Our Far South: Roaring Forties, furious fifties and Screaming sixties…

Our Far South: Roaring Forties, furious fifties and Screaming sixties…

Heading south from Macquarie Island we have had some relatively calm seas, pretty remarkable for this part of the world.

Furious fifties. Photo Anton van Helden, copyright Te Papa

Leaving the Roaring Forties which gave us a pretty slow rolling sea the fifties gave us a small taste of what it had to offer with some mild five-metre seas. Passing past 60 degrees south was significant as that is the line of latitude that marks the start of the Antarctic Treaty, the international piece of legislation that New Zealand is a signatory to.

The treaty was established in 1959 to dedicate Antarctica to peace and science.

What passing into the sixties has also provided us with our first icebergs. I guess I had imagined that the first ones we would see would be small….I could not have been more wrong. The first ones I saw were enormous, like large land masses that completely dwarfed the ship.

Iceberg. Photo Anton van Helden, copyright Te Papa.
I was awoken this morning by the call of “Whale”, I did not get to see this animal but a photo revealed the dorsal fin of a Sei whale, a rorqual that can get up to 20m in length. This species has very fine baleen, and is thought to feed on very small crustaceans called copepods, but probably also the smaller krill species.

As we head now for the Antarctic circle at 66.33 degrees south ( ETA 5.20pm), the line where on the longest day the sun does not set. We have been keeping a vigil on the bridge looking our for whales and icebergs. We have so far seen about six humpbacks, none at terribly close range, but still visible with the naked eye and confirmed by looking at them with binoculars and some rather spectacular camera shots.

Tabular iceberg probably broken off from the Ross Ice Shelf. Photo Anton van Helden, copyright Te Papa.

Seeing humpbacks down here is pleasing, as they were once hunted so fiercely as to nearly wipe them out. In the 1961-62 whaling season the Russian whaling fleet took nearly 28000 humpbacks out of the population south of New Zealand, which spelled the end to the whaling industry in New Zealand.

This species seems to be recovering well of the East coast of Australia, sadly very few are still passing by New Zealand, let’s hope that improves. The Japanese still have them on their list of species to take in their “scientific whaling” programme, which is a concern.

A single humpback whale represents US$1,000,000 to the whale watching industry in Tonga over it’s lifetime.

Iceberg. Photo Anton van Helden, copyright Te Papa

This afternoon we have been passing more and more icebergs, each shape as extraordinary as the next. From small little floaters that they call “growlers”, which get their name from the sound they make if the collide with the ship, to great monuments like this one that looks like the Arche Du Triomphe.

Ok I am heading back to the bridge to keep looking out for whales!


  1. Thanks Edmund, yes some of the icebergs were enormous, the really big Tabular icebergs were vast. They are quite hard to estimate at sea. What you are seeing also is just litterally “the tip of the iceberg” about only 10% of the iceberg is sitting out of the water. Some of the icebergs we saw up close were bigger than large buildings, some the size of city blocks and some that we could see in the distance were the size of small countries!!!! I believe the largest iceberg on record was the size of Belgium!

    A large Iceberg that broke off Antarctica in 2000 was given the name B-15 and was 11,000 square kilometres!!!

    The different sizes of icebergs get given different games:

    Growlers = small icebergs only about 1m in height
    Bergy bits = up to about 5m in height
    then small, medium, large and VERY large (up to 75m in height)

    So as difficult as it is to be certain of their size…some of them are truly ENORMOUS!

  2. That iceberg must be very huge in size. How huge is that approximately?

  3. Salut fiston, si tu veux bien dire à ton collègue Anton que je ne l’aime pas car je rêve aussi de photographier des icebergs et c’est pas juste NA !!
    J”espère que c’est pas trop dur, il doit quand même pas faire très chaud.
    Bon boulot
    On vous embrasse tous et toutes.
    Père et mère (supérieure)

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