Port Stanley is the capital of the Falklands and it is quite a small town. The islands have fewer than 4,000 residents and nearly half of them live in the city. The sea-faring heritage of the region is shown in the arch of Blue Whale jaw bones just outside the cathedral. It was whaling, sealing, and penguins that first drew economy to this distant (from Europe) part of the world. The waters here, and on to, and then around, Antarctica were teeming with penguins, seals, and whales. Explorers trying to circumnavigate the planet by sea in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries noticed this great abundance of animal life and soon there were expeditions designed to turn all of those creatures into lamp oil. Whales were harvested and rendered down into wooden casks brimming with whale oil. Penguins were herded up planks where, at the end, they fell into giant cauldrons soon filled with their own oils. Seals suffered similar fates. It was a bloody difficult life for the sailors and a bloody end for millions of creatures. Here is a little bit on a couple of the local marine mammal populations……
There were/are whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals, and elephant seals. It is thought that greater than 50% of the world’s marine mammals biomass is in the Southern Ocean. All the seals are true seals and not sea lions; those with ears and dexterity. The baleen Cetaceans are well represented with Blue Whales, Humpbacks, Southern Right, Sei, Minke, Fin and several others.. Toothed whales are also widespread in the area; Sperm and Southern Bottlenosed Whales with a range of dolphins including Orca and some of the beaked whales are found throughout the region. Many of these whales are very poorly known and understood as they are only seen when they wash ashore after dying. A few beaked whales can be spotted in waters all over the world but they are always a surprise and unplanned for.
The two images above are of a Southern Right Whale. The big chunks of “stuff” growing on them are callosities; areas of rough calcified skin. The same origin provides us with the word “callous” for an area of hardened skin. In fact the callosities are gray in color but show white due to things that live in and on them; things like parasitic worm, whale lice, and whale barnacles. The original callosity is started as a rough-skin-patch prior to birth and is expanded during a whales lifetime and colored by the other organisms over time. Southern Right Whales are surface feeding eaters of krill and other floating stuff. They swim along with the mouth half open taking in water through the mouth and allowing the water to exit through a net of baleen. As the water leaves toward the rear of the mouth the krill is caught inside by the porous wall of baleen that hangs inside the mouth like a large rigid (internal) mustache. This is how the Sei Whale also feeds.
As the whale moves forward, the lower jaw drops down a bit and the vertical plates of baleen used as a strainer appear at the water line. This all seems boring both in diet and activity level but is is a remarkably successful technique. There are seals that feed in a similar manner and lots of other whales as well. This is the same capture method, though not the same procedure or prey, as seen in the Humpback Whale and many other baleen whales.
A younger Southern Right Whale has a sparse array of callosity but it is easy to see the two blow-holes (nostrils) that tilt away from each other. This makes the “blow” of a SRWhale a short stubby V. It is easily seen and easy to identify from a great distance. Whale “blows” have different shapes based on the species and the structure of the nasal passages and the location of the blow holes on the head.
From the deck you may all of a sudden see what look like those “panda cows,” you know… Belted Galloways. They are very appealing cattle and these marine mammals are also very appealing – they are the Commerson’s Dolphin. A big Commerson’s may almost reach 6′ in length and weigh about 160 pounds; but most are a bit smaller and lighter. They can be seen from the deck not only because they are so striking in appearance but because the feed, for the most part, in shallow waters and travel in groups. So you will be going slowly and the water is usually shallow. The diet of these toothed Cetaceans consists of fish, crab, and krill for the most part
This seems a good time to mention krill. Krill are euphausiids, a group of crustaceans. Many of them look like shrimp but are not closely related. Krill have big eyes and dangling legs and thus do look shrimp like. There are about 85 krill species, it isn’t one stuff or one animal. It is a group of related creatures that live in the water column. There are krill all over the world’s oceans but the krill of the Southern Ocean feed the great whales, penguins, and many of the seal in those cold waters. In the Southern Ocean it is figured that the larger marine life consumes more than 125 million tons (yes tons!) of krill each year. Some estimates go as high as 250 million tons. In the northern Pacific it is another 15 million tons or so and the North Atlantic gives up about 20 million tons a year. Krill are the keystone creature of the oceans. They are essential. Warming waters and harvesting for human use are having a negative impact on krill populations.
So, though animals like the Commerson’s Dolphin may only eat krill at certain times for specific reasons, it is likely that everything they eat, or any other arctic mammal eats, is dependent on krill in one way or another.
I have chosen just a couple of the marine mammals of the Southern Ocean to show and tell; perhaps ones most easily seen near the Falklands or the Argentinean coast. But remember that the Southern Oceans pass under, not only South America but also, Africa, New Zealand and Australia. It is huge and full of life; and windy and rough and cold. The list of marine mammals is quite long. Perhaps I should do a page on the seals of the Southern Ocean. Now there is a group of highly adapted creatures; filter feeders, crab eaters, fish chasers, and heavy duty predators.
Here is a complete (?) list of the marine mammals of the Southern Ocean; whales, dolphins, porpoises, sea lions, and seals.
Porpoises: Burmeister’s and Spectacled Dolphins: Bottlenose, Chilean, Commerson’s, Dusky, Havisides, Hector’s, Hourglass,Common Long-beaked, Perale’s, Risso’s, and Common Short-beaked. Whales: Antarctic Minke, Arnoux’s Beaked, Blainville’s Beaked, Bryde’s, Cuvier’s Beaked, Dwarf Minke, False Killer, Fin, Ginko-toothed Beaked, Gray;’s Beaked, Hector’s Beaked, Humpback, Killer, Long-finned Pilot, Pygmy Blue, Pygmy Right, Sei, Shepherd’s Beaked, Sourthern Blue, Southern Bottlenose, Southern Right, Sperm, Strap-toothed, True’s Beaked. Seals: Antarctic Fur Seal*, Australian Fur*, Crabeater, Leopard, New Zealand Fur*, Ross, South African Fur*, South American Fur*, Southern Elephant, Subantarctic Fur*, and Weddell. Sea Lions: Australian Sea, Hooker;’s, New Zealand, South American, and Southern. *these are eared seals or sea lions