Whitebeaked dolphin stranding at Newbiggin, Northumberland

Another dead white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) was reported found on the beach by Lynemouth powerstation on Sunday 27 October. Pictures indicated that the animal had likely been on the beach for about 10 days. I went to the site on Wednesday to investigate the dolphin. It was male, 2.65m long, but unfortunately too decomposed for collection and to allow a useful post mortem analysis. However, samples of skin, blubber and muscle were taken for genetic and pollution analyses, and teeth for aging. It had 26 pairs of teeth in each jaw which is consistent with the 22-28 pairs normally found in the species. The animal had significant tooth wear indicating that is was an older animal. By preparing teeth and reading growth layers it is possible to age the animal and a white-beaked dolphin may live for 40-45 years.

Why do cetaceans (porpoises, dolphins and whales) strand? There are different reasons, most likely a combination of factors, and it may differ depending on whether the animal was alive or dead when stranded. Live animals may strand due to navigational errors especially in areas with large tidal range and gently sloping beaches where the water may disappear quickly on the ebbing tide. Stormy weather and possibly magnetic anomalies may also contribute. However, it is more likely that the animal was sick or had been injured after interaction with fishing gear or a boat. If the animal is unwell and weak it may seek shelter in a shallow bay and beach itself to help keep the blow hole above water to allow it to breath. Animals found dead on beaches may have suffocated in fishing gear and then been dumped by the fisher at sea when the gear was hauled. In such cases there is usually evidence in the form of netmarks on the dorsal and/or pectoral fins, tail flukes or the snout. If the animal had been hit by a boat there is usually some form of physical trauma, an impact wound and/or bleeding.

There are also cases of mass strandings when whole groups of up to several hundred dolphins or whales strand together. Again there may be different factors responsible such as those mentioned above and others e.g. biotoxins (toxic algae blooms) that may make a whole group of animals sick and lead to stranding. Military sonar has been linked to strandings and deaths of several beaked whale species where the sonar has affected the whales’ diving behaviour and caused decompression-related problems (similar to the “bends” that can affect human divers) when they return to the surface after deep dives. In some other species e.g. pilot and sperm whales it may also be the social bonds that may contribute where perhaps one sick animal strand and several other come to the aid the sick animal and also strand in the process. In most cases it is likely a combination of factors that are the cause for the stranding.

For information on how to report strandings in England see: http://ukstrandings.org/how-to-report-a-stranding/

Information from the strandings provides a picture of what species are found in UK waters and show geographic and seasonal distribution. The animals that that undergo post-mortem analyses provide information on causes of death, disease, contaminants, reproductive patterns and diet of the cetaceans living around the UK.

We collaborate with the UK Cetaceans Strandings Investigation Programme (http://ukstrandings.org/) and acts as regional contact that can respond to strandings. Depending on the size of the animal and degree of decomposition, the dead animals are either collected, stored in the freezer room at the Dove Marine Laboratory and later post mortem analysed, or post mortem sampled on the beach.

On a more positive note, there was a live stranding of a harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) on Whitley Bay Beach in on Tuesday morning 29 October. This report came from Marcus Jackson, North Tyneside council coastal warden. The stranding was reported to the  British Divers Marine Life Rescue (http://www.bdmlr.org.uk/) who are trained in dealing live stranded cetaceans. When BDMLR came to the beach members of the public had already refloated the animal. This may have had a successful outcome for the animal but unless correct procedures are followed it is possible to cause more harm than help. So unless you have been trained as a marine mammal medic, please call for expert help if you find a live stranded cetacean.

For more information please contact: Dr Per Berggren (per.berggren@ncl.ac.uk)

Many thanks to Martin Kitching (http://www.northernexperiencewildlifetours.co.uk/) for reporting the white-beaked dolphin stranding.

