Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Time of Whales.............

January 26, 2013 - Petermann Island, Antarctica
Good visibility, overcast
Wind: W 2: Sea: smooth; air Temp 5C (41F)

I was about to title this post "A Whale of a Time". Somehow that just seemed too crass for such a surreal wildlife experience.  Over the past couple of years I've been fortunate to experience some awesome wildlife viewing around the planet. It's impossible to state 'my favorite' when so many have been far beyond expectation, and all have been exceptional. This cold and wild morning with the Humpback whales will always be up there in the top five though. 
These whales are seen here only in during the Antarctic Summer having migrated from their calving grounds off Brazil. Although mating and calving take place in the warmer waters, they seldom feed in those areas, instead moving to the excellent feeding grounds in the cold productive seas around Antarctica.

As soon as we left the ship, the Zodiac ride became very exciting. We spotted several Humpback whales nearby. Global population is now only 30-40,000. Males measure up to 52 feet and weigh up to 32 tons, females 56 feet and 36 tons. These are really huge and their presence is exciting. Humpbacks live 70-80 years, their diet is krill, zooplankton and small fish. They breed every 2-3 years (gestation is 12 months), producing a single calf weighing in at 2 tons and 20 feet in length at birth, and which is weaned at one year of age.

Humpbacks are the most conspicuous of the Antarctic whales, often seen swimming on the surface or splashing about while feeding.  They will approach ships, putting on quite a show, frequently spy hopping, lobtailing, and breaching. Another of our Zodiacs in the distance with excited passengers standing up for a better view.

At the start of a deep dive (up to 577 feet) the whale will arch its back and stick its tail vertically in the air. This reveals the black and white pattern on the underside which is unique to each individual and useful for identification.

The Zodiac moved on toward the shoreline and some huge icebergs.........

 ....and a pod of five whales, one a mother with a calf, 
appeared close by.

As whales reach the surface to breathe, they forcefully expel 
air through their blowhole as above.......

...and the lovely turquoise is the reflection off the white pigmentation on the pectoral fin of an adult whale. These are very close to our Zodiac - a bit of which you can see at the bottom right corner...

....and continued to swim around us for quite some time, more blowing, even passing under the Zodiac. Could they have tipped us? Yes, but thankfully on this day they were gentle and playful. Whereas we eight passengers, plus our driver, were up and down like yo-yos positioning to get good shots without knocking someone overboard into that cold water!

This Humpback is spyhopping - it rises and holds a position partially out of the water - this can last for several minutes if the whale is sufficiently inquisitive about whatever, or whomever, it is viewing. 

The barnacles were easy to see this close up.

This is one of the Humpback's 18 foot long pectoral 
fins which they raise and then slap on the surface 
of the water........  

Paula getting a close-up shot of a very close up Humpback! 
Note more barnacles on the small dorsal fin.

Another Zodiac pulled up next to us to share in this awesome whale experience. I really think this shot shows how close we were to these huge, beautiful creatures. Another expedition staffer was able to record haunting whale songs underwater (only the male 'sings'), so that evening when we gathered for the day's summary of happenings, we had a great slide show accompanied by whale songs. Truly a day to remember.

Getting near the end of this wonderful journey......where I walked on the Seventh Continent and sailed the roughest ocean in the world - show you next time.

Remember, for more detail - click on one photo to enlarge and be sure to turn on Lightbox (in your Settings) to see all pics in a slideshow.


  1. Mary your photos are absolutely stunning! How exciting to be so close to these huge creatures. I love the colours of the water, ice and icebergs, and the sky. I was watching on our local news last night a story of a woman who was recently there as well in a marathon of some sort as a tri-athelete and she showed similar photos. I thought, I know Mary was there too! Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos with us. Have a blessed day. Pamela

  2. That must have been so thrilling! I can't believe how close you are to those whales. What an amazing experience Mary.

  3. Fascinating post! Even through your wonderful pictures (and all those nature specials!) it's impossible to imagine what it's like being right there near such huge creatures. And with the possibility of the boat getting tipped over? You are a most intrepid explorer, Mary!

  4. Un viaje fantástico, las fotos son espectaculares. Un cariñoso abrazo.

  5. Mary, these shots have just taken my breath away! I know this is an adventure that I shall never experience myself, I would have been terrified, so am very grateful that you shared every amazing day with us.

  6. What an experience, Mary! I am in awe trying to imagine it. Your photos are breathtaking.

  7. I am in awe of the humpback whales and so delighted to see them here. What an amazing experience. We visited Maui many years ago and while out snorkeling a humpback swam right up to us. It was one of my favorite awe amazing memories just seeing the eyes of this gorgeous creature up close. I can't even imagine having so many nearby as you experienced. I would have been over the hill thrilled.

  8. Makes me nostalgic seeing these again Mar. Got the book from Rob today zo will get it to you when time allows.

  9. It's rare I'm speechless Mary, what an astounding adventure you had! Your photos are truly amazing :o)
    Rose H

  10. Oh Mary, these are amazing shots. It is a dream of mine to go in search of whales. They are amazing creatures. I've seen them at a distance from shore, but never like this. Thanks for the view. Bonnie

  11. How fantastic are these photos - seeing whales is such a memorable experience. I have only ever seen them off Nova Scotia, but we didn't see anything like as many as you. Stunning - loved seeing them.

  12. Amazing. Fantastic. Other commentators have said it all. But I'll say it again. Just wonderful. It's almost like another world you are showing us. Such a great adventure. I'm so glad you are sharing with all of us.

  13. It's almost unbelievable - to be so close to these creatures. I love to know that they were curious about you, as you were about them. What an adventure you had!

  14. Incredible photos Mary and I'm thinking what a great tool blogging is for recording your wonderful travels! It's the new diary for future generations to look back on Grandmother/Great Granny's adventures - what a legacy you are leaving them.

    I feel a real affinity with dolphins and whales as we are learning more and more about them and learn of their social behaviours.
    Just seeing your photos today brings home to me how selfish man has been towards animals - it's incredible really how so many of them have survived at all...

    I imagine the adrenalin must be pumping when you are so close.. and maybe there's a tiny wee bit of scared there too!!!
    Just an aside, I know those zodiacs are very stable but I was taught from a very young age to never stand up in a boat!!!

    Where is your next adventure pray tell?
    Shane ♥

    1. Shane, you are so right - standing up in small boats is not recommended and certainly not usually permitted in the Zodiacs, however when stationary with the engine off, with the driver's permission, we were allowed to stand, a few at a time, for better viewing and to take photographs. Of course balancing the boat was important and we couldn't all stand on one side all at once etc., that might have been disastrous! Zodiacs are such amazing craft - did you know they were invented by Jacques Cousteau? They are such fun to ride - you feel very safe in them even when seated on the side and traveling at quite fast speeds. When in The Kimberley last Sept. doing longer cruising rides, seats were sometimes added and that was great for sitting back and relaxing - especially when handed a glass of chilled champagne - it was after all 103F some days! Life is grand, and I so appreciate being able to do these adventure trips, thanks to Paula.

      Your thoughts on how these wild creatures have been treated are so right - how have they survived the inhumane treatment of the past? Visiting former whaling stations was something I did not really enjoy - I found it very hard to hear details of what happened to whales and seals for many, many years.

      As soon as I finish the last two Antarctic posts I'll tell you where I'm headed in just a few weeks!!!!!


  15. i love to follow your blog! your travelling reports and photos are outstanding!

  16. How completely amazing and magical whales are ... to be that close ! what a treat !! Dolphins are mermaids :) That big square iceberg boggles my mind lol .... love


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