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In photos:

In photos: A whale of a day

16 Feb 2018

Keywords

  • antarctica
  • marine protected areas
  • whales

Happy World Whale Day!

And what perfect timing. We’ve got amazing insights into minke whale feeding behaviour, straight from a ‘whale cam‘ expertly positioned on the animal’s back.

WWF is working in collaboration with international whale researchers to better understand how and where baleen whales feed in the Southern Ocean.

Chris Johnson, our Antarctic Program Senior Manager, is a marine scientist who has studied whales for 20 years. Early this year, he joined Dr Ari Friedlaender’s whale team for two weeks to search for Antarctic minke and humpback whales along the Antarctic Peninsula.

As often happens with wildlife and research trips, not everything goes according to plan...
Find out what it was like for Chris and the team as they studied Antarctic whales in temperatures of -10˚C… and less.

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Minke whales are amazing animals.
They grow to around eight to nine metres, and are the second smallest baleen whale. They feed primarily on krill or small silverfish using baleen feeding plates, in a method known as lunge feeding.

Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) breaching, Antarctic Peninsula. Supplied by OneOcean Expeditions

To get such insights and amazing images from a zodiac (a rubber inflatable boat), the team searched for whales for three hours a day, twice a day.
Gear included: Special waterproof clothing and layers, a CATS suction cup ‘whale tag’, camera equipment including GoPro, sound recorders, monopod, Canon 5D Mark II w/ 100-400mm lens & flash, and Nikon binoculars to search for whales… oh and ski goggles.
Chris admitted he had to wear two beanies, one on top of the other! Plus, three pairs of socks, two pairs of gloves, long wooly undies, and three jackets!

Flat layout of gear and equipment needed to conduct whale research in Antarctica © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

View from the zodiac searching for whales.
The team searched in freezing weather for Antarctic minke whales and humpback whales, often navigating through ice and dodging icebergs in heavy snow.

View from the zodiac searching for whales, Antarctic Peninsula © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

Researchers spot an Antarctic minke whale from the zodiac.

Researchers spotting an Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), Antarctic Peninsula. Supplied by OneOcean Expeditions

In action: Researchers attach a ‘whale cam’ onto a minke whale.

Researchers attaching a 'whale cam' to an Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis), Antarctic Peninsula. Supplied by Tristian Ray-Wilks / OneOcean Expeditions

Close up of ‘whale cam’ / CATS suction cup video tag on the Antarctic minke whale.

Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) with 'whale cam', or a CATS video suction cup tag, Antarctic Peninsula © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

Underwater: Close up encounter with an Antarctic minke whale with ‘whale cam’ attached on its back.
Want to be a whale for a while?
Sneak peek of some amazing footage capture by ‘whale cam’.
The camera (which adheres with suction cups) slid down the side of the animal – but stayed attached – providing remarkable video of the way it feeds.

Eye of an Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis) with 'whale cam' attached. Antarctic Peninsula © John Dudeney / WWF-Aus

Minke whales were not the only ones around… see this beautiful humpback waving its giant pectoral fin.

Humpback whale waving its giant pectoral fin swimming in a calm sea next to the researchers. Nico Harbour, at the mouth of Andvord Bay, Antarctica © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

Breathtaking views from the research ship Akademik Ioffe making its way towards the Lemaire Channel.

The research ship Akademik Ioffe making its way towards the Lemaire Channel, Antarctic Peninsula © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson

The team of researchers (Left to right) Dave Cade - PhD student from Stanford University; Dr Ari Friedlaender – Associate Professor, UC Santa Cruz (USA); Chris Johnson – Senior Manager, WWF Antarctic Program.

Whale research team: (Left to Right) Dave Cade - PhD student from Stanford University; Dr Ari Friedlaender – Associate Professor, UC Santa Cruz (USA); Chris Johnson – Senior Manager, WWF Antarctic Program © WWF-Aus / Chris Johnson