Whitebeaked dolphin stranding by Alnmouth

On Tuesday morning 22 October we received a message about a dead white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) found on a beach by Alnmouth, Northumberland. The message came from the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (http://ukstrandings.org/) that monitors the UK hotline for stranded cetaceans. We participate in this work by responding to strandings that occur locally in Northumberland. After checking the exact location with those that had reported the stranding we (myself, Simon Laing, Dove Marine Lab intern and Paul Dees, Stage 3 Marine Biology student) set off in the school van with a stretcher, wheelbarrow and basic sampling kit with the intention of retrieving the whole animal. The plan was to bring the dolphin and store it in the freezer room at the Dove Marine Laboratory for a full dissection at a later date. We reached the site after an hour drive and found the animal on the beach just below the high tide mark. It was not as fresh as we had hoped and interviews with locals at the nearby caravan park told us that the animal had stranded on Saturday.

The dolphin was a 2.6m female and we soon realised that we would not be able to move her from the beach along the narrow steep access path to the van. In fact the three of us were barely able to move her at all and struggled to drag her up above the high tide mark. We were not able to weigh her but she was likely weighing 200+ kg. The size and tooth wear told us that this was a mature older female. We extracted teeth for aging and cut out skin, blubber and muscle samples for genetic, stable isotope and contaminant analyses. We also photographed the animal including pictures of the dorsal fin that we will use to match against existing catalogues of known white-beaked dolphins in the North Sea. It was by now late afternoon and we decided to leave the animal and return the next day for more comprehensive sampling.

We returned on Wednesday equipped with scalpels, knives, saw and various sampling bags. We took samples from kidney and liver (for heavy metal analysis), blood (for blood chemistry) and we also took uterus and ovaries (for reproductive biology – she was not obviously pregnant) and stomach (for diet analysis). We then took the whole head for studies of the sound production organs and one of the flippers that we will clean and eventually have on display together with the skull.

The white-beaked dolphin is endemic to the Atlantic Ocean and regarded as a continental shelf species with an abundance of about 10,000 in the North Sea. It is one of the larger dolphins (1.1-1.2m at birth growing to around 2.5-3m and 200-300kg). It is characterized by its short thick white coloured beak, white or pale grey markings on the flanks, counter-shading and curved dorsal fin. They become sexually mature around 10 years of age and the lifespan is about 40 years. They feed on fish and cephalopods. There is little information about the species social structure and group size is 1-20. For more information about the abundance and distribution of white-beaked dolphins and other cetaceans in European waters please see the following recent publication: Hammond PS, Macleod K, Berggren P, et al. 2013. Cetacean abundance and distribution in European Atlantic shelf waters to inform conservation and management. Biological Conservation. 164, 107-122. Read abstract and download paper here: http://www.ncl.ac.uk/marine/research/publication/192635

You can also watch white-beaked dolphin swimming underwater filmed by Ben Burville off the Northumberland coast here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wmDC2Cj_ROk

For more information please contact: Dr Per Berggren (per.berggren@ncl.ac.uk)

Greenland shark stranding by Alnwick

An unusual stranding occurred on Friday morning when a 3m Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus) washed up on a beach by Dunstan Steads, outside Alnwick, Northumberland.

It was discovered by James Robertson, a local farmer, who was out surfing. James called in his observation to the local council and to Dr Per Berggren at the School of Marine Science & Technology who coordinated the recovery of the shark. It was a truly collaborative effort involving local efforts to get the animal off the beach in the late afternoon and then transported in the School van by Marine Science Technician John Knowles from The Dove Marine Laboratory. John then got help from Marine Science MPhil students Andrew Temple and Will Jolly, and Dan Gordon (Great North Hancock Museum) to get the shark into the freezer room at the Dove Marine Lab where it is now sharing the space with six porpoises and one hooded seal.

The Greenland shark is a sub-Arctic species with possibly the most northern distribution of any shark and is normally found around Iceland and Greenland. It belongs to the family “sleeper” sharks (Somniosidae) within the order dogfishes (Squaliformes) and is also sometimes called Gurry shark (due to the fact that it sometimes eat offal from fish and mammals). It inhabits inshore zones to continental shelves usually in depths of 0 to 1200 m (has been recorded at 2,200m depth). During winter months in the species occurs in the intertidal zone and at the surface in shallow bays and river mouths, moving into depths of 180 to 550 m during warmer months.

