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Entry for July 20, 2007

Enderby Island

We pulled into the north end of the Auckland Islands around 1 p.m. yesterday, escorted by a giant petrel. Once in the lee of the islands, the seas diminished, and we could see right whales scattered along the shore, and Auckland Island shags (an endemic cormorant) diving in the middle of the harbor entrance. We motored slowly in toward the northwestern corner of the islands and dropped anchor in Sandy Bay, a protected harbor on the south coast of Enderby Island.

The greeting committee immediately arrived, in the form of about 10 yellow eyed penguins, porpoising around us, followed by about 15 right whales! The right whales were notably curious, circling the boat and repeatedly swimming under us. At least two mother/calf pairs were nearby, although they did not approach the boat. Several small courtship groups formed around us, some occurring within 50 ft of our now silent vessel.

 
 Brian Skerry (lower right) being circled by right whale calf
All teams leapt into action. Scott Baker and the darting team headed out and managed to sample 6 whales before the light got too low to photograph. More details on their activities will follow in a future log. Brian Skerry got into the water with his camera gear, and was soon surrounded by right whales, probably curious about this new species in their midst. One large calf in particular was most interested in Brian's movements, and repeatedly circled back to see what he was doing (that's Brian, in the lower right corner of the image to the right). Roz and I worked from the deck of the Evohe, and managed to photograph 9 different whales from anchor as they passed by. In spite of our late arrival, all teams were ecstatic at the excellent results from our first day - the omens are considered to be good!

Immediately, we were struck by how healthy the whales look. The calf that was so fond of Brian was perhaps the fattest right whale I have ever seen. Further, these whales all have black smooth skin, with hardly any mottling or sloughing, unlike their cousins in the North Atlantic. These whales are also completely at ease around the boat - no avoidance, mild curiosity, and indifference. All night long, we could hear right whales blowing (breathing) outside our portholes.

On shore, penguins and giant petrels wander around the fields rising up from the crescent sandy beach. In the distance to the west-southwest, the cliffs of Auckland Island are visible below low hanging clouds. Tomorrow we will have a full day of activities, and will switch our log submissions to the evenings. I also plan to start bothering our colleagues to contribute to these logs, so there will be more voices heard from in the future.