Sunday, 16 October 2016

Dolphins, Boobies, Whales and Dancing in the Dark

The James Clark Ross has acquired a friend. He’s been with us for about five days now and two days ago I was lucky enough to watch him in action. He is, apparently, a boobie. (What now? Yep, that’s right. You heard what you thought you heard!) According to a couple of guys in the crew, this happens quite frequently. A bird will accompany a ship out to sea because the ship’s passage disturbs and brings to the surface a wealth of good eating. But eventually the bird is so far out to sea that it can’t turn back; the distance is too great for it to make it home. So it just stays with the ship, hunting for the fish that we disturb.

 I was able to watch him hunting for flying fish the other day; he seems to have a pretty high success rate! It really was wonderful to watch him hovering high up around the radio mast, scanning the surface of the water, then suddenly tucking his feet up and plummeting down towards a shining speck that I had overlooked. Occasionally misjudging the strength of his strike and tumbling into the water but more often returning to the radio mast with something shiny and wiggling in his beak. I went up to the top deck today with the hopes of catching one of these moments but unfortunately he appeared to be showing off and not hunting! He has liberally bespattered the deck with the results of his hunting however, and there are times when you can't help but wonder if the Ancient Mariner had just been defecated on one time too many...


Wildlife does seem to have this wonderfully uncooperative tendency. They’re all bloody camera shy! I was told in tones of great excitement that dolphins were about whilst we were on station (that means parked up to do science for everyone like me) the other day. I came charging out of my surgery only to find that I’d missed them all. Apparently they were really acrobatic; doing leaps and flips and everything but then they got bored because we weren’t moving and left.

Dolphins, it seems, like playing with the bow waves that ships create. When they sense a ship, they come racing alongside in order to jump in and out of the waves created. It doesn’t last for long with us though. As our communications officer told me, the JCR “moves through the water like a brick” and therefore the bow wave is quite horribly disappointing for them! The only time that I’ve been lucky enough to see dolphins is when we had that weekend of quite bad weather. I was up on the bridge (for the slightly hypnotic effect of big waves) and suddenly they appeared. Leaping in and out of the waves! I watched them for about 15 minutes playing and rolling with the waves. I don’t know how, but it was possible to tell that they were just having fun and revelling in the joy of the moment.

Technically speaking I’ve seen whales two or three times now. What that means in practice is that I’ve seen some spray rising up from a blue hump! Once at a distance I saw something that looked very much like a tail...but alas, my camera was not at my side. I really am going to have to start carrying it everywhere!

Today was scrub out day. This means that the captain does his rounds and inspects all of the areas. In theory this means that you give the floors a good scrub on Sunday morning so that, just like the queen, he thinks that the ship always smells like disinfectant. I like to do my scrub down on a Saturday though for two reasons. In the first place it means I get to feel a bit smug when everyone else has to frantically clean. But more importantly on the Saturday I have enough time in the afternoon to turn it into dancing scrub down! Bruce Springsteen on my laptop whilst I’m mopping the floor!  I like to think that drunken dancing will no longer hold any fears after dancing on board a ship. It’s sort of like dancing on a bouncy castle. I do get faintly worried that someone is going to walk past the window whilst I’m boogie-ing. I’m deluding myself that people haven’t quite realised how strange I am yet and dancing in my surgery will definitely put paid to that...

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