The Greenland shark is fairly barrel shaped with a short, rounded snout, small dorsal and pectoral fins, and small eyes. The gill openings are also very small in relation to the size of the species. The colour range from dark brown to pale grey and is uniform.

It is one of the largest sharks and can grow up to 7m and way 1400kg. The animal that stranded was comparatively small being 3m and about 120kg. There are no reliable estimates of the Greenland shark lifespan but tagged sharks have been recaptured 16 years later. It is thought to grow at very slow rate and may be the longest-lived vertebrate with a potential life span of over 200 years. It has placental ovoviviparous reproduction and the female can carry up to 10 young pups.

Greenland shark is an apex predator that normally feeds on fish, seabirds, seals, invertebrates and large carcasses. It has about 50 teeth in each the upper and lower jaw. The teeth of the upper jaw are thin, pointed, without serrations and act as anchor while the lower jaw does the cutting. The lower teeth are broad, square and interlocking with short cusps pointing outward. Most shark species can be identified from their teeth and for this species it is important to use teeth from both upper and lower jaw for a positive identification.

This shark is listed as Near Threatened on the basis of possible population declines and limiting life history characteristics. The Greenland shark was historically targeted by shark liver fisheries in Norway, Iceland, and Greenland that may have had a significant impact on the species. The commercial fishing of the Greenland shark for liver oil ended in 1960. Currently the species is taken as bycatch in halibut and shrimp trawl fishers and fish traps and gillnets in Greenland. It is also caught by artisanal fisheries in the Arctic.

The flesh of a Greenland shark is poisonous due to the presence of the trimethylamine oxide. However, it can be eaten if it is boiled in several changes of water or dried or fermented for several months to produce Hákarl. Traditionally Hákarl this was produced by burying the shark in the ground, where the shark would go through several cycles of freezing and thawing. It is considered a delicacy in Iceland and Greenland.

What will happen to the shark now? The shark will be kept frozen until a decision has been made of its fate. There is great interest for the shark and the Natural History Museum is interested in preserving the whole animal but before that the animal will be measured and sampled for biological and ecological analyses.

For more information please contact: Dr Per Berggren (per.berggren@ncl.ac.uk)

The pictures of the shark have kindly been provided by Darren Graham, Northumberland and James and Elizabeth Robertson.

Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA).

Zanzibar Shark Project Update 13/02/2013 – When tigers became makos

The excitement and anticipation of waiting for the Nungwi shark photos to see if there were great white sharks in Zanzibar ended in slight disappointment. The shark data sheets labelled white sharks turned out to be silky sharks, whilst those labelled tiger sharks were actually shortfin mako sharks. How a shortfin mako could be mistaken for a tiger shark, I haven’t got a clue! Of the 68 sharks caught in Nungwi from September to December 2012 there were: 27 shortfin makos, 14 smooth hammerheads, 8 scalloped hammerheads, 3 great hammerheads, 6 silky sharks, 3 pelagic threshers, 2 bigeye threshers, 1 white-tailed dogfish, 1 bignose shark, 1 bigeye sixgill shark, 1 blacktip shark and 1 actual tiger shark. Even though there were no white sharks and not as many tigers found as I had hoped for, the fact that shortfin mako and hammerhead sharks were present in large numbers mean that I can focus on these species groups for my dissertation.

Mako shark

Hammerhead shark

Meanwhile the system of informing myself and the research of any sharks caught here in Kizimkazi-Dimbani fish market was not working as well as I had hoped. However after discussion with Mr Pandu there was an immediate improvement. The morning after our discussion I was informed of a large catch of 11 sharks, doubling my shark total in Dimbani in one morning! The sharks were all identified as white-tailed dogfish.

Now that we have the communication sorted, I am waiting eagerly for the month of March, when shark catches are reported to be quite high in the area and catches of 11 sharks every morning may become a regular occurrence! Large numbers of sharks are obviously welcome for the study but also a concern regarding the status of the species caught. We hope that the studies now conducted will provide data for an initial shark assessment and also indicate where more research may be needed.

