Wildlife in the Southern Ocean

It has been about a week since the Falcon and her crew reluctantly left Simon’s Town, pushed by schedules and impatience. We have reached the 40 degrees latitude – the Roaring Forties of the Southern Ocean, and roaring it has not been. We ghost along, heading east, in light variable southerly winds that are cooled by the Antarctic. The steal blue sea is calm with gentle swells (no liquid Himalayas – yet). The sun, when not hidden by the low grey clouds, is hot and the Milky Way is bright and crystal clear. We wait for the westerly winds driven by the train of lows expected in this region, to push us more quickly towards Australia. For now, sailing has been relaxed with everybody enjoying the weather.

In the last week, the wildlife has been spectacular. Outside False Bay, on the day of our departure, we saw seals everywhere floating and swimming on their sides with their flippers high in the air. Once again, a large pod of dolphins graced us by leaping out of the water as they quickly passed us by. One morning, shortly after dawn a lead grey fin appeared right next to the boat. As I peered down the shark twisted and turned showing its white belly and unsmiling mouth as it looked up at me. Then the shark turned and slid away with a lazy motion disappearing beneath the dark water. I had just seen a Great White.

And there be whales. Doug G, John and I were sitting in the cockpit soaking up the southern summer sun when looking out the stern I saw the water erupt like a volcano. “Whale”, I shouted and everybody went for his camera. For the next entertaining half hour, the whale (species unknown) followed us close behind, every few seconds broke the surface of the water showing us its dark blue back and white belly, and smiling face. The show concluded by a clear out-of-the-water explosive breach mere meters away, which my camera caught only the resulting huge splash. As the whale swam off it offered two encores of it breaching as it disappeared into the distance leaving an elated audience.

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The seabirds have been our constant companions and they are a joy to watch. There have been varieties of petrels and albatrosses, which continually follow the boat. This includes the large and very rare Wandering Albatross with a wingspan of nearly 4 meters. With long slender glider like wings, the albatross mesmerizes as it silently soars mere centimeters from the water surface following the swells then rocketing for the sky and back down again; doing so all around the boat. Given how rare they are (an estimated 8,500 breeding pairs left) we were blessed to see three of them together doing their graceful flybys and I feel intensely privileged to have seen these birds as they are destined for extinction due to current human fishing practices.

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The Roaring Forties is not what I expected given what I have read. So right now, I am enjoying the show waiting for the Southern Ocean to reveal its true self.

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