Sunday, 21 February 2010

Charismatic Megafauna

There are signs that summer in Antarctica is nearing an end.  The days are getting shorter.  Sunset was shortly after 21:00 this evening.  Some penguins have already left their colonies.  Most Adelie penguins have headed out to sea.  The gentoo chicks are fat, many of them are bigger than their parents.  Some of them now have their first real feathers.  The rest are in various stages of plumage.    There is however a lot of mega fauna around.  Whales are abundant.  Seals are ubiquitous.
We continued to be lucky with the weather today.  Our morning in Paradise Bay was completely overcast but it was mild with nary a breath of wind.  The Expedition team scouted the hill overlooking Paradise Bay.  It was determined that while the hill was safe to climb, the conditions were definitely not conducive for safe sliding. Several people made it to the very top where they enjoyed an amazing view.  We also went for a short Polar Cirkle boat ride.  One of the highlights of our Poloar Cirkle boat cruise was the Leopard Seal pictured in this post.
In the afternoon we set course for Wilhelmina Bay to hopefully do some whale watching.  Wilhelmina Bay has been known as an excellent spot for whales since the early days of whaling in Antarctica.
Well, we didn't have to go all the way to Wilhelmina to see whales. Shortly after we passed the Chilean Base at Water Boat Point (Gabriel González Videla) we encontered a group of surface feeding Minke whales.  They were exciting to watch as they frequently erupted out of the water with dramatic feeding lunges. Humpback whales were in evidence throughout the afternoon.  In fact we stopped and and enoyed a fantastic encounter with three humpbacks shortly after arriving in Wilhelmina.  It was a fantastic encounter.  The three whales came right up to the ship.  At times you could see the entire whale just beneath the surface.
By now the overcast sky had cleared up and we were once again bathed in brilliant sunshine.
The Expedition Team, working with the navigation officers on the bridge, continued to spot wildlife. A true highlight of the day was when the Chief Officer skillfully brought Fram right alongside an icefloe laden with Crabeater seals.  There were fifteen seals on the icefloe and another two or three in the water. Wow.
In the last blog photo you can see pretty much how our day ended.  Double wow.