback whales checking us out. (Photo by Andy Mahon)

I woke up this morning to a whale sighting (thank you, Pam P.)!! The waters were very calm except for some swell, and four humpbacks were feeding right off the starboard aft quarter while we were slowed for a plankton trawl. There was a huge male with 3 smaller companions who didn't identify themselves. Oh my, ohhhh my! They lingered and blew and dove, and made a couple of 'bubble nets' for herding krill (we think) as they went along. Wikipedia describes this as: "Its most inventive feeding technique is called bubble net fishing. A group of whales swims rapidly in wide circles around and under a school of fish, blowing air through their blowholes. The bubbles form a visual barrier that serves to confine the school within an ever-tighter area. The whales then suddenly swim upwards and through the bubble net, mouths agape, swallowing thousands of fish in one gulp." I definitely saw bubble nets twice, but one at a time. (We're thinking it was krill the whales were chasing, as krill was evident in the plankton tows, and we've not seen fish.) The humpbacks were unmistakable in their display of very long pectoral fins with white undersides. At one point from the Bridge, a fin on a dallying whale looked like a plankton net a few meters down in the clear water, and the Mate thought the whale had snagged the plankton net. He had to call the aft deck to be sure the net was accounted for, which it was. What a way to start your day, with a nice cup o' frolicking leviathans.


Brabant Island and 'Astrolabe Needle' (Photo by Janis Umschlag)

Brabant Island is a beauty. Our waypoint for that station kept us just off of the Pasteur Peninsula for a few hours, with a lovely view of Astrolabe Needle. This is a freestanding column of rock over 300 feet high. I'm told it is a regular destination for cruise ships. For us, it was a very compelling backdrop on a smooth-oceaned day.


Getting to Know You
[These are the first few respondents to a general request to submit a brief summary of 'who you are, how you got here, and what will you do with this experience when you get home'.

Jennifer Putland
My purpose on this cruise is to assist Dr. Rudi Scheltema sort through plankton samples in search of larvae of benthic invertebrates. I am also collecting my own samples to assess the qualitative composition of mesozooplankton in different waters. I am a post-doctoral fellow from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute.

Andrew Mahon
I met Ken a few years ago at a conference, and late last winter and early this spring, I emailed him about potential Post-doc opportunities. We talked about ideas and about my prior interests in the Antarctic. One thing came to another and I was asked along on this trip as a start to collections for some post-doctoral research that I will begin at Auburn in the next few months following the completion of my dissertation.

Nicole Cox
I am an undergraduate at Auburn University in the marine biology program. I work in Ken Halanych's lab studying Sterechinus neumayeri (sea urchin common in the Antarctic). This is my first research cruise and I hope to use this experience to further my education in research. I will graduate in December and continue on to grad school, although definitive plans have not been made as to where I will attend.

Maxim Nikurashin
I am a fourth year Physical Oceanography student in MIT/WHOI Joint Program. Working on my thesis I study generation, propagation and breaking of quasi-steady internal waves in abyssal Drake Passage. I volunteered to help with collecting and interpretation of XBT, CTD and ADCP data on this cruise. This cruise gives me an opportunity not only to get data collecting experience but also to learn about the properties and dynamics of the ocean in this region. I believe this is a great experience for my future career as a physical oceanographer.


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Last updated May 30, 2006
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