Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Orcas & Icebergs

    We encountered a pod of orcas in Antarctic waters.  It was difficult to see and photograph them, but at least I obtained a few shots in which an orca is identifiable.  I spent awhile trying to find a place on the ship to get a view and trying to get the orcas in frame.  Very challenging.  Nice to see orcas in the wild, even if from a distance.
     Although we did not have a landing on this day, we did see lots of icebergs and some decent scenery.  There was not nearly enough wildlife, especially after S. Georgia, but you take what you can get.  I kept hoping (in vain) for seals on icebergs.
Weather was varied but sometimes sun on snow was striking
The light in Antarctica often included yellows and pinks
Cracked snow, which will slowly carve into the sea
The Antarctic Peninsula at last
Ice above and below the water, carved by waves
Lots of random floating icebergs, varying in size
     We were of course glad to make it through the storm, but we heard of two ships that did not.  One had a fire and had to turn back, and the other hit an iceberg which caused a massive tear in the hole and required the ship to turn back.  The water came into some of the cabins.  When we went by the same iceberg the crew whispered about this.  It was hard to imagine in 2015 a ship hitting an iceberg, and hard to imagine how the ice could tear the steel hull of the ship - but indeed it did.  (When the trip was over, we saw the ship in Ushuaia, being repaired with a huge welded patch about 20 feet long and 6 feet tall). This put a certain spin on seeing the icebergs - they were not just interesting and beautiful, but dangerous.  It made nights even creepier, sliding along in the darkness where icebergs lurked everywhere.
     We heard from one of the guides about a ship which had actually sunk - a tourist ship - not all that long ago.  The call to evacuate had sounded in the middle of the night, and the instructions are to dress warmly and get your life jacket and go to a muster station, but as always, not everyone follows directions.  Some people showed up in their pajamas, rather than properly clothed, and could not get back to their cabins as the ship had already taken on water and the cabins were no longer accessible.  Even worse, while most of the lifeboats are enclosed, the life boats on the sinking ship were not.  And so passengers tumbled out into the open life boats, some in pajamas, and awaited rescue.  They did get picked up, and in time, and no one died - which is luck indeed.  I've seen the storms.  It could easily have gone the other way.  Supposedly also some people suffered frostbite, all were ok in the end, and one even came back the following year to Antarctica again (I don't think I would!).
     Although I'd hoped for penguins on icebergs often, in reality it wasn't common.  Mostly it was ice and ocean and cold and a dearth of wildlife.  I did see one Adelie and some chinstraps and some gentoos, mostly from a great distance.  Once in awhile they were close enough to photograph but usually it was a binocular event.
Chinstrap penguins on an iceberg

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