Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Mysterious “Ocean Quack” Solved

For five decades scientists and submariners have reported odd quacking sounds in the Southern Ocean, nicknaming the phenomenon “the bio-duck.” New recordings created by NOAA researchers have attributed the sound to minke whales. The researchers say they’ll be able to use this knowledge to help track the migrations of the minkes, of which little is known, though our guests have found them to be curious enough to approach our Zodiacs around the Antarctic Peninsula. See the BBC story on minke vocalizations, and if you’d like to hear them for yourself, join us in Antarctica next season.

What’s Odd About This Penguin?

Galápagos penguins are the only penguins found in the tropics, but this one is especially special—our naturalists and guests spotted him at the island of Genovesa in the far north of the Galápagos archipelago—and there aren’t supposed to be any penguins here.

The sighting was made by our naturalist Patricio Maldonado, who also snapped the photos, and it was confirmed by the Charles Darwin Foundation.

So why is this significant? Our expedition leader Carlos Romero explains:

“This event is very, very rare. We are talking about an endemic vertebrate that by itself is considered rare in number, latitude, longitude, and distribution. This sighting, the first ever on this island is amazing! In all scientific literature and in books like field guides, the distribution range will have to be corrected once this new sighting is formally published.”

Journey of Giants, Exhibit in Mexico City & Miami

The Journey of Giants (“Ruta de Gigantes”) is an exhibition that features a series of large format photographs and videos telling the story of whales and their annual migrations from places like Alaska to Baja California, Panama, and more. Initially installed along a busy foot-trafficked avenue in Mexico City, the exhibit was adapted for the halls of the Miami International Airport. For the next six months it will share the story of sustainable whale tourism to travelers passing through Miami Airport’s South Terminal. Directed by Alejandro Balaguer (Albatros Media Foundation), the bilingual exhibition is sponsored in part by Lindblad Expeditions. Additional funding comes from Copa Airlines, Fondo Mexicano para la Conservación de la Naturaleza (Mexican Fund for the Conservation of Nature), Ecosolar, and Intinetwork.

Next time you find yourself in the Miami airport bound for – or returning from – a new adventure, we hope you’ll discover a bit of inspiration as you transit through the South Terminal. And, if your travels don’t take you to Miami, catch a glimpse of the video exhibition.

Great White Shark Feasts on Dead Sperm Whale

 

Guests aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird sailing in the upper Sea of Cortez had a rare sighting on Wednesday morning. What our naturalists mistook for a distant boat turned out to be the carcass of a medium-sized sperm whale drifting in the current.

Our naturalist Alberto Ferrer explains what they saw next:

“We could see some motion, which was quite confusing, since the leviathan was evidently not alive. Suddenly, a fin broke the surface of the water and the tail of the deceased cetacean shook violently. By now we knew that we were witnessing something that none of us had ever seen before. A great white shark feasted on the sperm whale.”

“We realized that this type of sighting is a true expression of a wild place. Sadly, a sperm whale had died, but in a way, nothing dies in nature. The life of this giant of the depths was now giving life to one of the most fascinating creatures in the ocean.”

Lemurs Are Amazing

 

Perhaps Madagascar is already at the top of your travel list. If not, fair warning, it will be after you see this video. Island of Lemurs comes out this month in IMAX. And if you’d like to see them for yourself, join us in Madagascar in 2015.

Welcome Aboard Teachers!

Meet the Grosvenor Teacher Fellows for 2014! From a pool of 1,300, these 25 Fellows were selected to travel in groups of 2 and 3 aboard National Geographic Explorer in Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland, the Canadian High Arctic, the Canadian Maritimes, and Antarctica. Thanks to generous support from Fund for Teachers, Google, and individual donors, we were able to more than double the size of the program from last year. These K-12 educators will enhance their geographic learning through direct, hands-on field experience and bring that knowledge back to their classrooms and communities.

Chasing Ice in Antarctica with James Balog

Explorer James Balog’s Antarctic plans began in 2012, after a conversation he had with Sven Lindblad at the premier of his film Chasing Ice:

Sven said, “You know, this is the time when you really ought to get down there with us and use the ship to deploy some cameras and see these landscapes down there.” …I’m really, really glad that I finally took him up on this amazing offer because it has been so much fun, a fantastic voyage with some really memorable moments.

James Balog has just returned from his expedition, but while aboard National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica and in the midst of his camera deployments, he made time connect with the CBC for an interview on the changing ice conditions and the project.

Welcome Aboard National Geographic Orion

Under bright blue skies on Friday in Auckland we inaugurated the newest ship in the Lindblad-National Geographic fleet, the National Geographic Orion. Jeremy Lindblad, Captain Mike Taylor, and underwater filmmaking legend Valerie Taylor shared a few words from the bow of the ship, as guests watched with champagne in hand on the quayside. Valerie tossed the champagne bottle, as we all snapped our photos and raised our glasses for a toast to the National Geographic Orion and all who sail on her.

Our inaugural expedition is underway right now. You can see the photos and read the reports online.

 

Follow Sven Lindblad in Galápagos

Sven Lindblad is in Galápagos right now shooting photos and sharing them on Instagram. Follow along on Instagram, and you can see his shots even if you don’t have an Instagram profile.

