Today, as Chris Johnson scaned the sea for sperm whales, weather conditions turned for the worse with heavy rain and high wind gusts over 32 knots.
Photo: Genevieve Johnson
February 12, 2001
Leaving the Whales of Kiribati
This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the decks of the Odyssey.
Yesterday morning we pulled out of Betio harbor in Tarawa Atoll for the last
time, and headed for Kavieng, New Ireland, a remote port town on the North
East coast of Papua New Guinea. We were expecting a direct passage of about
twelve-days, but only two days west of Tarawa (and still in Kiribati
territorial waters) we now find ourselves once again with sperm whales.
Last night, at about 2:00 am, Bob heard a series of sperm whale 'codas' on the
acoustic hydrophone array. Codas are repeated patterns of clicks thought to
be social vocalizations used by sperm whales as signitures to identify
themselves to each other. The pattern is short and is more complex than the
monotonous click trains that sperm whales make most of the rest of the time.
In addition to being a probable form of communication, codas also seem to be
associated with flamboyant behavior. Sure enough: our first sighting of the
whales this morning was a breaching juvenile off the starboard bow.
As the watches changed all night we kept trcking the whales and at sunrise
the entire crew was on deck ready to collect data. Now it's the end of the
day and the sperm whales we spent it with are still all about us. It's a
rather large group, consisting of small clusters spread over an area of
eighty, to one hundred square miles. The two to three foot swell we are in,
combined with an apparent wind speed of twenty-four knots on upwind legs
made today's working conditions a bit hairy. That is because sperm whales,
when approached by boats, often turn and swim into the wind. When the
weather is calm, they tend to turn in the direction from which the wind blew
Rebecca Clark on the 'whaleboom' as the Odyssey approaches a sperm whale.
Photo: Chris Johnson
Back in the sail-powered whaling days this behavior would have made
eminently good sense. But even though the Odyssey's engine easily drives us
up wind, the crew understands the consequences of this unexplained behavior
all too well. Heading into such swells means that the bow from which we
collect data is often buried in a wave, so that those on deck receive a
thorough soaking. We have to concentrate on keeping our footing on the wet
deck whilst trying as well to protect the expensive camera gear, VHF radios,
headsets and other electronic equipment.
Although challenging, I think we unanimously agree this exhilarating and
inspirational job is one we wouldn’t exchange for any other!
Log by Genevieve Johnson