Giants of the sea
Punta Arenas, August 2011
I’m with my brother Noam on the seafront, and we’re looking for something exciting. The water just in front of us is the mythical Strait of Magellan, not a bad start but what we’re really after is birds. Our dad stayed behind. Yesterday, our mom and Kevin, my other brother, were stopped at the border in Santiago Airport. In Chile, a minor doesn’t have the right to leave the country with only one parent if he entered it with both. Dad has to visit the police station and a solicitor to sign the paper that would release mom and Kevin, but we cannot help. We brave the icy wind and walk.
In the distance, we see gulls flying along the shore, against the wind. After a minute, we conclude that they are actually not doing any progress, the wind is too strong. Then a large dark shape glides past without any apparent effort. It’s a giant petrel, probably a Northern giant petrel (Macronectes halli), and it’s the first time we see something so close to an albatross.
My brothers are sailors (I escaped that fate thanks to mononucleosis). Kevin, in particular, is obsessed with the Southern Ocean. He wants to participate in the Vendée Globe, the greatest of all races, a non-stop circumnavigation of the Earth without assistance. Albatrosses are well-known by those sailors, as they meet on their respective voyages far south. That’s probably why, combined with my love for birds, these giants hold a special place in our hearts.
Fast-forward 7 years.
Kaikoura, November 2018
The small settlement of Kaikoura is reknown for its marine wildlife tours, and for a reason: its rich waters attract whales, dolphins and seabirds close to shore. Why? We’ll need to dive to explain it. A continuation of the Kermadec Trench, the Hikurangi Trench is located where the thick oceanic Hikurangi Plateau subducts beneath continental crust of the Indo-Australian Plate, and it ends near Kaikoura. There, the seabed rises steeply, and winds and tides bring squids and other deep-water creatures close to the surface. A feast for predators such as Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus), the largest toothed whale, or Antipodean albatrosses (Diomedea antipodensis).