Tag Archives: Humpback Whale

The turn of the season

This is the last trip of the season and we have reached our most southerly point at Stonington Island south of the Antarctic Circle. This means that we are now working our way slowly north up the coast of the Antarctic Peninsula, and ultimately I’ll continue North all the way to Europe. I look forward to some sunshine in a way but it’s always sad saying goodbye to the Antarctic continent. This white icy land has a magnetism that is already drawing me back even though I have not yet left. Then again, there are signs all around to indicate that the season is over. The weather is shifting with strong winds and blizzards, the penguins have fled the shore leaving just a handful of miserable looking molting individuals on the barren rock now denuded of it’s white carpet of snow. The whales are still here but they are bust feeding up before they too turn North and flee the teeth of winter. It is definitely time to go, but still every moment in this wilderness is a gift and now that I will soon leave it in my wake I am relishing every moment.

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Crossing the circle

Today we steamed across the thin dotted line, which marks the point in Antarctica where we get 24 hour sunlight in the summer. The weather was ferocious and the whales were plentiful amidst the spume and ice which made this a truly Antarctic experience. But it does make you think. Just a few days ago the yacht Beserker went misssing in the Southern Ocean south of New Zealand. I’ve met the skipper of this yacht and he is about an adventurous guy as they come and also keen to tackle any adventure he can conceive. But then again perhaps he bit off a little more than he can chew on this instance. Well, actually he certainly did. Late in the season the Antarctic can  be a bitter place – you have to be prepared for the worst even at the best of times – the loss of life and ships at sea is no laughing matter, and for a couple planning a trip down to these waters it is a moment to ground your dreams. Here is a tragedy that could, should, have never happened. I’ve been in these waters for over six years and there are times when the seas of Antarctica are truly humbling. This is not a place to play games – the sea will always win. As much as we love the stories of hardship and adventure, the most important thing in the world is to return safely with a story to tell your loved ones and a lesson whispered into your ear by the wind.

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Hotel Bravo

Whenever we see a humpback whale the call goes out on the radio that a “Hotel Bravo” has been spotted and today there were calls of this nature continuously. We pulled into Cierva Cove after a morning watching glaciers calving in Curtis Bay and immediately there where whales on all sides. We bided our time for the first hour or so watching the huge animals bubble net feeding off the side of the boat before finally slinging the zodiacs over the side to get amongst them … actually watching from the ship itself is pretty spectacular and you can see the bubbles emerging from the deep and the whales swim in synchrony towards the surface exhaling before lunging through the trapped krill with mouths agape. But being on the water with them in small boats is something special. The sound of a whale exhaling and the wet pungent whale snot settling on your amazed face is truly a special experience. It’s definitely getting towards the time of the season when whales are congregating so I look forward to more whale action over the next few trips. Always good to visit the Hotel Bravo.

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Antarctic Sound

Just five minutes ago I was on the foredeck of the Akademic Ioffe watching two humpback whales slowly cross the bow of the ship against an incredible sunset with icebergs dancing on the horizon still catching the last rays of the sun. A spectacular evening in the Antarctic Sound. To turn back the clock to the other end of the day, we woke this morning drifting off Paulet Island which is home to between 60-100.000 pairs of Adelie Penguins. A bit of an uncertain figure since the penguins in this region have been declining lately, but regardless of a downward trajectory in the population, the beach and island is certainly a surging mass of penguins all busily going to and fro from the sea to feed their half grown chicks which add to the loud chorus of a penguin colony. Beside the penguins is a large colony of Blue Eye Shag which add their own distinctive brand of noise and also their own odour to assault the nose… this many birds in a small space certainly has its own distinctive aroma. The morning excursion was followed up by a zodiac cruise amidst icebergs where three species of seal where spotted as well as a lot more penguins and the elusive snow petrels wheeling amidst the towering bergs. But of course the highlight of the day was hamburgers for lunch. Not often we get hamburgers aboard…

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The Orkneys

The past day we have been skirting a depression in the Scotia Sea that has forced us well to the west of our next objective: the South Orkney Islands. But finally this evening we have drawn into sight of the rocky outlying islands which jut from the ocean and reach for the heavens with sheer sides and forbidding silhouettes. Around the islands are a battalion of tabular icebergs lurking in all directions, each with a small group of penguins standing atop and with whales blowing all about. It’s a shame we cant spend longer in these remote islands, but unfortunately we have to turn to the south and make for Antarctica.

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Whales to port

Today we had a pretty wild windy day at Dorian bay and made our way to Fournier Harbour which is a large sheltered bay surrounded by glaciers tumbling into the sea.  As soon as we arrived the wind started to dive down and we were surrounded by feeding Humpback Whales. The engines on the ship were lowered and we coasted into the very thick of a churning mass of feeding whales gorging themselves on the dense krill just thirty meters below the surface. As we lined the rails of the ship we saw spiraling bubbles emerge from the depths and float towards the surface in concentric circles until a large whale surged through the centre of the rings with water spurting from its baleen plates and krill scattering in all directions. The lead whale would soon be followed by two younger whales learning the game of bubble netting and taking advantage of the skill of the lead whale. Also notice that as the whales charge to the surface they have their eye close, no doubt to keep our the krill and to prevent damage from the wheeling seabirds overhead taking advantage of the craft of the whale. It was a pretty spectacular fair well from the Antarctic as we once again turn our bows towards the Drake Passage and Ushuaia.

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