May 17, 2009
The tag was set to come off of our whale, affectionately named, "Jason," this morning by 7:30. The shifts had been going all night to keep track of Jason listening for the "beep, beep" that indicates the tag is above water. Fortunately, the whale had been consistent with about 10-minute dives and then 3-5 minute log times at the surface. And the tag was noted at 8:42 to be off the animal because it beeped continuously. Ari got out the binoculars and Rick put the ship's spotlights out into the predawn semidarkness. Within minutes, Ari's trained vision located the fluorescent green tape on the tag that bobbed up and down in the water. We all kept an eye on it while the Zodiac was set in the water and Ari, Dan and Julie set out to pick it up. Once they got in the water, the wind picked up and the visual confirmation of the tag from the bridge was lost. They drove around searching while everyone on the bridge did the same. Pat got out the tracking antenna and headphones to try and narrow down the search. We knew it had moved fast in the wind, but were not sure in which direction. Finally, Collin got it in sight and we were able to direct the Zodiac to it - PHEW! The tag was secured. Alison was still not celebrating until she hooked it up to the computer to verify the recordings were secured. So many steps - I learned quickly that just because we knew where the tag was and then got it was not enough to confirm success! The rubber meets the road when the data is taken from the tag. Alison and Ari got it hooked up to the computer and all was well- NOW we could cheer the 7th successful tag of a whale for the cruise.
Because the wind was picking up and predicted to get worse, Doug made the decision for us to head up the Gerlache Strait to Wilhemena Bay to collect CTD measurements and get the tow fish calibrated. The tow fish is an instrument that is carried alongside the ship to record prey information in the same method that our prey tracking boat does. The fish has to be calibrated before using it, which has been a difficult process and has been worked on for several days. Right after lunch, word spread quickly that some killer whales were spotted. The observation team identified a large pod moving through the water. Ari, Dave, Yiwu, Meng, Julie, Dan and I were assisted into the Zodiacs by Jamee and Lindsey. The sea was not as smooth as the day before because we were in the Gerlache Strait, which is not as secluded as the bay we were in. Everyone had their cameras ready to snap some photos to send off for possible identification of the animals. Julie steered us toward them and the water splashed into our boat with almost each swell from the wind- Dan was taking the brunt of it for us on the starboard side. Being out on the zodiac is such a treat and to be tracking down orcas - even cooler. Because I was so bundled with my toe warmers, float suit, gloves, etc, the cold saltwater splashing my face was actually refreshing! Even though my goggles are a few sizes too big, they are functional because they cover more of my face and kept it warm! We got up as close as we could without disturbing the pod and they were cruising at a fast clip through the water. I was so impressed by their graceful cuts through the water. Apparently, the original group had split into two groups and we were only seeing about half the numbers that were originally seen. Julie did a superb job steering us to get a good spot to snap some photos and then they went under the surface. The whales must have stayed under long enough to get out of our sight because they disappeared after that. We puttered around looking for them, but to no avail. We returned to the ship and also caught sight of some fur seals sliding through the water. The orcas definitely added to my running list of Antarctic creatures observed. Being there in the Zodiacs really gives the experience a whole different meaning other than just viewing them from the ship. Thanks tag team!