The southern ocean made it’s power felt as we rounded the rock wall of the boat harbour today, grey swells lumping through the bay, meeting the bow of the Alison Maree head on. A fittingly dramatic beginning to an expedition on the southern ocean.
As we dropped into deep water, seabirds began to surround us, always a good sign, espepcially welcomed today as we had our seabird surveyors and several seabird enthusiasts on board. The strong easterly winds of recent days may have stirred up the seas to a rough chop, but they have also brought some interesting bird sightings. Birds from areas such as the Australian Bight, Tasmania, and even further afield have been added to our sightings of more usual suspects. The small number of Grey-faced Petrels we are seeing are visitors from the North Island of New Zealand. The Sooty Albatross are likely blown in from the Bight Basin, and likely half of the Wandering Albatross that we are seeing are the subspecies from the New Zealand Subantarctic Islands according to experts Dan and Plaxy. We had a very rare record of as species a long way from home, a White-necked Petrel, normally found in the eastern Pacific approximately 4000km from the Bremer Canyon!
We spotted blows almost immediately. The orca were here. Keeping track of the misty puffs that vanished on the wind as soon as they appeared, and the fins that disappeared between the slaty swells while the deck heaved under our feet was a challenge, but one our expeditioners gamely took on. We were soon rewarded for our perseverence, and the pod of their own volition approached the boat, led by familiar fins that included Split Tip, Razor and Shredder. Surfing the swells as they came, the killer whales made a close inspection of the watchers on the bow, while we called location and distance to ensure no one missed a stealthy approach through the rough grey chop. Individuals skimmed on thier sides, turning to eye us briefly before disappearing from sight, only to reappear on the opposite side of the vessel or even behind us! A whooshing exhalation was the first we knew they were right there several times, followed by surprised shouts and laughter from the deck. An unseen message must have passed amongst the pod, as they left us as suddenly as they had arrived, heading directly into the crested grey lumps of the oncoming seas.
We continued to spot the pod as they surfaced, and the hard core expeditioners on the bow tracked them determindely with eyes and lenses. The pod showed no sign that they were interested in engaging with us further, so we left them to their own devices and continued our search. We eventually spotted another pod, and moved to investigate. As we drew nearer, we could see that our freinds from the morning were back. They remained in sight for the rest of the afternoon, keeping their distance but surfacing regularly.
We made our last stop at Glasse Island before returning to port, enjoying the colony of Australian Sea Lions sunning themselves on the rocks, unperturbed by the cacophony created by their avian neighbours. The Greater Crested Terns have clearly had a very successful breeding season, as there are hundreds of recently fledged and nearly fledged youngsters also covering the rocks, as well as a small number of Bridled Terns that also breed on the island.
The Bremer Canyon Crew