For many, their soul aim in visiting Antarctica is to see whales.
One cruise taken mid- to late- February, was filled with whale enthusiasts,
eager to spend endless hours gazing at an empty horizon. The net
result of their dedication was nearly 300 whale sightings - several
magnitudes more than seen on previous and later cruises!
Under the tutelage of whale expert, Mark
Carwardine, we all became experts and lovers of the personality-packed
humpback whales. As the cruise came to an end, we were even able
to jump in zodiacs and gain a close up view of resting humpback
whales in Andvord Bay - a highlight for many!
The usual sighting of a whale
After eight hours of spurning the panorama in favour of gazing
at the featureless water ahead of the ship, this may be the only
reward you will get for dedication - a puff of water vapour in the
distance. If there is no wind, you may be able to discern the whale
that blew - many having distinctive whale blows depending on the
physical arrangement of their blowholes.
Certain herds of whales come to Antarctica to feed before heading
north to breed. When they leave Antarctica, they will probably not
eat for several months.
Lazing around upside down
The humpback whales have distinctive long pectoral fins which are
generally black on top and white underneath. This humpback whale
is floating on his back under the water, his long flippers breaking
the surface. If still close to the surface when rolling back onto
its stomach, it may engage in 'flipper slapping' - or hitting the
water with its flippers, causing almighty splashes!
Every humpback whale has distinctive black and white markings on
the underneath of their tail flukes. In Antarctica, it is not uncommon
to see a yellow discolouration on the white (and less obviously,
dark) parts of any whale. This is caused by diatoms, microscopic
unicellular organisms which live in the cold Antarctic waters, adhering
to the whale. If the whale swims north, they will usually loose
this yellowish coating.
Up close and personal
Humpback whales are baleen whales, i.e. they have comb-like baleen
plates attached to their upper jaw which are used to filter small
schooling prey, e.g. krill. When they dive, they hunch their backs,
and may show their tail flukes before sinking gracefully into the
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