Whales for breakfast….thar she blows
Sarah Wilcox, Anton van Helden and Stefanie Rixecker have just set off on a trip with Heritage Expeditions to the Kermadecs. Tune in to our blog for daily updates from their trip!
I woke up to a gently rolling sea, quickly readied myself for a day looking out to the unimpeded horizon. I joined the morning chorus of bird watchers with their discussion of passing seabirds. I have spent most of my time as a whale scientist dealing with (dead or stranded) animals that have come ashore, so am utterly relishing the prospect of seeing more live animals at sea.
The Spirit of Enderby, our mobile observation platform, is surging on through the dark blue of this open water. We are already way out of sight of land in some of New Zealand’s deepest waters, with the Kermadec trench away to the east and the submarine volcanoes of Kermadec arc away to the west. An excited passenger grabs my attention… “Anton – whales!”
I rushed out onto deck. From the whales’ low, forward-projecting blow I determined that they were sperm whales – at least three animals well off to starboard, perhaps 300 m from the ship. Before breakfast on our first morning at sea we had our first whale sighting!
The call for breakfast came and a reluctant team of observers left the bow of the ship, vowing to return as soon as possible to keep up the animal spotting vigil.
We are travelling on a route used by whales and early Polynesian navigators, a link from New Zealand to the tropical Pacific. Once the centre of sperm whaling in the Pacific, it is great to know the animals we saw and the environment that supports them will be protected by the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary into the future.
The post-breakfast discoveries included at least 11 species of seabird, including the first glimpse of a Kermadec petrel. Everybody was excited to see flying fish flitting and gliding away from the ship’s path…but not just flying fish…flying squid as well!
The call for lunch came over the intercom. People asked me to conjure up some whales and lo and behold, in the distance moments later two large splashes from breaching whales left us in no doubt of their presence. It seems that even the whales want to fly around here! But we saw nothing more from them, leaving only speculation about what species they may have been. Could they have been a Cuvier’s beaked whale? Well yes, that’s a possibility. We still know little about the cetacean (whale and dolphin) fauna of this region – it’s a vast area and only a few parts of it have have been thoroughly explored.
The record of strandings and sightings of cetaceans from the Bay of Plenty northward suggests that those from the tropics may well be found here, but we need to keep looking.
I look forward to more encounters….back to the bow I go!