At Sea to Attu Island

At Sea to Attu island. Attu Island is the first destination for Le Soleal on this 12-day expedition through the Aleutian Islands. Roughly due east from Kamchatka, it is more than 500 nautical miles from the Petropavlosk seaport, which will take around 48 hours to reach. 

The seas are calm today, with light winds, and an air temperature of around 8 degrees Celsius. The wind and swell is expected to increase as we near Attu Island, but at the moment it is flat as can be. Despite the lack of strong wind, there is some birdlife around the ship, with a lone Laysan albatross, small flocks of Tufted penguins, petrels, and greater shearwaters. Some whale blows and a lone orca have been spotted from the bridge, but have quickly disappeared with the approach of the ship.

As a “sea day” without landings, today focuses on the introduction of the expedition team, and the distribution of the supplied parkas in the morning. The lecture program kicks off in earnest in the afternoon.

The afternoon lecture is about Seabirds, which I skip in favour of some quiet time on the treadmill in the small gym. At some point, I realise that Le Soleal has altered course and that we are hardly moving. There has been no announcement of what has been sighted, but a turning arc usually means one thing – WHALES! I head to my cabin for a warm jacket just as one of the naturalists announces from the bridge that there are indeed whales on the port side of the ship. And it is a blue whale, with multiple fin whales nearby. To see the largest mammal on the planet is worth dropping everything for, and the two largest mammals – blue whales and fin whales – are worth a dash to the bridge.

Good timing means that the blue whale is surfacing on the port side of the ship when I arrive, and the fin whales are on the starboard side. Plenty to choose from, with three individual fin whales distinguishable by what looks like old propeller damage to two of the dorsal fins on the fin whales, and the third looks unscathed from the little we can tell.

Sea fog is settling in, Le Soleal resumes course, and it’s back to the gym. Several large blows are visible in the distance from the treadmill as we proceed, so there’s always the opportunity to whale watch and get some exercise at the aft of the ship.

It’s a quiet afternoon. Tomorrow will be a strange day at sea to Attu Island as we are crossing the international date line and going back in time – today is June 25, and tomorrow will be June 25 as well, just an hour later.

Tuesday, June 25, redux

It’s a quiet day at sea to Attu Island, grey and overcast, sometimes clearing up only to have sea fog roll in again. The morning is occupied with the mandatory zodiac briefing, and boot camp for those that didn’t bring their own. It’s starting to look like an expedition ship.

Mid afternoon, a few sperm whales are spotted, one performing a high tail lob on a deep dive to feed. We wait a while for it to surface, but in the meantime another has surfaced closer to the ship, and treats us to a view of its tail as it dives. Another individual surfaces and dives soon after.

Five sperm whales are then spotted in front of Le Soleal, and we can see breaching humpbacks in the distance. And a pod of orcas. We had been hoping for wildlife around the Stalemate trench a few hours ago, but it looks like we’ve found it closer to Attu Island.

We’re still a long way off Attu Island in the Bering Sea, but we now have multiple humpback whales, sperm whales, and at least two pods of orcas with two males, many females, and calves.

The humpbacks also have juveniles, and it is stunning to see what looks like co-operative hunting between species happening – whatever the cetaceans are feeding on is attractive to a large gathering of Laysan albatrosses, Northern Fulmars, some shearwaters, oh and one of the rarest birds in the world has just turned up to feed as well – the Short-tailed albatross. This albatross is one of less than 5000 remaining in the wild, and the odds of seeing one are infinitesimal. The ornithologists are naturally ecstatic – a once in a lifetime sighting at sea to Attu Island.  

The whales, orcas and birdlife are still feeding on whatever the massive foodsource is when Captain Le Rouzic announces that we must be on our way. One of the great days at sea, despite it being grey and overcast. 

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