Tutaonana badye (see you later),

William Jolly

Newcastle University

Shark project, Zanzibar

Zanzibar Shark Project – The beginning

Zanzibar Shark Project – The beginning

The Zanzibar Shark Project was initiated in July 2012 by asking local collaborators to assist in collection of data on landed sharks in two villages, Kizimkazi-Dimbani (where we live) in the south and Nungwi in the north of Zanzibar. We provided data forms, tape measure, sample bags and a camera to record information on the sharks caught in the local fisheries.

When we arrived here in Zanzibar we met with Mr Pandu and Mr Chupe who covers the areas in the south and north, respectively. We received data on 9 sharks from the south collected between September and November 2012 (including bull, scalloped hammerhead , bronze whaler and bigeye sixgill shark). We used the photographs and identification keys to match photos to species without much problem.  It was slightly disappointing to find the catch rate low in the south, as there is very little to go on to establish what species are present.

Hammerhead shark

Bull shark

The data received from the north were more encouraging. We received records from 68 sharks caught off Nungwi. The data forms indicate that tiger and hammerhead sharks are the dominant catches in the area with some, as of yet, unidentified sharks and the possibility of great whites. All species will be confirmed with the shark identification key once we have downloaded the photos from the camera that Mr Chupe has up in Nungwi.

Shark data form

As my original proposal is based upon hammerheads and considerable background research went into this group of species before leaving for Zanzibar, this is the sort of shark data I’d been hoping for. The possibility of finding juvenile great whites is also very exciting given that this species is not normally found this close to the equator but the sharks must of course be properly identified first before any conclusions are drawn.

We have now provided with additional sampling kits including scales to weigh the landed sharks. We are also adding a third sampling location at the fish market in Stone town (capital of Zanzibar) where sharks from most other areas around Zanzibar are marketed. Shark data forms, plastic vials for genetic material and glass vials for stable isotope analysis have been sent to the fish market in the hope that samples can be obtained.

Tutaonana badye (see you later),

William Jolly
Shark project, Zanzibar
Newcastle University

Week Two – Zanzibar Dolphin & Shark Research Project 2013

“After a rather barren week one it appears the dolphins have had enough of our game of hide and seek (obviously we aren’t up to their standards at that game! Hiding behind the curtains, who’d have thought?!).”

So, our transects are finalised, our provisions are ready and it’s time to really begin.

We began our research proper on Sunday and managed to get 13 transects done between then and now (Wednesday), along with a supplies trip to Stone Town. Our transects take us from the western shores of Unguja Island to the very edge of the Menai Bay Conservation Area and so vary between 5-10 nautical miles, or 5¾ – 11½  kilometres for us younger ones, travelling at 7.5knots that can feel like a lot of staring at empty water when the animals aren’t playing ball! Luckily they have been good to us this week, with sightings every day since.

Our sighting on Sunday was an unexpected one as three dark shadows snuck in from behind the boat and popped up just five meters from the port side; they took me completely by surprise, spinners. We spend all day looking for Indo-Pacific bottlenose and humpback dolphins and the first species we see is one we thought we would be lucky to see even once during our 12 weeks here!  But just like they arrived the three of them ghosted away after only a few seconds, short but sweet, I won’t forget my first ever spinner dolphin sighting.

From then our days kept getting better. Monday graced us with two different sightings; a solitary bottlenose offshore near Pungume Island, and a single humpback dolphin within 100m of shore just north of Kizimkazi-Dimbani, another first for me.