A Blustery Day on South Georgia Island

Field Notes from Matt Kennedy, Staff Photographer and Multimedia Producer for Earth Vision Trust and the Extreme Ice Survey.

“Difficulties are just things to overcome” –Sir Ernest Shackleton

To those familiar with the trials and misfortunes met by explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and the men of the Trans-Antarctic Imperial Expedition, this quote by “the Boss” will likely bring a brief chuckle, then perhaps a nod of respect or a contemplative stare filled with the thoughts of just how much credence those few words hold. Those less familiar with their difficulties may wish to read Endurance, by Alfred Lansing. It’s an exciting piece of Antarctic history at the very least.

The Extreme Ice Survey Team braves the weather to install cameras to monitor Risting Glacier. Photo Courtesy of Extreme Ice Survey ©Earth Vision Trust

We, the Earth Vision Trust/Extreme Ice Survey team, are gently rocking in the moderately turbulent seas off the southern tip of South Georgia Island—both the launching point and fateful end for Shackleton’s journey. We’ve just completed the 780 nautical mile crossing of the Scotia Sea, starting from Elephant Island on the far northeastern reaches of the Antarctic Peninsula and ending here, in a little less than two days. In comparison, the same crossing took Shackleton and his team of five, 17 days of suffering and a bit of dead-reckoning-luck to complete.

It’s late afternoon and long crepuscular rays of sunlight are breaking through the clouds hovering over sharp peaks that climb out of the sea directly in front of us. We’re on a scouting trip into the six mile-long Drygalski Fjord, a narrow slit that splits the southern end of the island nearly in half. Tomorrow we hope to install two cameras on Risting Glacier, sitting at the fjord’s head, but the strong katabatic winds ripping off the glacier, combined with the abundant sea spray, are certainly foreboding. We play around on the top deck of the ship, leaning into the wind, which is blowing hard enough to nearly support our weight—it feels as if we are flying. However, it’s not exactly the type of gusts in which we particularly care to install delicate electronics. The volatile weather of the sub-Antarctic climate looks to be putting an end to the sunny and comfortable installations we’ve experienced over the past two weeks. Thinking about the historical difficulties associated with this wild island, it can only be expected that things won’t come so easily.

South Georgia has been a hub for whaling, Antarctic exploration, and as of late, adventure tourism, but driving the purpose for our visit here are the island’s glaciers and wildlife. Glaciers pour off the Alaska-esque 9,000+ foot peaks that line the center of the island, which are met along the shores by thriving populations of fur seals, healthy colonies of king penguins, nesting albatross, bright green mosses, and gorgeous lichens. However, where the biodiversity is succeeding, the glaciers of South Georgia are struggling to maintain their presence in the warming climate.

The glaciers today pale in comparison to when Shackleton and his men traversed the island nearly 100 years ago. Take for example Bertrab Glacier at the stunning Gold Harbor. Images from Shackleton’s expedition show a robust glacier extending from high up, all the way down to the ocean. The glacier retained this appearance until the mid-1980s, when it began a dramatic retreat. It still provides a dramatic backdrop to the king penguins, but it’s barely the glacier it was 30 years ago. Since the 1950’s, the air temperature on South Georgia has warmed by nearly 3˚F. This is driving the vast majority of glaciers across the island to retreat, including the treacherous slopes that gave the rundown party of explorers endless grief. Our cameras will be there to watch, capturing these changes frame-by-frame, day-by-day.

Extreme Ice Survey cameras at Risting Glacier. Photo Courtesy of Extreme Ice Survey ©Earth Vision Trust

Turning back into Drygalski Fjord in the late afternoon of the next day, our hopes for calm winds are squashed by the telling whitecaps running down the fjord. The wind is steady at 40 knots. Captain Oliver turns the National Geographic Explorer sideways to the wind, providing a brief lull to load the Zodiac without getting completely drenched, a luxury that won’t last long.

Our eyes search the fjord wall for a relatively safe spot to install the cameras and we come to agree that a small rock perch about 200 feet up from the water and just over one mile from the terminus will work (it also happens to coincide with the terminus location as recently as 1993). Eric Guth, our newest honorary EIS team member and Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic photo instructor extraordinaire, navigates a small kelp-filled bay and lands us ashore on a wind protected beach covered by a few dozen, ridiculously cute, fur seal pups. After unloading the equipment, Dan and I heave the horribly unbalanced battery packs over our shoulders and sneak our way past a few sleeping seals and continue up the slippery slope to our install site. At this point I’d say our clothes are manageably wet, but now that we’re exposed to the full force of the wind and sideways rain, that quickly begins to change. The drilling begins, wires are tightened, and the housings go up as quickly as our wet and frozen fingers allow. The wind is making even small tasks incredibly difficult, but we manage to get two of the cameras running without too much rain soaking the housings. By now, our Gore-Tex outerwear appears as if we took a casual swim in the fjord. Just as the chill really starts to set in, we finish up and scramble back to our wind-protected beach.

The seals stare curiously as each of us instinctively break into silly dances and jumping jacks, perhaps interpreted as a celebration after installing cameras eight and nine, but in reality, a feeble attempt to warm our core until the Explorer returns for us in about an hour. A difficult installation no doubt, but the warmth and comfort of the Explorer quickly changes our fortune. We’re left thinking about the real hardships of the great explorers of the past, knowing we probably had that coming.