The day at sea passed by without any mayor happenings. But the expedition team informed us that they had to change their original plans due to this:

This was the weather forecast: The top left corner is the end of the South American continent, the triangle part sticking out from the bottom the Antarctic peninsula and the islands above the South Shetlands. The little flags and colours indicate the windspeed. It is the heaviest storm of the season so far. Every line on the little flags indicates 10 knots of wind, the triangles wind over 50 knots – and that’s without gusts. So a place where you don’t want to be. So the plan was changed from starting out on the Shetlands and going south to the other way around. So first stop directly on the Antarctic continent on the westernmost tip, Brown Bluff.

We were woken up by our expedition leader by an announcement through the speakers to come up on deck to witness it ourselves. We were of course all afraid of the storm and the consequences – high winds and swells which would prevent us from landing on shore. But what no one expected. Almost blue sky, sunshine and beautiful conditions. The luck continues.

And just when all arrived on deck we spotted a group of Orcas cursing alongside our ship. What a welcome!

And then it was time to get into the zodiacs and land on shore. A very special moment for me – the last of the 7 continents for me. There was still a bit of wind but the day just turned out perfect. We landed and were greeted by a group of Gentoo Penguins and Fur Seals.

 

 


You can already tell by the pictures – the scenery has changed a bit. A lot more ice and snow. This is of course due to the lower average temperatures. When we arrived the thermometer showed -7C and a windchill of -20C. So no real surprise. When we went on land if was a bit later and of course not as cold anymore – at least I thought or decided that it was perfect weather to continue my tradition to wear shorts 😎

We spent around 2 hours on shore and were all happy to had such a beautiful landing. The penguins kept on being curious and fun. It did not really feel like a great accomplishment to have made it to here I have to admit – especially have listened to all the stories of the great explorers during the lectures of the last days – but it still felt amazing to set foot on this amazing spot on our planet.

Gentoo Penguin all excited and happy

 

The rare Adele Penguin

And then we left again to escape the storm and to head as far south as we could – this time on the western side of the peninsula. On the way back we the wind picked up and the sea got a bit rougher. The first signs of the storm. But this couldn’t keep us insight. The view was just to spectacular and especially the whale sightings.

 


We saw Humpback Whales everywhere. There were blows in the distance and then a few closer to the ship. We also spotted a few Fin Whales. We were lucky to have two enthusiastic Dutch biologists on board who would stand on the bridge before sunset and patrol the horizon for any wildlife the entire day. They would even refuse to go to some of the meals once in a while. Before we went to dinner the count was already over 70 Humpback Whales! And when we came out on deck again for the sunset the sea just started boiling. Blows and fins everywhere. The whales where hunting in little groups for fish and krill and would come out of the water with their entire front part. When it got dark we counted over 200 whales! 200! It was amazing to see how plentiful they were.

The next morning arrived. I went up on the bridge and what can I say. Blue sky again.

The Dutch guys had spotted many whales already and were all excited. Some of the encounters were so close to the ship that you could take close up pictures while passing them.

We got all excited since the plan for today was a split landing – half of the ship was supposed to go on a zodiac cruise for 1.5h and the rest on shore before we switched. The Dutch and I decided to go on the zodiac cruise first hoping for a close encounter with one of the whales. On our way out we had penguins left and right of the zodiacs on their way in and out of their hunting grounds. They were gliding through the water like torpedoes and jumping.

And then something happened that is very difficult to put in words. Shortly after we were cursing we spotted two Humpback Whales not far a way. The four zodiacs went up to them, keeping the required distance to not disturb them. But what happened was that the Humpbacks came up to the boats to inspect us. It is not unusual for them to do so. They sometimes come up to boats and ships to see what they are. But these guys were so curious that they just stayed. They circled around the zodiacs, diving underneath them and coming extremely close to the boats. They stuck their heads out to peak over the water and looked at us. Whenever they dove underneath a zodiac they came up again, turned around and came back again. They even gently touched the zodiacs with their nosed and backs.

 


It was incredible to see how a 40+ ton and almost 20 meter long animal gently and perfectly manoeuvred between our boats and interacted with us. At no point of time I was afraid that they did not control every single of their movements and would accidentally bump into our tiny little boats. But it did not only stay with checking us out. They came out of the water and so close to the zodiacs that you could have touched them – just looking at us and being curious who we are.

Maybe a meter away from the zodiac – or less…

It is really difficult to put in words. But after all we have done to these amazing mammals in the last one hundred years, with their size and potential to just flip a zodiac with no effort, to just swim away, not to care at all about a few tourists on a zodiac they just decided to come up to us to give us this amazing interaction. Not being judgemental but just curious and apparently also enjoying this encounter. And again probably not expecting anything but just enjoying the happening themselves.

And then I had my very special moment with one of them as well. He came up alongside the boat and gently stuck his head out of the water, turned a bit to the side so he could look at us. We looked each other in the eyes and even though I was trying to capture everything with my camera over and under water at the same time it felt like everything went in slow motion and the time stood still when he looked at me. It was such a peaceful and unbelievable moment. This giant just said hello and only with his presence spread such an incredible amount of energy. It has been one of the most magical and touching moments in my life. Wow…

 


We spent two hours with these amazing creatures before we were called back to the beach to exchange with the group on land. Of course no one wanted to leave but there was the moment to say good bye.

So we went on land on Cuverville Island and we were completely flashed and excited. I just sat down in the Gentoo Penguin colony and tried to digest the happening. A bit unfair to these amazing creatures but they mostly just blurred away in the shadow of the humpbacks. So I mostly just watched them jumping and flying on their way back in to the shore to feed their chicks.

 

 

Feeding a chick

We went back on the ship and I was just just exhausted and happy – and I was not the only one.

Last article of Antarctica here…

%d bloggers like this: