8th December 2017. R/V Song of the Whale is now well on the way to the Falkland Islands, having left the UK in mid-November. However, preparations for the trip south began many months ago; When it was confirmed that SOTW had been selected as the research platform for the BAS right whale research project taking place around South Georgia in early 2018, we started to line up appropriate staff, get the boat ready for a long, offshore project and work on the logistics for the trip, in consultation with Jen and Russell. Although R/V Song of the Whale was designed and built to work in remote and harsh environments, such as the Southern Ocean, the vessel has so far remained working in the northern hemisphere, so venturing into the far reaches of the Southern Ocean is an exciting prospect.
Prior to departure, Mat, the SOTW team’s Engineer, made preparations to ensure that all the systems were primed and ready for the long trip; South Georgia is a week’s sail from the already remote Falkland Islands and so it is more important than ever that the vessel is able to operate self-sufficiently for an extended period of time. Consequently additional spares as well as provisions have been loaded, as well as being prepared for the cold, potentially harsh offshore conditions. There were also a few tweaks to the equipment inventory required to facilitate the BAS research team’s work tracking and studying South Atlantic right whales off South Georgia, including provision for an additional long whip antenna at the mast head for directional sonobuoy work, a new extended bow platform and raised rails on the foredeck to aid the biopsy sampling work.
Then, in late October, SOTW was hauled out and the bottom painted; A week or so later the team who would be joining the SOTW to head south, gathered in Gosport for departure; the crew included some familiar faces, long time SOTW Skipper Brian, Edd and Kerry (both of whom have been previous full time members of the team, albeit some years back) and Charly have joined us from Scotland, and an enthusiastic team of participants, keen to support the research and conservation activities of the SOTW project as well as gain sailing experience and have some adventures on the way, make up the team of nine aboard for this two month long, largely offshore passage.
En route, the team are gathering acoustic and visual data on marine mammals as they pass through 100 degrees of latitude (#100degreeslatitude), as well as undertaking manta trawls for plastic samples (in collaboration with 5Gyres Institute (#5Gyrestrawlshare) and collecting environmental DNA samples (we are working with Morten Tange Olsen from the Natural History Museum of Denmark), to assist with the development of techniques to investigate the presence and diversity of cetaceans from DNA fragments in seawater.
On leaving the south coast, a rough English Channel crossing helped everyone find their sea-legs, while the notorious Bay of Biscay was unexpectedly calm. Following a few days alongside in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, to pick up a new participant, re-provision and replace the batteries (as a crack had developed in one of the main service batteries on the passage from the UK), the team set off for the Cape Verde Islands – the final stop on the eastern side of the Atlantic before striking across the Atlantic towards South America. So far, sperm whales, humpback whales, pilot whales and beaked whales have been encountered, as well as lots of dolphins, including rough-toothed and Risso’s dolphins.
Follow the team on board, as they leave the Cape Verde archipelago to cross the Atlantic Ocean, towards South America, on MCR’s blog www.MarineConservationResearch.org, and via Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.