Tuesday 1 December 2009

Are you sitting down?

We ask because we have an incredible experience to share with you!

After a great landing at Cuverville Island, Antarctica, in calm and warm conditions we all returned to the ship to reposition to Port Lockroy for the afternoon. During lunch, the bridge called down to our Expedition Leader, Karin, with a report of Orcas ("Killer Whales") off to the port of the ship. Within seconds the dining room had cleared with everyone frantically running to retrieve their cameras and rush to deck 5.

As we arrived on deck, we realised that we were witnessing a once in a lifetime event. A Crabeater Seal was lying on a small ice floe about 100m from the ship, while a family of 5 Orcas attempted to wash the seal off the ice floe. The way they did this was amazing to watch because it was clear to us that they were communicating with each other and coordinating the hunt perfectly. The family of Orcas quickly approached the ice floe together, side-by-side and at the surface, creating a huge wave that again and again washed the seal into the sea. Every time this happened we expected the seal to be lost but instead it would quickly jump back up on the ice floe. This chase lasted for over an hour, and we were lucky to witness the whole event because our captain stopped the ship for us. After many attempts, the seal was finally lost and the Orcas had a small lunch, which they shared with some skuas and storm-petrels which flew in to pick up the remnants. We suspected that the adult Orcas in the family were teaching the young ones how to hunt seals this way and so let the seal return to the ice floe time and time again. Had they been hunting in earnest, the seal would likely have been taken quickly.

We are all still reeling from this event and cannot believe how lucky and privileged we were to be at the right place at the right moment. To help with our memories we estimate that at least 50,000 images were made by our passengers over the course of the hour we spent on deck 5!