Whales! Whales! Whales! Whales! Whales!

By: Logan Pallin

So it has been an exciting few days here at Palmer Station. We happened upon our first humpback whale while out calibrating the echo sounders (fancy fish finders), which are an adventure of their own. Doug and I spend most of our working days here at Palmer Station floating around whales in our trusty Zodiac. Most of the time it is a comfortable quaint little office, with space for all of our equipment and, importantly for the work we do, a very good platform to approach whales.

Cruising in the Zodiac. I am in the front of the zodiac ready to collect a biopsy.
Cruising in the zodiac. There is a humpback whale in between us and JD, the photographer.

We work in quite hostile environments, so safety is paramount. We have survival equipment on board and there are caches with tents and stoves on some of the islands in our study area, just in case the weather comes up quickly. And it really can come up quickly. One moment it’s calm and pleasant and the next we are in the middle of a blizzard. We keep in touch with the Station by calling in our position every 30 minutes on the VHF radio.

We were out sampling on Sunday when we happened to come across a mom and her calf. Then out of nowhere, a large ominous dorsal fin came up just to our starboard side. It was huge!! It was a large bull killer whale (Orca). Next thing we know we are in a group of 7 killer whales. It was quite spectacular.

Female Killer Whale
Bull (male) killer whale

We have 6 biopsies so far. We were fortunate to go outside the boating limits today to Dream Island. We were accompanied by the birder group who was counting skua chicks and eggs on Dream. We saw three more humpbacks today and a minke whale, that disappeared after about 10 seconds. One of the humpbacks, whom I named the fat pig, was surface lunge feeding. It was amazing to witness. This particular whale would dive and releasing a net of bubbles to concentrate its prey, we call this phenomena bubble net feeding. The animal would then lunge up through the center of the ring of bubbles, opening its mouth and filling his large bucal cavity with water and krill. It would then roll over on its right side, lazily like and slosh its pectoral and fluke fins around for a while. This series of actions was repeated several times.

Humpback whale lunge feeding
Humpback coming up for air

There is still a lot of ice around which makes getting in and out of the boat ramp quite difficult. Also makes sighting whales quite challenging as well. The crabeater seals are quite pleased with the amount of ice however. Doug and I will be going back out tomorrow to finish the echo sounder calibration so we can start prey mapping (looking for krill).

Will post again soon!!

A Piece of Ice Floating in the Harbor Raft of Crabeater Seals Ice Berg in the Harbor

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