Whales – before and after

Today we cruised amidst the debris of the black history of Antarctic whaling. Sunken whale chasers loomed like drunken steel castles above the quiet waters of Antarctica, water boats used for carting water required to render whales into oil for lamps rotted on the shore and the scattered remains of the rough accommodation used by the whalers marred the pristine shores of the icy continent.

Meanwhile, the waters offshore resounded in the deep bass notes of humpback whales jetting water into the blue skies as they surfaced to catch a breath before sinking to the depths in search of krill. The humpbacks in these waters were hit pretty heavily earlier this centuries and like many of the great whales their numbers dwindled at these magnificent beasts were slaughtered. Unlike many of the whales however, the numbers are starting to increase and each year we get a chance to watch more whales as they return to their icy domain. This morning I was lucky enough to spend half an hour with a mother and calf as they slowly picked their way though the pack ice, happily unconcerned by the zodiacs trailing in their wake full of awestruck spectators. My boat in particular managed to entice the leviathans for a closer inspection and my heart rate skyrocketed as the two beasts circles slowly around and under the zodiac, and raised their heads out of the water to look back at us. Just ten or fifteen minutes of wonder but enough to feel a unique contact with the denizens of the South, and enough to remind me that to visit this land you need to come under it’s terms – the wildlife of the Antarctic is worth so much more than a few lamps of oil…

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