Sunday marked the halfway point of our cruise — 30 days passed at sea, 30 days to go. Coincidentally, we also reached our most southward point — 60 °S — early Sunday morning. We’ve fallen into a slow, rolling rhythm on board the Revelle, not unlike the motion of the ship itself.
I’m not sure if it’s the relative monotony of our schedule or the thick fog blanketing the ship, but everyone seems a bit “flat” lately (as one scientist put it to me yesterday). The fog — a seemingly endless wall of white stretching out in all directions — has definitely defined the past few days on the Revelle. It means no stargazing, very few wildlife sightings, and minimal time spent outdoors. But on Sunday, the fog cleared just enough to grant us our most exciting wildlife sighting to date.
As we were hauling in the OCP (Ocean Color Profiler) that afternoon, someone pointed excitedly towards the ocean off the back of the ship and shouted one of my favorite words to hear at sea: “whale!” A second shout and I still could see nothing but waves. But the third time the whale surfaced, it was unmissable. For a few minutes, the whale swam alongside the ship. Every time it crested, we could see its dorsal fin, and when it dived, it revealed the telltale white flukes of a humpback whale.
I’ve seen whales from ships before, but never this close — every time it surfaced, we could hear it groaning as it breathed out. It was a pretty awe-inspiring sight, and we stayed out on the deck looking far after the whale had moved on.
The other big excitement recently was that a large iceberg showed up on the ship’s radar screen. We gave it a wide berth, especially since it was quite foggy out (as the captain pointed out, it’s not the icebergs that show up on the radar screen that make sailors nervous — it’s the smaller ones that might be lurking nearby, unseen). A bunch of us went out on deck when we got as close as we were going to get (a distance of just over 4 nautical miles), but we could only see about 100 feet in front of our faces!
Now that we’re heading north again, the likelihood that we’ll get another chance to see an iceberg is low. Still, the ocean is a big place, and we’ve got more than four weeks to go — plenty of time for more surprises!
Giuliana Viglione is a journalist and science communicator who has joined Senior Research Scientist Barney Balch’s research cruise to study the impact of coccolithophores in the Southern Ocean. On board the ship, she’ll be helping the team carry out experiments, document the research cruise, and conduct educational outreach with students across the country. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.