Tuesday’s sightings capped off the week, though they also served as a reminder of one of the worse sides of dolphin tourism. Our first transect of the day encountered five tourist boats a little offshore moving at breakneck speeds, this was the only clue we needed to know what was coming next. In their midst two bottlenose dolphins – a mother and her calf. The boats surrounded the animals and dumped their payload of snorkel equipped tourists practically on their heads, when you can see the splashes of the tourists hitting the water from 200m imagine what that must look like hitting the water 5m in front of you. Sad, but unfortunately this is what can happen with largely unregulated dolphin tourism activities, the guidelines go ignored. Slightly further along this transect we also bumped into another pair of bottlenose, luckily they had escaped the tourist boats attentions this time and were cruising down to Usine, one of the major hotspots for these animals here in Menai Bay. Our last sighting of the week was definitely our best so far; we found a group of 8 animals resting over an offshore reef out in the middle of the bay, with them a calf and one small, ungainly and awkwardly surfacing animal. Don’t worry that’s a good thing; it was a YOY (Young Of the Year). Between the two of them it is a great sign that the population is breeding well.

Well that brings us to Wednesday and the end of our week, but most specifically Stone Town and the Dala Dala. I can safely say, and Will’s 6’4” frame will attest to this, it’s possibly the most uncomfortable form of transport ever!!! Think 20 people and their luggage packed into the back of a milk truck for an hour and a half, now take about a foot off the headroom, cosy doesn’t quite cover it! At least Stone Town was worth it, the hustle of the city, the market and a stunning roof-top view as the back drop for lunch, not too shoddy if you ask me. Oh, and we also got to visit Omar Amir, one of Per’s old PhD students, an old friend of Stina and someone who’s work I had spent some time digesting before this trip began, who now resides at the Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries.

Well that was week two in a nutshell, a good one for us and I hope it was a good one for all of you! See you next time.

Andrew Temple
Newcastle University
Zanzibar Dolphin and Shark Project 2013.

Sharky, one of the first dolphins ever identified out here some 15 years ago, actually seems to be following us! She’s been lurking in half of the bottlenose pods we have spotted.

Dolphins, sharks and ”pingers” – it’s all happening in Zanzibar


Dolphins, sharks and ”pingers” – it’s all happening in Zanzibar

Fig.1. Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in Menai Bay, Zanzibar

Greetings from a new research season on Zanzibar. Following on the success from last summer’s humpback whale project (see blogs at https://blogs.ncl.ac.uk/marinescience/category/zanzibarhumpbackwhaleproject and Face book http://www.facebook.com/pages/Zanzibar-Humpback-Whale-Project/128089323948221) we are now back in full swing with 3 new studies. This time we are focussing on dolphins and sharks. Dr Per Berggren is joined by MPhil students Will Joyce and Andrew Temple and post graduates Stina Nyström from Sweden and Yussuf Salmin from Zanzibar.

We had a slightly frustrating first 24 hours because none of our luggage arrived when we did. That meant almost all of our equipment and personal effects where stuck somewhere between Newcastle and Zanzibar. Luckily the luggage arrived the following day and we could start setting up equipment and enjoy a change of clothes.

We spent the first couple of days applying for research permits, food shopping and visiting colleagues at the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Dar es Salaam and moving in to our home for the next 3 months in Kizimkazi-Dimbani on the south coast of Zanzibar.

We will have a busy season ahead of us with 3 new studies. The first study focus on the distribution and ecology of dolphins in Menai Bay Conservation Area. This will be investigated using GIS analysis of line transect survey data that will be collected along a minimum of 100 transects covering the bay. We will record boat and fishing activities, bottom type and topography and dolphins to investigate factors affecting dolphin occurrence and behaviour.

Fig 2. Our trusted survey boat “Nyngumi” (Whale) with our two boat crew Khamis & Foum.

Fig. 3. Andrew and Stina on effort scanning for dolphins along the transect.

Fig. 4. The depth sounder recording, temperature depth, bottom topography & fish.

The second study focus on mitigation of dolphin bycatch in driftnets. This is a field experiment to test the efficacy of acoustic alarms (pingers) to reduce dolphin bycatch in the drift net fishery off the north coast where 24 boats are participating. 12 boats will be using pingers on their nets and 12 will be fishing without pingers as control.

The final study we are conducting this season is an investigation of shark occurrence and ecology based on landed sharks. We have engaged 3 local people to assist, Chupe will monitor shark landings in Nungwi, on the north coast of Zanzibar, Pandu will do the same here in Kizimkazi and Amour will monitor the fishmarket in Stone town. They will help and collect measurement data, take pictures for species identification and take small samples for genetic and stable isotope analysis.

It is really great to be back among friends and friendly faces on Zanzibar and we look forward to provide updates on our activities. With 29C in the water, +40C air temperature, fresh papaya, coconut and mangoes to keep us cool, it is a tough job but someone’s got to do it!

Fig. 5. The research team; Stina, Andrew, Khamis, Foum, Per, Yussuf & Will.

Greetings until next time.

Zanzibar Dolphin & Shark Research Project 2013

Day 27 to 30 – Homeward bound – South Atlantic

This has been a hard blog to make myself write. Science is finished and for a few days now we have been heading for home not having been to our most southerly sites. I admit writing has been confounded by an absolute stinker of a storm that took us all by surprise. I had planned to write this a couple of days ago.

I have to confess to feeling a bit of disappointment this cruise. We invest so much time and energy into getting here that to be eventually beaten by mother nature is a bitter pill. As a bunch of marine scientists of various disciplines we are the folk who are driving the sustainability of our seas in the face of increasing human pressures, we get to see and to try to understand its wonder…surely nature owes us something right? Well perhaps not.

"skys a blue and seas that are green" (by Chong Chen)

Would I have still come. Without a doubt! Whales within metres of the ship, albatross and penguins, sunset and sun rises of the most fantastic hues, travel to Chile and ultimately Uruguay (port of demobalisation) and then Argentina a short hop across the mighty river Plate, new discoveries like the E2 north venting, possibly a new order of anemone to add to the list of new species from our previous trips and samples to work on after my return. Even spending Christmas at sea was a a novel and most excellent affair [although I feel i must apologies to those I left behind for that feeling].

The problem with transits is that the high intensity activity that kept you focused on the here and now is gone. 8 days in total it will have taken us to get back to terra firma. That is a long time to start missing land and people. I’ve done 8 week cruises and it seems to be the  same regardless of cruise length. As long as the work load remains high things like home and family, specific foods or recreational pursuits remain to a certain extent distant …up until the transit. Now the transit is almost done home feels so close but just out of reach. We have been running a murder game to keep folk entertained (very paranoid also).

Saying goodbye to abundant bird life, the abundance of which rapidly drops off (by Chong Chen)

On the up side it does start to feel time to go when the fresh fruit we have been having for breakfast is replaced by canned stuff. Despite the vacuum fridges and freezers we have on board (remove the atmosphere and humidity inside aids preservation of goods) we said goodbye to the grapes around Christmas. The only lettuce/leaf to now survive is iceberg [no pun intended]. While we still have pears, it could be a good debate as to whether one would/should eat them. Apples and oranges seem fairly bomb proof. Still this is better than the last cruise where there was a strike and despite delaying departure two days for supplies we could add running out of cheese, butter and bicarbonate and so on to the list above.

Another aspect of the transit is the rather surreal element of leaving a sea in which ice has blocked our sampling sites and restricted our movements to sailing under an almost tropical sky. After transiting more than 20 degrees of latitude the sea temperature has gone from below 0oC to in excess of 22oC. The air temperature we left got as low as -5oC. It is supposed to get to 33oC today. Here, we are in shorts and t-shirt and I got burnt yesterday for spending 20 minutes outside.  Yes, as everyone here takes great glee in pointing out, I’m a pasty Scotsman who could use a bit of weathering. Lesson learned…out comes the sunscreen. Docking in Montvideo at 34 degrees south puts us just outside the tropics at the height of summer.

Chief Engineer George leading an end of cruise engine room tour. Always a very popular event. (by Chong Chen)

So as I say goodbye and close off this blog I have just been informed we have our first sight of land. The pilot will be boarding to guide the ship in at 16:00 and by tonight we will be heading straight into town to find a restaurant/bar and get absolutely …stuffed on fresh juicy fruit and veg!

moonlit cruising (by Chong Chen)

So I guess this is it. The last lines of the last blog. It has been emotional. It has been an adventure and it has been fun.

Thank you for sharing it with me.


