We have been steaming towards the South Orkneys for a couple of days now and taking turns to do half hour “kelp watch” slots on the bridge, which isn’t as easy as it sounds. The Southern Ocean is huge and the kelp rafts quite small and widely spread, so spotting them is a challenge even in the relatively calm waters we have been experiencing.We have seen fin whales, fur seals and penguins, which breaks the monotony of scanning the waves as there hasn’t been much kelp.
The one that didn’t get away. Floating kelp raft in Southern Ocean. Image courtesy of Hilary Blagborough
So far we have spotted 4 kelp rafts but only managed to collect one. Luckily it still had the holdfast attached. The holdfast is the “root” that attaches the kelp to the seabed and is the part that houses the most animals. It was quite a small raft. Even so it weighed around 18kg! We then had the job of sorting through it looking for animals. We found a small fish, which must have been using it for shelter.
Sorting through the kelp. Image courtesy of Mel Mackenzie.
Some of the finds. Images courtesy of Vassily Spiridonov and Helena Wiklund.
There were also thousands of juvenile goose barnacles covering the holdfast and some of the blades. These are pelagic hitchhikers and are not what we are looking for, but they are amazing animals. They can grow up to 50 mm with a stalk length of 40 – 900 mm and are an expensive delicacy in Spain and Portugal.
Juvenile goose barnacles: Image courtesy of Claudio Ghiglione.