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Marine scientist has close encounter with killer whale off the coast of Antarctica

A scientist has managed to get up close and personal with orcas in Antarctica, taking stunning footage of the creatures with a ‘whalfie stick’.

New Zealand marine expert Dr Regina Eisert filmed a young killer whale headbutting her camera, before gleefully chewing on a piece of toothfish.  

Dr Eisert was standing on the edge of the sea ice collecting samples from adult whales when a juvenile killer whale made a beeline for her. 

‘I put my whalfie stick [a whale selfie stick] in the water as soon as I saw it come close and waited to see what would happen’ she said. 

The University of Canterbury marine mammal expert was standing on the edge of the sea ice collecting samples from adult whales when a juvenile Killer whale made its approach

The University of Canterbury marine mammal expert was standing on the edge of the sea ice collecting samples from adult whales when a juvenile Killer whale made its approach

Dr Eisert, from the University of Canterbury, was wrapping up her research for the Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area, north-east of Antarctica. 

While whales are known for being sociable, Dr Eisert says she’s never had an experience quite like this. 

‘Here I am carrying out research to help protect the Ross Sea region and find out whether or not the whales eat toothfish, and one comes up showing me it does,’ she said.

Dr Eisert from the University of Canterbury has spent the last season studying the mysterious lives of Killer Whales in the Antarctic.

Scientists were researching the availability of toothfish in Antarctica when the Type-C Killer whale bumped the camera before opening its mouth to chew on a piece of the fish

Scientists were researching the availability of toothfish in Antarctica when the Type-C Killer whale bumped the camera before opening its mouth to chew on a piece of the fish

‘It was really special, the only way I can describe it is like when a cat offers you a mouse,’ she says. 

Her research on the edges of Antarctica’s sea ice is focused on how the whales would be affected by a change in toothfish availability due to fisheries, which if judging by the video is plentiful.   

‘It bumped the camera with its nose, opened its mouth and showed me a piece toothfish inside, as though it was trying to get me to take it.’ 

Being able to better understand these whales would tell us more about the health of the wider Ross Sea, in the north-east of Antarctica.  

Marine scientists see this as one of the last opportunities to understand how marine ecosystems work.  

The team of marine scientists were assisted by a remotely-operated underwater vehicle specially built by Kiwi start-up Boxfish

The team of marine scientists were assisted by a remotely-operated underwater vehicle specially built by Kiwi start-up Boxfish

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