CD 157: Investigating the submarine canyons offshore Portugal


Daily diary

Tuesday 8th June 2004

Weather: Beautifully sunny day, warm, almost no wind, a few ripples and gentle swell

Ian writes...

Main achievement

We’ve moved to the second canyon, the Nazare, which is about 60 miles further North than the Sebutal. We are sampling at the uppermost end nearest to the shore – about 25miles to Portugal. Our first sample trapped a 135mm stone in a 110mm tube – lengthways of course. What a shot!

Elena and I were interviewed over the satellite phone at 0630hrs by Radio Solent. I know I’m getting on a bit and my hearing is going but Elena confirmed that we could scarcely hear the questions from Julian. I hope we made sense.

Yesterday I was treated to a tour of the engine rooms by the Chief Engineer, Martin and his second, Ian. Dan helped out by being stills cameraman. It was excellent. I’ve never been in a diesel ship’s engine room before. I have an interest in engines through the’Old MG’ so having it all explained was right up my street. Click here to read all about the engine rooms.


There can only be one highspot on - it involves whales and speedboats!

During a long station visit we were treated to a ride in the Darwin’s rigid inflatable boat [RIB]. This was carefully lowered into the water and we were taken out for short rides in groups of four.

This is the good bit: on the last ride, on which Elena and I were passengers, we saw a whale at the surface. The helmsman , Peter Reynolds, carefully took us closer to the location. Seven pairs of eyes were glued to the water looking for tell tale signs. Suddenly, the whale breached the surface really close to the boat, it blew, we heard the ‘pussh’ of water forced out and then it gracefully dived back in. It was a Minke whale, quite small on the whale scale but, nonetheless very impressive. Possibly as long as a bus. It circled for a while, we could see its shape below the surface, we turned off the engine and waited. De dum, de dum, de dum [Jaws effects] – the silence spoke volumes about our expectations. The waters broke creating a white scar through which the whale rose and fell. Not the silvery dance of a frightened fish but the elegant arc of a confident master of the sea.

[Re-visit the web site later to check the genuine video footage.]

RRS Charles Darwin - as viewed from the RIB

Enjoying the calm seas!

The high point of the day - a close encounter with a Minke Whale


Why hunt whales? Send in your views.

Elena writes...

Today has been an eventful day! Since my last diary I’ve barely slept, I saw a beautiful sunset, was interviewed on the radio, sunbathed on the deck, went on a trip in a speedboat and got close to a Minke whale. Oh yes, I also fitted some work in my busy schedule.

Sunrise on the navigation bridge deck

My day started yesterday because I didn’t actually go to sleep. The night watch finishes at 4.00 in the morning and because Ian and I were going to be interviewed by Radio Solent at 6.30 I stayed up. It was certainly worthwhile because I saw the most beautiful sunrise.

The interview was quite interesting; it’s hard to give an answer when you haven’t actually heard the question. I have to admit I often answer yes and smile when I don’t understand a question, but in this occasion I couldn’t use this strategy. So I apologise to the listeners for any incongruent replies!

As we approach the end section of the cruise, sleeping is an absolute waste of time. Sunbathing on the deck is a better alternative - I keep up with what’s going on and I also get a tan!

In the afternoon we went out on the ship's speedboat. Because there were quite a few of us we took it in turns. We had a go at driving the dingy which was great fun and took pictures of the Charles Darwin. Then, suddenly, to our amazement the ship contacted us to say there was a whale fifty metres away from us!! We approached it slowly and what can I say… it was one of my best moments ever. When we switched of the engine we could actually hear the sound of the ripples as it cruised through the water. The whale glided to the surface and then disappeared into the deep to re-emerge a few minutes later with a blow. The viewing of such an enormous gentle creature makes you feel humble, time stops and nothing else in the world matters.

Here you have some pictures, I wish I could also send you the feeling.

Close encounter with a Minke Whale
- a real treat

The update on the coring is very exciting. We are now sampling a very interesting area of the Nazare canyon. The morphology (shape) of the canyon shows that it looks like a very young and active system (similar to a mountain valley). But so far there is no evidence to support this. Tonight we used the megacore to sample some tiny channels down a larger inactive channel to find if they are active or not. If they are active we will find sand deposits in them. These channels are around 200metres across and 20metres deep. You can imagine how hard it is to get the corer inside them! But when the corer descended 20 metres deeper than a previous core taken very close to here we were all hopeful. After waiting for a couple of hours to get the results back the corer arrived empty! This is not entirely bad news; sand is very coarse and it’s hard for the megacore to get into it. It’s been sent down again and at a present depth of 3500metres we must wait another couple of hours to get our results back. I’ll keep you updated.

The night shift team

Just a quick update on Pete the Pigeon; he’s doing fine, he’s putting on some weight and is very protective of his new home!

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October 2003
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