Journey to Antartica Aboard the National Geographic Explorer – Day 5
We were still feeling exhilarated from the penguins galore and sea ice walk from the day before. We thought that nothing could top the beauty and excitement of that day, but to our delight it got better each day.
Zodiac Cruising on Cierva Cove
We experienced more of Antartica’s sublime beauty on this lovely sunny, windless day. We boarded the Zodiac boat for a leisurely cruise on Cierva Cove, a protected bay bordered by breathtaking ice landscape.
We were mesmerized by the staggering beauty and serenity that surrounded us.
While we were cruising the bay, an ice expert from our expedition was climbing one of these mountains to retrieve films from one of the 16 time-lapse cameras installed in the Antarctic Peninsula. The cameras are part of the Extreme Ice Survey and shoot photos every hour of each day. The goal is to create visual records to help experts understand the changes in these landscapes.
We were deeply immersed in the silence and exceptional beauty of the bay when a boat carrying men dressed as Vikings seemed to appear from nowhere. We realized that it was our ship’s hotel manager with couple of crew aboard the “hot chocolate boat!”
Yes, they came to meet us to serve us hot chocolate – with a kick! I had mine with a dash of coconut rum and Keith had his with peppermint schnapp! It definitely kept us warmer. It was such a great treat and we felt well-taken cared of.
Killer Whales on a Hunt in Gerlache Strait
“There’s a sighting of a pod of killer whales on the port side of the ship!” The excited announcement on the PA system by the expedition leader came as we were listening to the afternoon’s lecture about hypothermia. We all grabbed our parkas and cameras and ran to the deck.
The pod of Killer whales was seen active and swimming in circle. Our vessel deviated from its course to get closer to the scene.As we approached, we saw that the Killer whales were surrounding a Minke whale. The Killers jumped on the poor Minke and all disappeared from the surface. The next thing we saw were blood and scraps of blubbers surfacing on the water.
Shortly after the kill, the group disappeared for awhile. The experts explained that they probably submerged to send vocal signals to other groups to announce their successful hunt.
Interestingly, another group of killer whales arrived shortly and the first group shared the remains of their prey with the new arrivals – their form of reciprocal altruism we were told.
Another interesting scene during this time was witnessing the scientists at work. Two whale biologists and a naturalist boarded the Zodiac and approched the whales. With a used of a crossbow, they attached satellite tags on the dorsal fins of several whales (we were told that the whales don’t feel it).
The signals that the tags send to satellites aide the scientist in studying the movements and foraging behavior of the killer whales in the region, as well as in determining their possible ecological impacts.
The scientists also took biopsy from some whales by shooting an arrow-like tool on them. Once the tools prick the skin they bounced and floated on water and were retrieved. The specimens were later sent to a lab for genetic analysis.
What an awesome afternoon! The whale sighting more than made up for the disappointment of the cancelled sea kayaking this afternoon due to suddenly strong wind (we were able to go out on the kayak two days later).
Presentations and Recap
Each night before dinner we had nightly recap and presentations before dinner. That evening, we had an inspiring photography presentation from two of National Geographic Photographers.
The ice expert also showed us a preview of the photos retrieved from the time-lapse camera earlier in the morning.
The whale experts had already downloaded the information on the movement of the whales and shared them with us. Each night thereafter, they gave us updates on the whereabouts and feeding activities of “our” whales. It was interesting to take part in the activities and studies of the advancing Antarctic science.
Night Hike and Penguin Colony on Danco Island
Just when we thought that the day couldn’t get any better, our expedition leader announced during the recap that we were going for an after-dinner hike!
We were excited to make an evening landing on Danco Island. It was about 9 pm and the sky was still bright. The summer sun in Antartica does not set until 11:30pm and it then quickly rises at around 2:30 am. There’s no complete darkness even in between those hours.
Danco Island is home to about 2,000 pairs of Gentoo penguins. They settle high on the hills of the island and we encountered them as we were hiking up. Maybe because it was night time, the penguins here were not as active as the penguins we saw in Brown Bluff,
During the recap, our expedition leader told us to prepare for a very early wake up call the next morning – at 6:15 am! She said that we should not miss the vessel’s entry into Lamaire Channel, the most beautiful passageway in Antarctic Peninsula. We were sure glad we got up early. We can’t wait to share with you this beautiful part of Antarctica plus more.