Day 25/26 – Christmas at sea – Southern Ocean

Well! Christmas has been and gone. And what an enjoyable time it was too. Some strange mix of work Christmas do and a get together of an extended family. Nobody stormed off in a huff, the turkey wasn’t burned and as far as I know, nobody put their foot in it. If I did I haven’t been told about it yet!

Watching the sun set and moon rise late on Christmas eve

Christmas day started nice and sunny. Still suffering from a lack of fresh air after a few days of bad weather, I went out on deck all wrapped up in my foul weather gear and sat under a sky bright with sunshine. It surprised me a bit when water started dripping down my neck. It turns out that after a big storm all the windows need a good wash to get the salt off and one of the favorite tricks is to rinse these off without telling the scientists. The crew know to keep well clear….they know the work plan and work obviously stops for coffee. There is a little lip to the upper gangway that collects water which then empties on those ill informed or gullible enough to take up residence below. But the best bit is that it only happens when the sporadic, almost random, slightly larger than normal waves pass. The culprit can be long gone by this time. There are plenty of the gullible / ill informed like me because it is the only place out of the wind and in the sun.

Christmas morning...up early keen to open my presentsFestivities started at 12:00 with a champagne reception followed by dinner at 13:00. Dress code was smart but you can get some very interesting versions of smart at sea. Jon had a tux with flip flops,  I went for smart/casual, the boss when for shirt and tie with climbing trousers. The lassies spanned sparkly dresses and high heels (lethal on a ship) to t-shirts.

Dinner was an extensive and formal affair with a huge menu shown below. I had a bit of everything! Add to this a bottle of wine on the table and mixed seating (officers + engineers, crew, technicians and scientists) with place names. The galley staff / purser were stuck in the kitchen for this but they get a their own special dinner afterwards where service and clean up is undertaken by a couple of the officers and crew. I’m sure all would agree the meal was excellent. I just wish I had a bit more self control.

A light lunch

Dinner was necessarily followed by a promenade on deck to blast some fresh air into my lungs in a desperate attempt to find that hollow leg I had when I was 16 or, as a second best, to kick start digestion. It was topped by the coffee and mints. At least that was the idea. I had one mint and decided I was already too full to enjoy it. A BIG fat overfed tick to Christmas dinner then.

What other things does one do on Christmas day? mmmm watch TV and open presents! We must be a rather patient lot because we deferred the latter until 18:30. Instead we all squeezed into the video room as we did yesterday to watch a movie, this time “Elf”. You may have guessed but we were a little short of Christmas movies on the boat.

Presents started with a little gift from John our Chef. Everyone got a little something. I got one of those little foam airplanes. Others got a few sweets or incense sticks or similar. There is a surprising amount of fun to be had with the planes. Give them to a bunch of ROV pilots and they will be redistributing the weight to improve trim, making adjustments to flaps to improve flight characteristics and generally giving it as much care and attention to detail as might be lavished on the rather more costly ROV. It is just as much fun watching the rather unpredictable consequences. “there that should do it”… “oi! watch my coffee!” “move the nose weight aft a quater inch [some engineers seem to still work in imperial]” “you plonker…here give it to me!”

The night before we sailed we all went out for our last stable meal on shore and a few drinks. The Chileans do a mean hot chocolate that is 110% chocolate. Anyway one of the first topics of conversation as we all met up after various flights from our respective homes was how Christmas might work and what we would do. From that day developed a plan to rewrite the 12 days of Christmas for JC80 (James Cook cruise 80). Here is the outcome and it what we are all singing in the picture above. We are hoping that the PI will include this in the cruise report as one of the deliverable of the scientific project.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my PI gave to me [PI = Principle Investigator = boss]

Twelve Kiwa crawling [Kiwa = our vent crabs]

Eleven chimneys smoking

Ten ice burgs lurking

A force nine gale

Eight humpback whales

a seven armed starfish [one of the species found in greater abundance at the periphery of vents, a top predator in the system and unusual because the echinoderm group to which it belongs usually has 5 or multiples of 5 way symmetry.]

