Submitted Thursday, 10 January
8 January 2008, 5 p.m: We are sitting in our cabin, working at our computers. An announcement comes through the speakers, as it does many times a day. Usually people are called to the phone over the speakers, nothing special. But this time I recognise Bram’s voice immediately. Bram is one of our Dutch top predator specialists. His calling is to investigate birds, seals and whales. And normally Bram can be found in his outdoor cabin on the upper deck unless he is counting animals from the helicopter. So, now Bram is at the microphone and speaks the following short and snappy words:
“Hi, this is Bram. There are Orcas in front of the ship. Killer Whales ahead!” “Hallo, hier spricht Bram. Orcas vor dem Schiff. Schwertwale voraus!“
I don’t think we have ever gotten out of our cabin this fast. Warm clothing? Extra scarf? Never mind! Just get out, grab the always conveniently placed camera and rush up to the bridge. A crowd of people also armed with cameras has already assembled there. Apparently the whales are on the starboard side.
I put my new 400-mm lens on my camera. My birthday and Christmas present. The light is good, and I can distinguish several females, a calf and a male. The male is easily recognised by its large back fin. The other whales belonging to this group, which according to Bram consisted of about 30 individuals, have taken the route along the port side, and they have already disappeared as fast as they came.
Killer whales, Orcinus orca in the language of scientists, are the largest dolphins, readily identifiable by their distinct black-and-white pattern. The males can reach lengths to 9 metres and weigh up to 5 tonnes, females can grow up to 7 or 8 metres. The species is cosmopolitan. In the Antarctic they prefer the edge of the pack ice. There the animals, who can swim at top speeds of 50 km/h, hunt for fish, squid, penguins, seabirds, seals and dolphins. Scientists are still arguing whether or not the two Antarctic populations with their different looks belong to two different species. In any case, the normally gleaming white parts of their bodies are tainted yellowish in the Antarctic. This is the work of tiny unicellular algae which live on the skin of these animals.
Gritta Veit-Köhler, Senckenberg
Photos: G. Veit-Köhler, A. Henche, Senckenberg
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Thursday, 10 January 2008 18:09
Whale watching in the pack iceWritten by Polarstern Expedition
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