Sense and Sensibility in the Southern Ocean – A character-building story of albatross and researcher personalities in extreme conditions. Part 2. Tropical waters

Our visit to the Crozet Islands, a French Sub-Antarctic nature reserve at 41 deg S in the Indian Ocean started yesterday, embarking on the RV Marion Dufresne. We’re steaming straight south from La Reunion, towards the Crozet Islands, with landfall due in about 6 days.

Lieutenant Iulia Popescu of the Marion Dufresne checks our position at the chart table.

Lieutenant Iulia Popescu of the Marion Dufresne checks our position                   at the chart table. Image: Susan Waugh, © Te Papa

Overnight we made good steaming with an average speed of around 15 knots, and this morning we found ourselves sounded by a vast ‘empty’ tropical sea (at least as concerns flying species). The water temperature of 24 C, and a mild 21 C air temperature.

Julien Collet CNRS Research Assistant keeps an eye out for whales and seabirds from the top deck of the Marion Dufresne. Image: Susan Waugh, © Te Papa

Julien Collet CNRS Research Assistant keeps an eye out for whales and seabirds from the top deck of the Marion Dufresne.                                                 Image: Susan Waugh, © Te Papa

Our team of four has been occupied with hourly bird observations from the bridge, which helps pass the time, but also to acquaint ourselves with the local biodiversity. Yesterday, we saw several small shearwaters, including wedge-tailed shearwaters and possibly Audubon’s shearwaters. We were also lucky to see a Barau’s petrel, a rare species nesting at La Reunion.

Barau’s Petrel one day south of Reunion Island. Image: Julian Collet, © Julian Collet

Barau’s Petrel one day south of Reunion Island.                                                        Image: Julian Collet, © Julian Collet

Today, however, being further from the tropical islands, and not yet into temperate seas, the wildlife is very thinly spread. No birds were seen all morning, although there were flying fish making little volleys across the sea surface every few hundred metres. The whole team is keen to spot our first albatross, apparently around 33 deg S is where they were seen a few weeks ago by the vessel, which should be where we get to by the end of the day.

Flying fish in the waters of 29 deg S. Image: Julian Collet, © Julian

Flying fish in the waters of 29 deg S. Image: Julian Collet, © Julian

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