At Sea

Mar 03, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer


The morning began with sunshine and soft waves as far as the eye could see. The Southern Ocean was going to be kind to us on this crossing to the Falklands. The occasional iceberg loomed over the horizon as we powered on our way, and white-chinned and soft-plumed petrels soared across our course. Several impressive wandering albatross wheeled past us, despite the conspicuous lack of wind.

As we stared into the wide expanse, suddenly something amazing happened—on the horizon, a low blow. And then another and another, and then a dive. We changed course to investigate and sure enough, there were sperm whales! A rarely encountered species in these parts. Adult male sperm whales often break away from their family pods and head down toward the Southern Ocean to feed in these squid-rich waters. We were lucky enough to encounter three individuals, all logging at the surface, catching their breath above water several thousand meters deep. Male sperm whales are significantly larger than their female counterparts and can grow up to 18m. These amazing animals bobbed at the surface for around 15 minutes before heading back down into the depths with an impressive fluke. Everyone dashed to the bridge and the bow to catch a glimpse; it was a rare and incredible moment even for the naturalists on board.

The rest of the day was filled with some wonderful talks by our widely experienced naturalist team. Sheri kicked off with her talk on life in Grytviken, detailing some hilarious stories, including how an entire cruise ship once stayed in the museum. Next, Jen Jackson, our southern right whale expert, spoke about the amazing, groundbreaking research that she and the team are conducting at South Georgia.

The afternoon saw the arrival of a new cetacean—hourglass dolphins, dashing around the bow of the ship! Then we heard a presentation on the Falklands war, and finally the afternoon was capped off with a talk on the geology of the Falklands, hilariously titled, “Probably More Than You Wanted to Know About the Geology of South Georgia and the Falklands (But You Asked For It!).”

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About the Author

Ella Potts

Naturalist

Ella’s passion has always been in marine conservation, with a childhood spent swimming, kayaking or boating in the chilly waters of the UK, or surveying the marine life of those waters from windswept headlands. She has numerous, distinct early memories of shivering adults, wrapped up in jumpers and cagoules, looking down at her with slight horror through sheets of rain and commenting on her short sleeves. A phenomena that persists to this day.  She graduated with a Masters degree in Marine Biology: Conservation and Resource Management from Swansea University, setting her up for a career protecting those marine ecosystems that she so loves. 

Ella has worked for several British whale conservancy charities, including ORCA and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and is a British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) marine mammal medic. She has a real passion for lecturing, and during her time in these different organizations has presented to vastly ranging audiences; from groups of young children right up to filled auditoriums at the headquarters of HWDT partner, WWF. 

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