12 January 2004
Our track since entering the region looks like a large zigzag in the east around Shell Bank, a dense flurry of activity just to the east of Heard Island followed by swimming lanes (quite a number now) on a very long pool (50 miles) across the eastern margin of the plateau. We have been cruising (sort of) up and down the fur seal foraging area while the weather has been too rough to do anything else. Fortunately the area of interest runs in line with the wind so it wasn't that uncomfortable for the most part of this work. Every now and then the sun peeped through the clouds dousing us in brilliant sunshine. The sunset the other night gave rise to extraordinary colours in the sky, in the sea spray as well as reflections of the orange of the ship in the breaking bow waves. Magic!
Fortunately, the seas calmed for almost 24 hours allowing us to complete one station of intensive trawling. We got bucket loads (well, a bin full) of mackerel icefish in the first shot. These were about two years old (one year younger than when they are caught by the commercial fishery). Dick had predicted from our annual fish stock survey last year that this age class was in great abundance. Sure enough, Nick, Simon and others on the island had been finding lots of icefish otoliths (ear bones from the fish) in the scats (poo) of fur seals on the beach, indicating that the fur seals were eating icefish from the area in which we were fishing. Great! Our experimental work is paying off. Over the course of the day, we continued to catch lots of icefish as well as lots of krill (the species living in this area is about the size of a large fingernail rather than the size of your finger like Antarctic krill).
We had time before the wind came up again to move to the next station and caught even more icefish. Our sampling had been showing that fish are distributed throughout the area but with some very dense patches of fish in some local areas. The female fur seals forage on a much larger spatial scale than the macaroni penguins.
Then our wind shield completely gave way and it has been blowing up to 50 knots in the last 24 hours, the strongest it's been so far, with the seas rising to 10-12 metres. The winds came up after we had retired for the night. Lying awake (not many of us were able to sleep), I knew it was relatively big when I could slowly count to three from the moment the ship started to rise to the time it began to fall. It remained above 35 knots for the day and began to abate to 30 knots towards evening. We have been running before the wind for half the day and back into it for the other half. Lucky Dick had planned for about one third of our time to be bad weather. We hope to be fishing in the morning at least for a day.
Towards evening, the sun once again peeped through the clouds – a Raphaelite scene, with the curtain of yellow piercing the grey. While imagining cherubs in the clouds, there was a call from our wildlife watcher, Sarah, of "seal" on the starboard side. So they really do exist at sea! Until now, I had only ever seen seals lolling about on beaches. And we were back in the area that we caught our bucket loads of fish!
Hope you are enjoying the summer.