Six mini-niskens [the ROV mini-nisken rosette is a rack of 6, the big CDT has 24 but that does not fit so...]

Five meals a day [plus snacks and presents. Haribo is excluded as a meal]

Four CTDs

Three slip rings [slip rings = rotatable/spinning joints at the top equipment across which data can be transferred...,necessary to stop wire tangling]

Two clicks of wire [about how much wire we have managed to mangle on this trip...it usually happens through wear and tear from heavy use. = clicks = km]

and a brand new ROV [this is the ROVs first science cruise after a rebuild]

Festivities in action top left - Cathy drawing her secret Santa, bottom left - The 12 Days of Christmas JC80 Style, right - Santa supervising the present giving

From there it went to pass the parcel. Because we are big kids and very sensitive to being excluded from games we did the modern version of the game where there is a mini present in each layer and you are never out [not like it was in my day...one present at the centre and you tried not to be the one to open a layer...see that parcel fly]. In this modern game if you receive the parcel a second time you must pass the parcel to the next person on who has not opened a layer.  I’m not sure this event was planned as far ahead as many of our others as the prizes included, amongst other things, a single chocolates with a balloon, a tube of cotton buds, a British Airways toothbrush, a hair brush and other equally random items.

Lastly we had a visit from secret Santa who had obviously been working so hard over the preceding Christmas eve that he had used up all blubber stores. The slim version of Santa oversaw the distribution of a gift from his sack. They fell into the recurring theme of either sweets or games/puzzles. Most of the evening was then spent challenging each other to the puzzles while eating the sweets.

…. and so Christmas day drew to a close.

I was one of five that made it to boxing day breakfast. We have been lucky because Christmas fell on a nice gap in the bad weather and we are now back up to bouncing around and generally having a bit of difficulty doing anything. I’m sure it is the weather that is the cause of all our impaired abilities. ho hum…another day of transit with the slosh of the roll compensation tanks. A kind of ever present perpetual whooshing and gurgling as water is pumped from one side of the ship to the other. It makes things better but I’m still trying to figure out how to eat when I have to hold both bowl and tumbler (too many live up to their names). Perhaps I ate enough at Christmas to see me through tonight!


Day 24 – Christmas Eve – Southern Ocean

I thought I would just escape the festivities to cool down (a lot of bodies in a small space) and wish you all a very merry Christmas. It has not been as strange celebrating as one might think. Christmas eve started with a film showing of the Nightmare Before Christmas at 18:30. We managed to pack more than 18 people into the video room for that. I did what I do every Christmas on returning to the parental home….nick a cushion and sprawl on the floor. Most of the ships off watch company then met in the lounge at 20:00 for a cup of mulled wine courtesy of the purser. We all warbled to a few rounds of carols with a surprisingly high uptake on the singing front. Then again when you tend to see people at their worst just after they have got up there is very little dignity left to loose so perhaps it should not be so much of a surprise.

It has been a pleasant run up to Christmas for me. We get to skip the commercial spirit of Christmas as it is rammed down our throat through TV, radio, and our peers. There is no reception out here and it is a select company. We have missed or completed the present buying hassle a long time leaving as we did at the end of November and we cannot go rushing hither and thither to commute to one in-law or the next this Christmas eve. The sprouts and potatos are peeled and excepting the poor galley staff, most of us have little concern about organizing the food.

It has therefore given us the time to enjoy the social elements to Christmas. An evening in the lounge chatting with the friends we have on board, listening to Christmas music of our choosing (that has not yet worn thin) playing in the background and having a drink or two. No alcohol induced squabble for us…the bar is not that well stocked and if you haven’t learned to co-exist and play nicely in the close confines of a ship by now your in trouble. We have decorated the ship and then redecorated the ship after the bad weather turned good. We are in transit so no science. It has all come together. The only thing missing is family. So here we are thinking of you all.

So that just leaves placing my reindeer dust down to guide the landing, my night watch duties to check the Santa hatch is clear and no one has got stuck in it and being in bed before midnight…a hard task for the night watch.

My love and Christmas wishes to you all