Southern Ocean GasEx Blog

Dispatches from the Southern Ocean Gas Exchange Experiment

Meanwhile, at the other end of the food chain…

Posted by sogasex on March 15, 2008

By Bob Vaillancourt, LDEO

Our group is studying the phytoplankton, which form the base of the food chain in the ocean. But periodically we lift our heads up from our instruments and look overboard where we see a wonderful display of local wildlife that occupy the other end of the food chain. Here are a few of those animals. Disclaimer: my identifications are based on information I have gleaned from the internet (always a solid source of accurate information, right?), books we have onboard, and near-wild guesses from shipmates.

One of the animals most associated with the Southern Ocean is the Wandering Albatross (see pic below). It is the largest extant bird on Earth, routinely attaining wingspans of 10 ft, and wander the sea their entire lives, lighting on land only to breed. It is the bird shot and killed by the Ancient Mariner (S.T. Coleridge), which doomed him and his shipmates to countless days of deprivation and thirst once in the doldrums of the equatorial ocean:

The Sun now rose upon the right: 
Out of the sea came he, 
Still hid in mist, and on the left 
Went down into the sea. 

And the good south wind still blew behind 
But no sweet bird did follow, 
Nor any day for food or play 
Came to the mariners’ hollo! 

And I had done an hellish thing, 
And it would work ‘em woe: 
For all averred, I had killed the bird 
That made the breeze to blow. 
Ah wretch! said they, the bird to slay 
That made the breeze to blow!

Stupid mistake, but it made for one hell of a story he was doomed to repeat for the rest of his life.

Early out of Chile we encountered repeatedly pods of dolphins that would chase our ship, catch on, and ride our bow wave. The weather was calm enough, I was able to bend over the bow rail and take some shots (see below). I got this guy coming right out of the water. My best guess is that it is a Peale’s Dolphin, a smallish dolphin that is indigenous to the southern tip of South America. Why do they ride our bow wave? Are they playing? Can non-humans have fun? One guess onboard sounded more reasonable: they ride bow waves to save energy while foraging for food. But maybe they have fun while searching for food too. Anyone’s guess.






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