Today has been a stunning Antarctic day. We woke up in Willhemena Bay in the northern end of the Antarctic peninsular. The weather was sunny, the sky was blue and the air temperature was -1C. We were off in Zodiacs to see the sites by 7:00 am, before breakfast.
Wilhemena Bay is noted place for finding whales. Humpbacks forage here over summer on the plentiful supplies of krill before migrating north to breed. They live off their body fat until they return again to Antarctica in the following season. We must have seen ten whales during our two hour zodiac cruise and I snagged a number of good photos of their tails. The whales would float on the surface, take a few big blows and then dive with their typical humped back out of the water and show their tail flukes. A few minutes later, they would surface somewhere else nearby.
We saw some cute chinstrap and Gentoo penguins on a floating iceberg as well as a few crab eater seals hauled out on other chunks of ice. It was a great day in Antarctica!
We did have one little drama late in our cruise. While driving over some brash ice (chunks of wind blown ice broken off from the glaciers), we had a sharp piece of ice cut a hole in a part of the zodiac pontoon. It deflated with a very loud bang and the woman who was sitting on that section of the pontoon hit her head on a large metal caribiner attached to a rope running down the side of the zodiac. Other zodiacs came to our aid and took her, and a number of other people, back to the ship to see the doctor. Zodiacs are well designed craft and can remain afloat even if three sections of their pontoon are ruptured. Three of the group, including me, stayed on the zodiac while we travelled slowly back to the ship, but stopping to see some penguins on the way. Later inspection showed a five-foot long gash ini the pontoon and the whole outer rubber pontoon will need to be replaced. It will now be out of action for the rest of the season. I guess it’s better for this type of acci dent happen near the end of our trip, rather than at the beginning. Just as all this occurred, a Minke Whale slid right under our zodiac and surfaced just a few metres away, as if having a l;ooh at our plight.
We were due to have a second trip to another little bay, but it was iced in with brash ice that had been pushed in by the wind. It would have been impossible to get there. Instead, our second outing consisted of standing in the bow of the ship as it cruised through about 4 nautical miles of ice very slowly into the top end of the Gerlache Strait. It was fun being right in the bow as we crunched through the ice and occasionally disrupting a seal or two which were sleeping on large blocks of ice. The captain was apparently very unimpressed as he had just had the ship painted and this ice will have caused severe scratching to is new paint job.
Our afternoon excursion was in Paradise Harbour. This is a stunning deep harbour surrounded by mountains and glaciers. The scenery is fantastic. I have shot 32 gb of photos in the past two days – over 800 photos. It is hard to capture the beauty around here, but it is not through lack of trying. Some people in our group climbed a hill behind an abandoned Argentinian research station, and I went zodiac cruising into a beautiful bay ringed by glaciers and ice cliffs. We saw icebergs of very possible size and shape. At one time, we found another two humpback whales, We followed them for a time, but they were not diving very deeply , so we didn’t get to see any displays of their tail flukes.
About 15 people took up the challenge of taking a ‘polar plunge’ this afternoon. This took place off the ricks of the Argentinian base. Some dived in, others entered the water more cautiously, but they all survived the water temperature of 1.8C. The staff had towels on hand ands they were quickly ushered back to the ship in zodiacs to get warm again. There were many jokes about the doctor having to learn how to use the defibrillator to bring people back to life again.
Dinner tonight was a barbecue on the back deck. The chefs set up a wood fired BBQ with beef, prawns and hot dogs. Mulled wine was very plentiful and desert consisted of Pecan Pie.
I have just finished photographing the golden light of sunset on the mountains around Paradise Harbour. What a special site – golden snow and clear reflections in the calm water of the bay.
Well, that’s the end of a great day in Antarctica. Tomorrow is our last day here before hitting the Drake passage to return back to Ushuaia.