Pacific Adventure

Blue waters of the Cook Islands

Its been a long time coming but I wanted to add a few pictures from my latest adventure. For the first time in a few years my work took me to sunnier climes and allowed me to get into the water somewhere warm. I was lucky enough to work on board the National Geographic Orion in the Pacific region. 

Inside the crater of Tahiti
Humpback whale coming to say hello in Mo’orea
Racoon Butterflyfish in Fakarava
National Geographic Orion in Mo’orea

Highlights real of my time in Fakarava with music by Eto performed on a moto off Taha’a

This is a spectacular region and over my stint here I was fortunate to visit French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Samoa, Wallis & Futuna and Samoa. My visit allowed me to explore lots of different islands and Motu’s and experience their different cultures as well as take in some spectacular wildlife. 

Bora Bora lagoon looking spectacular from above unfortunately much of the reef is dead
Rough-toothed dolphins in the Society Islands

Coming to the Pacific and especially French Polynesia, there were many places that I was itching to get to, such as Tahiti and Bora Bora. However in hindsight the most enjoyable islands were those I had never heard of, like Makatea and Toau. As a result of their lack of development, many of these had much more diverse and healthy ecosystems as well as more untouched and natural cultures on land. 

Paddleboarding and kayaking in the Bay of Isles, Fiji
Tie dying in Bora Bora

As mentioned earlier, one of my favourite locations was an island called Makatea in the Tuamotu Islands of French Polynesia. This is an uplifted coral island which as steep 80m cliffs, is covered in rich forest with several endemic species and is surrounded by crystal waters and healthy reefs.

Who said pigeons and doves are ugly?! Many of these islands have vibrant species of fruit dove. This is the Makatea Fruit Dove
The uplifted island of Makatea
Getting ashore wasn’t always easy but with our talented AB drivers we always made it

Lying at the heart of this island is it’s best secret a number of underground freshwater grottos which allow you to snorkel and free dive amongst stalactites and stalagmites. 

Freediving one of Makatea’s grottos. Photo taken by Michael S. Nolan. All rights reserved Worldwide.
Another picture of me poking around a grotto taken by taken by Michael S. Nolan. All rights reserved Worldwide.

There is not the densities of seabirds that you find in the colder regions as a result of these warmer waters being less nutrient rich. But there can still be some great seawatching. Boobies, noddies, tropicbirds and frigates are common as well as large numbers of petrel and shearwater species that are endemic to the region. 

Inquisitive red footed booby off the bow of the ship
Black winged petrel and mottled petrel were fairly common on route to Fiji
Black Noddy

It wasn’t just the birdlife that kept me entertained. I was lucky enough to tick several wildlife experiences off my bucket list in this beautiful region. Highlights included snorkelling with Humpbacks in Mo’orea, diving with Tigersharks in Tahiti and also night diving with the hunting reef sharks of Fakarava

Snorkeller and Humpback whale in front of the spectacular Mo’orea hills
One of 4 tiger sharks seen on two dives
This diving operation allows research to be carried out on the movements of these incredible 4m giants. They are all identifiable by markings in pictures and therefore photo catalogues have been created here
Another highlight involved sub winging with Spinner dolphins
Its not just the large wildlife I appreciate
Samoan Myzomela are one of many endemics across the region
A rare rainy day!
Sharks galore in Tahiti
Beautiful snapper schools
Sea krait hunting a reef in Futuna
Underwater with the humpback
Not the wildlife I expected to see at sea

Whilst we travelled the regions surrounding Fiji and Samoa we were treated to a number of different cultural experiences including war dances performed by both kids and adults.

Young warrior in the village of Waitabu, Fiji

Seranaded on the beaches of Fakarava

I shall finish with a travel tip of mine…. I highly recommend finding some locals to show you around wherever you find yourself in the world. You’ll meet some amazing people and have a way better time! Having spent 4 days on Tahiti in advance of my trip in the rain I was deeply disappointed. However I was lucky enough to meet two amazing people who showed me the time of my life before I departed; free diving with turtles, wake boarding in the sunset, tiger shark diving, watching the locals surf and sub winging with dolphins! 

I didn’t fancy giving it a go but was happy to watch from the shore
Tahiti hills
Wakeboarding inside the Tahiti lagoon (picture by Perrine Reidy)

On reflection, my summer wasn’t too bad at all!

Humpback Whales

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Antarctica

 

Humpbacks Whales feeding

Another blog from my latest amazing trip to Antarctica, focussing on Humpback whales this time. You’ll be glad to know that there is less blood than in the previous post.

Humpback in front of a glacier

Having lived for a year on South Georgia, immersed in the depressing history of Antarctic whaling and the impact of humans on Baleen whales, it was amazing to sail through Antarctic waters and see first-hand how the whales are bouncing back. Sightings of baleen whales were frequent with the most common being  humpbacks: these majestic 36 tonne beasts were almost ubiquitous throughout, it was an absolute pleasure.

Fin whale over the continental shelf
Minke whale in the Weddell Sea

Almost without fail, by the time breakfast was served on board National Geographic Explorer, there had been a blow, or a sighting of the distinctive hump, or flukes of these animals.

Fluke and dorsal hump!

Possibly the best experience of my time on board came as the sun was setting on an already eventful day of killer whales and penguins. Stupidly thinking the excitement was over for the day, I retreated to my room in order to download a few photos, when the call of ‘feeding Humpbacks’ came out over the tannoy.

This is what I emerged on deck to see

As a kid, I read about bubble net feeding whales and had seen footage of it numerous times on David Attenborough documentaries. For those others who have seen this footage, you will understand why seeing this activity has been on my bucket list for years. However, travelling to Antarctica, I had no expectations of ticking this off the list, since it was my understanding that such behaviour had only been observed in Alaska!

Bubble net feeding is obviously a foraging method where the humpbacks blow clouds of bubbles around their prey at the surface. This traps the prey between the bubbles and the surface allowing the whales to swim up with their mouths open and take huge mouthfuls of prey. 

The video bwlow shows one of these events happening and you can see the bubbles at the surface before the humpbacks lunge through open-mouthed

Humpback whales that spend summers in the Antarctic, exploiting the rich cold waters, migrate north to spend the winters in the tropics around Costa Rica. Here, there is an overlap with the Northern Humpbacks that spend their summers in Alaska and migrate south also to Central American tropics. The hypothesis is that these Northern whales, having learnt and practiced the behaviour in Alaska, migrated south to Central America before continuing through to Antarctica.

More feeding

As a result, you now have whales practicing bubble net feeding in Antarctic waters. The humpbacks have uniquely marked flukes which allow them to be identified.

Markings on the flukes

Hopefully, the individuals we photographed in Antarctica will have been observed previously in the world and we will get a better understanding of how this behaviour has spread.

There were small groups of feeding whales all around

And when you get bored of the whales (as if!) the sunset and the ice aren’t too bad substitutes!

Sunset