16 January, 2000
I have had many wonderful experiences since I arrived at Palmer Station. Today's adventure was unbelievable. I never in a million years would have imagined I would be surrounded by a pod of humpback whales as they gorged themselves on krill. Have I got your attention yet? Read on....
Sunday is the day of the week everyone at Station relaxes and takes a well deserved day off. Some folks hunker down and watch a movie, read a book, or nap. Others take a jaunt to one of the nearby islands to get away; do some hiking and observe nature's wonders.
I slept late this morning. I really needed it. Read Antarctica, by Kim Stanley Robinson for a couple of hours. (Great book by the way!) I lounged with others and watched a movie...pretty normal, mundane stuff, eh?
Late afternoon rolled around and several of us were in the galley looking out at the ocean at what appeared to be a pair of humpbacks. You can almost feel the excitement build. It was soon decided that we should gear up and head out in the zodiac to get a closer look. Well folks, we were not disappointed. Dan Weisblatt, Norm Lavoie, Sue Deyoe, Elissa Mills, Howie Tobin, Charles Petit and myself jetted across the ocean to the area we believed the humpbacks were. Two other zodiacs were in the same area looking for the same excitement. Our cameras are drawn and aimed. Anticipation builds as we sat there watching and listening for the whale to blow. Just as I was about to give up any chance of actually seeing a humpback, I take a few pictures of the whale seekers in the zodiac. I said, "I guess I will take your picture....you're the biggest mammal I'm gonna see today." I couldn't have been more wrong!
You can tell the humpback is in the vicinity when it exhales through it's blow hole and sprays. When we saw the spray (or heard it) we would watch in awe as it would gently ride across the water. We were even lucky enough to get whiff of that lovely spray and feel its mist on our faces. Dan Weisblatt eloquently described it as, "the worst morning breath in the world combined with rotten fish." He was right. Before the animal made it's final descent into the water, the fluke (tail fin) was gloriously displayed before us as if it was some kind of greeting. This dance of sorts continued to our utter delight. After a couple of hours of ooo's and aaah's we met another zodiac and deposited 2 passengers that needed to get back to station. We decided to continue whale watching at another location.
We went to Wylie Bay and were quickly able to tell the location of the humpbacks by the presence of a flock of sea gulls. The birds were perched on an icegerg and would fly over to where the whales were feeding. Before we knew it, we were among a pod of humpbacks whales having a feeding frenzie on krill. The humpbacks would push the krill together in a ring and you could literally see the krill jump out of the water trying to get away. The birds capitalized on their flight.
It was amazing!! We watched this spectacle for several minutes! At one point, a whale swam right in front of the boat. I mean he was right there....I screamed at Andy to "stop" and with jaws hung open we watch this animal nudge our boat and roll over to avoid it. Then tail fin slapped the water and splashed us!!! WHHHHHOOOOOOOAAAA! Adrenalin rush!!! We were speechless. We snapped out of it with a little nervous laughter and realized that we instantly belonged to a very small club! Norm caught it all on video!
We headed back to station on cloud nine. We stopped at Torgersen Island to pick up someone who spent the day there just chillin'.
Dinner was another notable experience. Dan cooked a delicious pasta dish and great bottle of wine complimented the meal. As we ate we watched the sun dip into the mountains. There was good conversation and I heard great stories about the adventures of the few lucky ones who get to experience Antarctica. I feel honored to be amongst them. Ah, life is good!
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