By Dona Bertarelli
I want to thank all our partner schools, in France and Switzerland, and the 2,000 students who are following us. Whenever I can, I will be answering your many questions throughout this journey around the planet, a journey that we are taking together to discover the wonders of our world.
With all the crew of Spindrift 2, through our observations and our encounters, not only with marine life, but also with the islands and peninsulas that we pass, with the meteorological phenomena we experience, and with the birds and the stars that accompany us during our voyage, we will help you to live this adventure, like Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s famous book. We are calling our Spindrift for Schools series - Out of the Classroom.
Finally, we have passed the Equator and in doing so, set a new record! We can now start speeding south and sail through the last part of the Atlantic we have to cover before entering what we commonly call the South Seas or the High Seas.
To answer the many young students who follow us through the Spindrift for Schools program, yes, on Saturday we saw our first whale and a second on Sunday! We couldn’t tell which kind they were. The first saluted us with spray and dived never to be seen again. The second jumped up next to us, before also disappearing into the depths.
Whales are the largest animals ever to live on earth, fin and blue whales, as well as some of the deepest divers, sperm and beaked whales.
Many of the great whales undertake extensive migrations from tropical (low latitude) winter breeding grounds, to Polar Regions (high latitude) to feed in the cold, nutrient rich waters in summer. Encircling the Antarctic, the Southern Ocean is a vast feeding ground for many of the world’s remaining whales. Although we have seen only two, I like to think that these wonderful awe-inspiring creatures have been accompanying us as we sail towards the Southern Ocean.
Sailors in the early 1900’s used to report sighting pods of whales, stories paint the picture of so many that it could be possible to hop from one to the other without getting wet feet. But it is estimated that the whale populations in the Southern Ocean now represent just a fraction of their numbers before commercial whaling drastically reduced the populations.
In 1994, the Southern Ocean Sanctuary was adopted by the International Whaling Commission. This Sanctuary encompasses waters below 40 degrees South and it aims to protect its many inhabitants, contributing to the restoration and protection of the unique and fragile Antarctic marine ecosystem.
Much remains to be discovered about the mysterious lives of whales. However, from studies using underwater microphones (hydrophones) towed behind quiet research vessels, conservation scientists have already made some important findings. Whales communicate with each other over great distances – entire ocean basins in the case of blue and fin whales, while beaked and sperm whales stay underwater for an hour or so hunting for their prey at depths of more than 1000m, and are vulnerable to disturbance and injury from shipping and other man-made underwater sound pollution. After many centuries of exploitation, when whale oil fuelled the lamps and industries of the world, these elusive ocean giants now deserve our respect and protection.
The blue whale is the largest animal ever to have lived on Earth; it is larger than any of the giant dinosaurs . The biggest recorded blue whale was a female in the Antarctic Ocean that was 30.5 m long - as long as a Boeing 737 plane - with an estimated weight of 144 tons : almost the same as 2,000 men!
The tongue alone of a blue whale can weigh as much as an elephant. The heart is about the size of a VW Beetle car and weighs up to 450 kg. The aorta, a major blood vessel from the heart, is big enough for a child to crawl through.
With a lifespan of up to 100 years the southern right whale is one of the longest living species of whale. The bowhead whale, which lives year round in the icy waters of the Arctic, has the longest estimated lifespan of around 200 years.
Male humpback whales sing long, complex, eerie songs that include recognizable sequences of squeaks, grunts, and other sounds. The songs have the largest range of frequencies used by whales, ranging from 20 to 9,000 Hertz (the voiced speech of a typical adult is from 85 to 255 Hz).
Only males have been recorded singing. They sing the complex songs only in warm waters, perhaps to attract mates. In cold waters, where they feed, they make a series of moans, scrapes and groans, and may work together with other whales to form ‘bubble nets’ to trap their prey.
The humpbacks that feed in Antarctic waters and swim north to breed near the equator off Colombia and Panama make record breaking migrations of any mammal. One female whale was spotted off the Antarctic Peninsula and then re-sighted five months later off the coast of Colombia. Even taking the shortest route this would have been a journey of over 8400km (5000 miles).
Spindrift 2’s journey around the world is approximately 20,000 miles. This means that humpback whales swimming back and forth cover half the globe yearly!