BLOG: Sir Peter Blake Trust Ambassador Blake Hornblow - Enounters with Antarctica's animals

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It has been another amazing week here on the Tangaroa. On Saturday we saw Antarctica which was an absolutely breath-taking experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life!

It began as a dark shape slowing appearing through the fog. Then the clouds parted showing us the pristine scenery of Terra Nova Bay and the Campbell glacier. Mount Melbourne, almost 3000m in height, rose up from the icy sea. We enjoyed the afternoon out on deck watching the perfect blue sky fade to pink, as the sun set behind mountains.

One of the species we are interested in on this voyage is the Antarctic silverfish. Silverfish are a key species in the marine food web, providing a link between zooplankton and predators like penguins and seals. To study them, we deployed an upward facing echo-sounder in Terra Nova Bay to record the potential migration of silverfish under the sea ice this winter.

We also collected mature silverfish from trawls. In one trawl, close to the mooring area, we caught 130kg of silverfish, showing how abundant they are in the area. These are being studied for genetics, isotope analysis, and to see what they have been eating.

Silverfish [Richard O'Driscoll, NIWA]

Back in the northern Ross Sea, we are looking for the elusive blue whales. Unfortunately the ice and weather aren't making it easy -- fog and a considerable swell has made sightings very difficult. Fortunately the weather has improved today and on my shift we had eight “lunch-time” blue whales. As usual they seem to come into view just as we are going to have a meal! The ice made navigation too difficult to get close to these whales but everyone enjoyed seeing our blue friends again.

We have been in contact with quite a lot of ice the past few days, I have been thoroughly enjoying this as the ice edge appears to be a favourite hang-out spot for local wildlife. Seals swimming catching breakfast, or lazing on the ice. Adelie penguins in the water alongside our bow in groups of twenty, or stand surveying us high on an iceberg.

 Adelie penguins standing on an iceberg. [Blake Hornblow]

Humpback whales are everywhere. I must have seen at least 20 today, sleeping unconcerned on the surface like logs, or “spy hopping” as they pop their heads up looking at us.

We have also encountered two groups of killer whales - easy to identify with their big knife-like fins moving through the water. Killer whales are not actually whales at all, but are the biggest of the dolphins. They are top predators and move very quickly so we have been lucky. There are four types of killer whales in Antarctica which differ in their location, diet, and colour. Noticeable differences are the white eye patches and white ‘capes’ that some have on their back.

Pod of killer whales [Kym Collins, AAD]

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As well as marine creatures, there is always a group of snow and Antarctic petrels, and sometimes albatrosses, flying over the waves beside us. I don’t know how they manage to keep up in the thirty knot winds. 

Blake