Monday 10 April 2017

Antarctica Feb-Mar 2017

Humpback Whales are often inquisitive - this one especially! It visited each of the zodiacs in turn. I had to resist the temptation of stroking the barnacles on its chin. (I wasn't using any zoom on my pocket Nikon Coolpix). This was just outside Orne Harbour, in the Gerlache Strait, on a cloudy day in February.   

Between the zodiacs you can see the top of the humpback's head, and under the water the white form of its left pectoral fin - which can grow to almost 5 metres in length. In my experience humpbacks are very gentle with small boats, sometimes swimming underneath them without touching them or alarming the passengers. 

Another day, another friendly humpback. Still no zoom on my lens! This time the kayaks were on the water too, and it swam between them too. How did I take the photo? Well, it was just a fluke! 

We had a few cloudless days during these two voyages, though generally it was cloudier than in November and December. Along the Antarctic Peninsula - our area of operations - the climate is warming, with an average of 90 days less sea-ice than a century ago. However, most other parts of the continent are south of the Antarctic Circle, and have a stable climate - i.e. seriously cold! 

Zodiac cruises may be for wildlife watching or just admiring the amazing ice formations that Antarctica throws at you everywhere. In this photo (click to enlarge), we are looking at another zodiac through a great hole in a huge iceberg. 

By the beginning of March, Gentoo Penguin chicks are almost fully grown. Here the chick - on the left - is making a polite request to its parent for another feed of regurgitated krill and fish. As the chicks begin to lose their down and moult into their first waterproof plumage, the adults stop feeding them. Hunger soon forces them to the water where they have to learn for themselves how to swim and catch food.

During an excursion to Hannah Point in the South Shetlands, we came across this Macaroni Penguin, one of three in a large colony of Chinstraps - one has its head visible in the bottom right. Although it's the world's most abundant penguin. most of its colonies are further north, and inaccessible (being on steep slopes of scree or tussock). Every year a few try to nest among Chinstraps in the South Shetlands.

A visit to an Antarctic Research Station is always popular. This is the bar of the Ukranian Vernadsky Station, formerly the British station Faraday, at 65 degrees south. The bar itself was built by a British carpenter, Keith Larratt, out of wood intended for a new dock. His work has ensured that visitors and residents have a warm welcome, with homemade vodka usually on offer. Famous as the base where the hole in the ozone layer was discovered, the scientists here continue important work in meteorology, atmospheric studies, zoology, etc. 

Finally, a look back to Christmas Day on the Vavilov deck. Ceilidh and Madeleine dance for the passengers while Julia and I play Morrison's Jig on fiddle and cunbus, a Turkish banjo-mandolin I bought in Istanbul in 1984. Many thanks to staff photographer Jeff Topham for sharing this image. The other photos are mine.