Camping & Whales

Monday afternoon was another of those days when you think it just can’t get any better, but it does. These Peregrine people have consistently come up with something every day that is better than what we had experienced on the previous day.

After lunch of Italian Pizza and Pasta, we were back into our zodiacs for another afternoon of cruising through the Errera Channel. This was a narrow passage between the Continent and an island. The ship sailed on ahead of us and we pottered around for most of the time exploring the glacier faces and the icebergs. The big ones had mostly drifted in from the Ross Sea. It was hard to believe that they could be so big and still have seven times their mass under water. The landscape along the channel consists of an underlying range of mountains (perhaps 900 – 1400 metres high). These are made up of very ancient solid rock. Each of the valleys between the peaks is covered in frozen ice, forming a glacier – dozens of them. I don’t know whether they all have names, or only the larger ones. At the shoreline they meeet the sea in a cliff of ice about 20 metres high.

On the way, down the channel we stopped at Danco Island, the site of an old British Base for a walk up the hill through the Gentoo penguin colony. There were some great views along the channel and the perspective of the scenery changed with the advantage of a bit of height. Some brave people went for a swim at the beach on the island. In reality they had a quick dive into the water and then out again. This swimming opportunity was purposely scheduled for late in the day to enable them to get back to the ship quickly and get warm again.

After rejoining the ship, we sailed into Gerlache Strait where we stopped off Portal Point for the night. This was the site where a British Party once commenced their exploration of the peninsular. This was our site for camping overnight. After dinner, I joined about 20 other people who went ashore in zodiacs and slept on the ice. It turned out that this was a better option that our previously cancelled camping attempt as this time our camp was actually on mainland Antarctica and not on an island.

The camping itself was not all that special other than for its location. I think that this site was probably the most scenic of any places that I ever camped. We left the ship at 9.30 and after setting up our tents we watched the sunset at 11.pm. The weather was quite mild and no one was really cold. I had a two-man tent to myself and was quite comfortable. Sunrise was at 4.35 am and from then on it was very light. In between, it was still like a faded twilight – it never really got absolutely dark. It did get quite cold at about four in the morning. We were taken back to the ship at 6.00 am for breakfast. Now I can say that I have actually slept on every one of the seven continents!!!

After breakfast this morning (Tuesday) our expedition leader announced that today’s activities were going to be based on a serious attempt to see whales. We headed off in zodiacs into the Graham Channel and planned to meet the ship at the other end (25 kms away) as the entrance to the channel was too shallow for the ship to navigate.

It as not long before we saw a number of whale blows and the entire zodiac group merged on them like bees to a honey pot. We found a number of pods of humpback whales and spent the rest of the morning following them as they swam through the water. We were so excited that it was hard to stay calm and follow the standard drills for zodiac travel.

The more we looked around the channel, the more whales we could see. Some were simply lying on the top of the water asleep. We didn’t disturb them as they weren’t very interesting anyway. Others were surfacer feeding and they were fun to watch as they gently rose and sank again, giving us a great view of their humpback shape. The best were those that were diving to feed and giving us a good display of their tailfins.

Humpbacks are not the biggest of whales but they are still huge. They are 20 metres in length and weigh about 35 tonnes. They make a very loud and impressive sound as they breath. Their standard behaviour is to have four or five breaths on the surface and then do a deep dive that lasts for three or four minutes. The ones that were feeding were using a very intelligent method called ‘bubble netting’. Two or three whales would dive and circle a mass of krill. They would then produce a circle of bubbles which confused the krill and trapped them like being in a net. Then one whale would surface vertically with its mouth open, filtering the krill through its baleen plates. All we had to do was look for a circle of bubbles in the water and then get our cameras ready for some spectacular photos. We did have to make sure that our zodiacs were not in the centre of the bubble circle. We got some great pictures of whale tails. Some animals came up 10 metres from our zodiacs and swam directly under us on a number of occasions. One group of the French speaking passengers were at one stage insisting that their zodiac driver got them closer to the whales and when one surfaced directly in front of them, then demanded that they keep a much further distance. What a whale of a show we had. Fantastic! I keep running out of words to describe this place – you’ll just have to wait until I can get some photos uploaded.

Eventually it was time to move onto the ship, so we had a long zodiac ride of 20 – 30 minutes to where the ship had repositioned. On the way we stopped at a couple of icebergs to see the Crabeater seals that were resting on them. By now they are getting to be a bit ho-hum and boring so we didn’t give them too much time.

Indian lunch today, although the food was very mild by my standards.

This afternoon we went zodiac cruising in Ciero Bay. There is an Argentinean Antarctic base here but it is currently unattended. We travelled right to the head of the bay and got amongst the Brash ice that had come off the land based glaciers. It wasn’t quite as exciting as this morning, but it was still very interesting. Our wildlife observations included a number of Crabeater Seals, some much larger Leopard Seals and a few Weddell Seals. We also caught a brief glimpse of a Minke Whale but it was on the move and not interested in staying around for us to play with..

I’m looking forward to dinner tonight and an early night in bed.

5 comments

  1. Colin W · ·

    Sounds like a fascinating trip, Bruce. Where’s the pics?
    “We also caught a brief glimpse of a Minke Whale but it was on the move and not interested in staying around for us to play with” … maybe the last person it stopped to play with was a Japanese with a big harpoon. Run away … quick!

  2. 'Trina & Robert · ·

    I don’t know how you are ever going to top this holiday???

  3. Rounders · ·

    Bruce

    How do you count Antarctica in your country count? I’m intrigued by what country you are actually in at any time?

    Great descriptions, great trip, 6 months away is starting to sound all very blase next to this one.

    We’re already trying to work out how it can be topped. Space?

    Chris

  4. AQ for Antarctica. That’s one more for the country count.