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Category Archives: Orne Harbour
Today we started out with a glorious landing at Orne Harbour – a steep climb up to a chinstrap penguin colony 90 m above a mirror calm ocean reflecting a perfectly clear blue sky and the white capped peaks all around. Resting amidst the clamour of the penguins, it was hard to contemplate that the day could get better….
…until we launched the zodiacs in Wilhelmina Bay. After lunch the clouds had drawn in to cast the bay in steel grey light but immediately upon nosing the boat into the brash ice lining the bay the deep bass bellow of humpback whale blows resounded from the glaciers and we watched avidly as two whales crashed through the jumble of ice before making their way into deeper water. Leaving these leviathans to watch a basking leopard seal we were soon diverted by a pair of dwarf minke whales which played around the zodiac for 15 minutes and swam below us in the clear water looking up as they pondered these odd visitors to their domain.
But the minke whales where simply the warm up. Ten minutes later we found two more humpback whales that were fascinated by our cruise ship. They circled the ship for what seemed an age spy-hopping to gain a better view of what must seem a rather strange apparition in these icy waters. At one point they pushed their noses out of the water and seemed to be seriously contemplating mounting the gangway to get the tour of the inside as well!
But this time there was a cluster of zodiacs around the action and before long these gently giants shifted their curiosity to the smaller black zodiacs. What ensued was two hours that will be etched into my memory forever. As we drifted with a gentle breeze the whales moved from zodiac to zodiac paying each of us a visit and giving us all a thorough inspection. The whales lay on their sides gazing up at us from 3o cm below the water with their pectoral fins waiving above us. They pushed their nose above the water to eye level and gazed at us from the air to see if we made more sense above the water than below. They scratched their back on the bottom of our boats, they pushed against the side of the boat as if requesting a scratch, and they thoroughly covered all the spectators in a thick coating of whale snot as they sent jets of water towards us accompanied by the deep sound of a whale blow at close quarters.
After many years of working in Antarctica this was an experience that will redefine the “zodiac cruise”. It is hard to imagine it could get better!
Woke at the crack of dawn.. but dawn is less of a crack and more of a gaping chasm here in Antarctica and lasts for hours …despite this I caught at least the first half of dawn when I dragged myself out of bed at 4:00 to jump in a small rubber boat to charge around icebergs. Minutes later I’m hanging from a crane 25m above the water and descending into the cold ice waters with seals, penguins and whales on my mind.
The first stop was Orne Harbour where I cruised past chinstrap penguins and leopard seal…then a quick dash up to Cuverville Island to see the largest Adelie penguin colony on the Antarctic Peninsula, and finally a landing and hike at Neko Harbour. The last is a particular favorite of mine with a churning glacier descending into a tranquil Bay populated by Gentoo penguins. The Glacier is fast and furious …by glacial standards, and drops icebergs frequently. Today a HUGE carving happened that sent a wave right up over the beach. I was onshore and though I avoided the worst we lost a bit of gear and I spent the rest of the landing wet up to my waist. Still …a great landing. I blazed the trail for the long walk up to
the ridge and then to the next bay where there were about seven Weddel seal asleep. I managed top get 20 minutes sitting alone on the beach listening to the Weddels sing in thier sleep accompanied by the trumpetting of Gentoo penguins.
A beautiful place to be working.
We are finally in the peninsula! Well at least we are in theory, but unfortunately the dense fog around us means that there is not much to see. On second look however there are rafts of brash ice stretched over the water and an occasional snow petrel drifting like a white ghost through the fog. The air is brisk and the deck is covered with a fine powder of snow. The sunlight reaches late into the night and as I go to sleep tonight I look forward to an early start on zodiacs cruising around Orne Harbour. Itching to get out on the boats but also weary after three long days at sea…so to bed early for me and 4:30 start on the ice!