When Viking recently launched its new Expedition fleet — Octantis and her sister Polaris — the ships’ scientific teams were confident discoveries would be made onboard.
This week, Viking announced that during Octantis’ first Antarctic season in 2022, a rare giant jellyfish was spotted not once, but three times by both guests and the ship’s scientists in Antarctic waters. These exciting glimpses of this eerie creature of the deep are likely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Here’s why:
Sightings Detailed In New Scientific Journal
In what’s a first for the cruise industry, details of the sightings were released in the academic journal Polar Research. The creature — Stygiomedusa gigantea — also known as the giant phantom jellyfish, is notoriously elusive. Despite its incredible size, up to 30 feet, only 126 sightings of it have occurred since the species was first described in 1910.
The paper, authored by two Viking scientists, describes the three encounters, which took place in January and March of 2022. The proof is in the pictures and videos that were taken of the giant phantom jellyfish as it drifted through the deep, cold waters of the Antarctic… right past submarines deployed by Viking Octantis.
Vessels Of Opportunity
The paper also discusses how Viking’s ships can be used as “vessels of opportunity,” and details the potential that their submarines present for the scientific community. Of particular benefit: Viking subs can dive down past 50 meters. When I sailed on Octantis in June of last year on the Great Lakes, the paper’s Chief Author Dr. Daniel Moore explained to me that the first 50 meters of depth in the Antarctic are fairly well-explored. But beyond that? Anyone’s guess.
“It is extraordinary that we know so little about such large marine creatures as the giant phantom jellyfish, however, now we have the means to make regular observations at greater depths than previously possible, which provides an exciting opportunity for discovery,” he said when the paper’s publication was announced.
Onboard Science At Work
Viking was incredibly intentional when planning its expedition fleet. Both Octantis and Polaris are fully outfitted with science labs, an expedition team consisting of three-dozen people including scientists, pilots, guides, and support staff, plus an impressive fleet of research vehicles, including Zodiacs, special ops boats, and two submarines a piece.
While expedition teams conduct their research, onboard guests are invited to participate as well. They can take tours of the lab, bait camera boxes, and help measure microplastics in the water. They also have the chance to sign up for onboard excursions on those research vessels, including the subs, which were where the giant jellyfish sightings occurred. It’s an exciting extra benefit for guests — having the potential to see rare species, and maybe even discover new ones. Talk about the ultimate onboard experience!
Meaningful Scientific Work
Viking Chairman Torstein Hagen likes to call his company “the thinking person’s cruise line.” Now it’s a thinking person’s expedition line as well, one that’s poised to expand what we know about the Antarctic deep waters.
“At the core of Viking Expeditions is the goal to do meaningful scientific work,” said Hagen. “After just one full season in service, we are pleased that our expedition vessels and scientists have already contributed to research that might not have been possible otherwise, and we look forward to providing critical research opportunities on future voyages.”