Riding the bow with a blue

A wave over the bow of 'Explorer' during whale biopsy sampling.
A wave over the bow of 'Explorer' during whale biopsy sampling. (Photo: David Donnelly)

14th February 2013

At 7am I'm half awake, trying to maintain my balance on the heaving bow of Explorer. I shiver under four layers of thermals and wet weather gear. With the wind behind us, the ship cruises down a three-metre wave. Directly ahead like a massive underwater neon light, an Antarctic blue whale surfs the next wave. I hear its "pfoufff" blow like a small explosion and smell the oil of its breath. It doesn't get much better than this! After my three decades of experience as a seagoing marine scientist, this is a dream come true. So close to this magnificent animal - the largest ever on the planet - wild, healthy and free.

The scientists are positioned beside me on the bow. A photographer is snapping away capturing details of the whale’s dorsal fin for identification purposes. The sharp-shooter is aiming high on the whales back to get a biopsy sample. Yes! The dart hits its target and bounces off the whale’s rubbery back. I hang on tight as the ship sharply turns, so a crewman with a long net can retrieve the dart from the sea. Just a very small sample of skin is enough for genetic analysis and an insight into population structure.

We’re all rejoicing another successful encounter in our mission to learn more about the endangered Antarctic blue whales of the Southern Ocean.

Catch up on previous posts from the voyage.

This page was last modified on August 24, 2015.