Every time we had been travelling through the Gerlache Straight, which was most evenings in Antarctica on the ship, Viking Octantis, I had been trying to be outside and look for orcas. The type B small ecotype of Orca is also known as the Gerlache Orcas because they are seen there so often. But after long, long days of work on the ship it was very hard to stay awake and search into the evening and I would get ready for bed worrying about what I might be missing out there, but too exhausted to get dressed in all that outdoors gear again and go up to the deck to look.
I had seen the Orcas a couple of times already. Once when they surfaced once in front of the ship but speeding to the stern and we could not stop and look at them when they were travelling fast in the wrong direction. Another time when they were far away but only visible by binoculars.
However on this evening, we got a text (one of the times we actually had internet) from the ornithologist to say that there were orcas. Despite being ready for bed as it was 9pm (late, I know, but getting up at 5am and working long hours, this was bedtime) I, along with others, decided to throw lots of outdoors gear on over my pajamas and head out. It became the world’s best pajama party, according to one guest!
The orcas were travelling very slowly, taking short dives and not moving much so we could slow the ship and actually watch them. An announcement was made for guests on the PA, a rare occurrence so late in the evening on our ship as we try mostly to be a quiet ship, without constant PA announcements. So many guests joined the crew out on deck and many people mentioned that they too had the PJs on under all the outdoor gear.
Type B small, Gerlache orcas can be in very large groups. This group was around 12-15 individuals.
They are smaller than other Antarctic orcas (there are 5 ecotypes in Antarctica) and are thought to mostly feed on penguins and possibly also deep living fish as they are known to be fairly deep divers. Their huge rounded eye patches and greyish bodies, instead of the pure black we are mostly used to is so distinctive.
The yellow-ish colouration on their bodies is due to diatoms, an algae that lives on the whales. Orcas from Antarctica are known to make huge migrations from time to time all the way to the coastlines of Brazil and South America it is thought to clean their skin. When up in the warmer water the diatoms die off and they come back to Antarctica nice and clean.
We watched the orcas until it was almost too dark to see them anymore, and certainly too dark to take photos. We all went to bed very tired, but very happy that night.