This entry is part 35 of 47 in the series British Antarctic Survey
Humpback whale

Humpback whale off the coast of South Georgia

My view for the next two weeks.

I may have swapped rooms but my new window view is just as stunning

As you may be aware from my previous post, I have exchanged my South Georgian life for life at sea for three weeks. I am working on board a krill fishing vessel, researching by-catch (which is minimal) and also making whale and seabird observations to inform future conservation decisions.

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Seemingly, I am here at a good time of year since within seconds of leaving Cumberland Bay, we were seeing the first spouts as whales blew all around us with the sun setting.

Whale sightings were immediate, once out of Cumberland Bay

Humpback whale at the surface in front of the South Georgian shores

As we set about fishing, sightings continued, predominantly of Humpbacks, which were obviously exploiting the rich masses of krill 200m beneath the surface. When you see a distant whale blow, it’s easy to forget what is lying beneath. These Humpbacks can measure 16m and weigh up to 36 tonnes.

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Characteristic showing of the humpback’s flukes prior to a deep dive

As the days have progressed, the sightings are getting better and better with several species seen so far. Fin, minke, southern right, sperm and orca (not seen by me!) were all spotted, as well as thousands of seabirds, seals and penguins.

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Giant Petrel off the side of the boat

Giant Petrel off the side of the boat

South Georgia was the hub of whaling in the not too recent past and estimates suggest that numbers of baleen whales reduced by 90% as a result of it. So it’s absolutely incredible to see such high densities of whales in these waters.

Too close to photograph

Almost too close to photograph

The most frequent bird sightings involve the petrel species, with South Georgia Diving, Kerguelen, Great Winged, Antarctic, Cape and Giant Petrels all present in various numbers. Both Southern Fulmers and Antarctic Terns are also abundant with the occasional Wandering Albatross sightings.

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Southern Fulmar in flight

Humpback whale right besides the ship

Humpback whale right beside the ship

Wandering Albatross over the sea

Wandering Albatross over the sea

Conditions on the whole have remained calm and clear, allowing good sightings throughout the trip. With the boats moving at very slow speeds, animals tend to pay little attention to the vessel, allowing for up close sightings.

Pair of humpbacks feeding at the surface

Pair of humpbacks feeding at the surface

Humpback whales migrate south for summer to feed on the krill rich numbers. These animals will be on their way north back to their breeding grounds, where they will breed in August time.

Seabirds and seals in the waves

Seabirds and seals in the waves

Humpback blow - note the white pectoral fins beneath the surface

Humpback blow – note the white pectoral fins beneath the surface

Although it is the wrong time of year, I have seen several humpbacks displaying, launching their magnificent bodies out of the water. One of these was close enough for me to capture on camera!

Displaying humpback

Displaying humpback

Diving Humpback

Diving Humpback

As mentioned before, the birdlife has been almost as spectacular as the marine mammals. See my previous blog (feeding frenzy) for more bird pictures

Young antarctic tern

Young antarctic tern

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4 thoughts on “Life’s A Boat

  1. In some parts of the world, whale groups id whales to follow individuals. Do you know if that is done down south by any group?
    Enjoy your tweets and pics, thanks.

    • I know that there are photo-databases for many of the Southern Right Whales we get here, courtesy of a team working in Argentina. There are also several Orca catalogues which use data from cruise ships. Beyond this, I am not sure. Cheers

  2. Now that looks like a great job to have. Whale watching and being paid for it! Fantastic stuff Jamie. Very envious.

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