Thursday, 19 July 2012

Day 14 - Whales and Wildlife

Being on a research trip does have some pretty amazing benefits, such as wildlife watching! So far we have been lucky enough to see a wealth of marine creatures from the ship.

A pod of Pilot Whales
We have seen long-finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala melas), which are generally found in temperate waters and live on a diet of squid and fish. They are in fact members of the dolphin family, the biggest one in the picture is around 5 metres long.

We saw a pod of whales that contained five or six individuals, which stayed along side the ship for around half an hour. Some of the scientific team came equipped with some pretty impressive camera gear. A photo, taken by Rosanna, captured the moment a family of pilot whales surfaced as they swam by us.

We have been lucky enough to see Fin Whales (Balaenoptera physalus), for these creatures are endangered due to the whaling industry around the world. If it wasn’t for their spouts that go several metres up into the air, we may not have been alerted to their presence at all. They are large at about 20 metres long and are the second biggest creature in the ocean, only surpassed in size by the blue whale. We were able to clearly see their long backs and dorsal fin.

They appeared to be travelling in pairs, as we could see two spouts blowing next to each other.
From the literature we guessed that they were feeding when we saw them, as they would blow 5 or 6 spouts in quick succession before disappearing beneath the surface for 10 minutes.

The day that we were at the Goban Spur site we briefly saw dolphins. They were popular with all on board and drew a good crowd of people. The common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) with its distinctive slender body and long beak is probably the best-known species of cetacean. Although we weren’t graced with an acrobatic display, we did witness them jumping through the waves.

Gannets have been around us for most of our journey, either gliding effortlessly along the tops of waves or flying just above the ship.
They are among the largest seabirds in the northern Atlantic with wingspans of up to 2 metres. They feed on fish and squid by means of plunge diving into the ocean from heights of up to 40 metres and speeds of 60 mph. The ones we saw will probably breed in the UK or Ireland, but out of breeding season they will spend their time continuously at sea. They are migratory birds and will overwinter in the tropical waters off the West Coast of Africa.

Other marine creatures that have been spotted have included jellyfish and sunfish, fingers crossed: we may get some more sightings before the end of the trip.

John Benning