Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Success on the Antarctic Peninsula!

by Dan McGrath, Resident Scientist, Earth Vision Trust.

The faint glow of the soon to be rising sun welcomes our arrival as we nose into Andvord Bay on the western Antarctic Peninsula. We passed unscathed through the Drake Passage thanks to calm conditions and quickly motored south to 64˚ 50’. Here, the glaciers literally fall off the mountains around us, with cascading icefalls and crumbling seracs lining the mirror calm waters of the un-charted inner Neko Harbor. Adélie penguins playfully wander around on a small iceberg near the ship and in the distance, ripples emanate from the minke whale that just surfaced. The Captain wakes us from our near-dream state to notify us that the Zodiac is being lowered on the starboard side and it’s time to load our equipment.

As we pull ashore, the sun peeks out from behind the spine of the peninsula, with golden rays bathing the highest peaks down to the ice-choked bays. Gentoo penguin chicks encased in their fluffy down jackets chase their sleek ocean worthy parents around, hoping for another krill meal. We know we only have a few hours to deploy our first two cameras, but it’s hard to pull ourselves away from this shoreline and the nearly overwhelming sensory overload it presents. When we finally manage to, we steadily trudge up the snow slope with heavily laden packs, the batteries seemingly gaining weight by the step. Odd shaped aluminum towers, tripod arms, and camera housings awkwardly protrude from our loads. We reach the first crest and in the distance, silhouetted against the glacier’s calving front is a narrow rock rib. The team agrees that this is our spot and starts a rising track to reach this point. The main structure is quickly bolted into place; taut guy wires quickly follow, ensuring that our cameras survive the brutal wind and snow that will soon punish them. Next up are the solar panels and batteries, quickly followed by the two camera housings. James intuitively arranges the housings, aligning the Nikon D3200’s point of view to match our envisioned expectations. The crackle of the VHF radio brings a reminder that the ship will be pulling anchor in 45 minutes and well, we better be there! With a final push of the “Test” button, Matt waits for the reassuring “Click” of the shutter before snapping the cases closed. We snap a few final photos of the installation, quickly repack our tools and scamper down the slippery slope towards the landing. We board the Zodiac and push through the thick brash ice towards the National Geographic Explorer with barely a few minutes to spare.

Back on board, we frantically charge our drill and camera batteries, while simultaneously scarfing down lunch. In what seems like ten minutes, Lisa, the Expedition Leader, announces that we’ll be dropping anchor in Orne Harbor shortly, where we hope to install an additional camera this afternoon. We repack our bags and rush down to the loading hatch, where the Zodiac already awaits us. We pile the gear high and head to shore. The local welcoming committee, a rather gregarious group of fur seals, momentarily squabbles about our presence before resuming their afternoon nap. Up the hill we go again, with the late afternoon sun pouring down on us. We reach a rocky ridge 500 feet above the bay, where we turn left up a steep ridgeline. The glacier pours down the valley in the near distance, full of deep blue shades, sharp cracks, and wonderful shapes. This site is a bit trickier—an exposed perch precipitously hanging over what feels to be the ocean. Matt and I establish an anchor and quickly get to work. The wall mount goes up, the guy wires go out, the solar panels get bolted on; our patient eyes quickly begin to take shape. Matt runs through the final checks again and before long, we’re latching the case closed.


Walking down to the boat, with the sun just starting to dip low in the sky, it’s hard to believe that the alarm at 4:30 a.m. was actually earlier today—it truly feels like it could have been a week ago. The past 14 hours have been incredible; a day filled with alpenglow light, breaching whales, warm mid-day sun, curious penguins, and cascading glaciers—all capped by three cameras now capturing a visual record of the world around them. There’s no time to rest though, tomorrow is another opportunity and we’re currently organizing our equipment and charging our batteries for two more installations. Fingers crossed that the good weather continues!

Photos Courtesy of Extreme Ice Survey ©Earth Vision Trust

Where Land Meets the Southern Ocean

By The Extreme Ice Survey, aboard National Geographic Explorer

Before you can install time-lapse cameras in Antarctica, you have to get there, which is no small task coming from our home base of Boulder, CO. Getting to the small port town of Ushuaia, Argentina (the southern-most town in the world), you must take three flights stretched out over two sleep-deprived days. Then there is the luggage which is basically a heaping pile of overstuffed duffle bags bursting at the zippers with fragile cameras and timers, as well as, heavy climbing equipment and warm clothes. We ruminate constantly about delayed flights and lost baggage–forever an expedition’s beginning hurdle.

Driving down the cruise ship-lined wharf in Ushuaia, we are met by the friendly Lindblad Expeditions crew, collect our coveted and complete bags, and walk aboard the National Geographic Explorer–our home for the next 21 days. The Explorer, as it’s commonly referred to, stretches over 300 feet long and dons the familiar golden rectangle signifying Lindblad Expeditions alliance with National Geographic. She is an impressive ship, meticulously maintained, and at a glance appears to be the most seaworthy vessel at the dock. Lindblad Expeditions has been generous enough to support our ambitious goal to deploy 12 time-lapse cameras all along the Antarctic Peninsula and on South Georgia Island.

The Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming regions of our planet. The ongoing changes here are a likely precursor to future changes that may occur throughout the continent if warming continues as predicted. Over the next three weeks we will use the Explorer as home base and install our time-lapse cameras as conditions allow. The goal is to let the cameras take a photo every hour for at least the next five years, and in the process, amass a visual record of these dramatic changes on the Peninsula. Zodiacs will transport us from the ship to our landings, we will have a short 3-hour window to hike to our site, deploy the cameras, and return to the ship. Conditions on the ground can range from sunny and 30˚F to biting cold, with gusty winds and sideways snow or sleet. We hold high hopes for the former, but come prepared for the latter. Either way, by sunburnt noses, frost nipped fingers, or soaked feet, we will have our first Nikon D3200 time-lapse camera installed within the next 36-48 hours.

The sun is now setting behind the mountains of Tierra del Fuego National Park, and the ship is moving smoothly through the benign waters of the Beagle Channel en route for the Drake Passage, 580 nautical miles of open water that separates us from Antarctica and home to some of the most unpredictable and rough seas in the world. Our crates of time-lapse equipment, which we had last seen back at a University of Colorado shipping yard this past November, are patiently waiting for us on the back deck of the Explorer. This could be our last chance to take advantage of calm seas and mild temperatures to pre-assemble as much equipment as possible, so we are building camera mounts, preparing our battery cases and wiring solar panels, all to quicken our deployments on the other side of the Drake. We’ll fasten our crates down tight tonight–who knows what the sea will bring tomorrow.

 

Meet a Galápagos Farmer

The highlands of Santa Cruz stretch into passing weather systems, the clouds sticking around the island peaks and dropping enough rain for farming. While the islands are still largely unpopulated, there are a handful of famers on Santa Cruz. We have had a long relationship with one of those farmers, he and his family choosing to produce shade-grown coffee and sugarcane products. We invited him aboard our ship National Geographic Endeavour to explore more of the islands where he’s grown up.

Cute & Curious Seal Pups of South Georgia

 

When spring arrives on the Sub-Antarctic Island of South Georgia, the southern elephant seals aren’t getting any more milk from their moms, so they look to whoever’s there for a handout. (Don’t worry, we didn’t give them any.) If you’re interested in exploring South Georgia, join us here in March this year—these seal pups will be all grown up!

Expedition Moments of 2013

 

It’s been an extraordinary year of exploring the planet’s wild places. Here’s a look back at a few of the peak moments our video chroniclers filmed. Happy Holidays from all of us at Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic!

The Ancient Ceremony of Land-Diving in Vanuatu

 

National Geographic Orion’s inaugural expedition is quickly approaching—and just last week we made arrangements for a new expedition experience. Guests aboard Cultures of the South Pacific: New Zealand to the Solomons, the first segment of our two-part inaugural expedition, will see the ancient tradition of land-diving, which is still practiced on remote Pentecost Island in Vanuatu. This rite of passage and agricultural fertility ritual is an amazing spectacle to witness, and the islanders will begin their season with a special presentation for our guests. See young men leap headfirst from a high platform with nothing but vines tied to their ankles to arrest their fall, just as their ancestors have done for centuries. There still a few cabins available on both expeditions in our inaugural series: Cultures of the South Pacific: New Zealand to the Solomons (Mar. 19, 2014), where we’ll see land-diving; and on Historic Isles and Undersea Wonders: The Solomons to the Great Barrier Reef (Mar. 30, 2014) where the focus is on exploring the incredible reefs and undersea life.

Our Diver Spots a Leopard Seal in Antarctica

The leopard seal is the Antarctic’s apex predator, a creature that has no reason to fear anything in its environment, so they’ll often show curiosity towards humans and try to determine just what these strange interlopers are doing in their domain.

This week as our guests explored South Georgia Island, a rare opportunity presented itself. A weather window opened that could allow us to land at South Orkney Island, a place we haven’t visited in three years. While on a routine dive, our undersea specialist Justin Hofman saw a leopard seal. He sent this video from the ship. (And this is only a few weeks after he was approached by a southern right whale while diving off Patagonia.)

Sunrise on South Georgia Island

Yesterday’s dawn found our guests aboard National Geographic Explorer landing at St. Andrew’s Bay on South Georgia Island. Our Director of Expedition Photography Ralph Lee Hopkins sent back this shot of a welcoming committee of king penguins greeting our guests. Right now, Explorer is landing at South Orkney Island, an impromptu stop taking advantage of conditions. If South Georgia Island is on your list, we’ll be returning March 2014—and there are still cabins available.

Diving Patagonia with a Southern Right Whale

 

While sailing along the coast of Argentine Patagonia guests aboard National Geographic Explorer spent a full day in Puerto Madryn in the Chubut Province. A few minutes drive out of town the region remains just as Charles Darwin would have found it when the HMS Beagle landed here over 180 years ago. By midmorning much of the iconic wildlife of the steppes had been checked off the day’s list: Guanacos, maras, elegant-crested tinamou, red-backed hawks, and Magellanic penguins.

But the day’s stars were the mighty southern right whales. Among the sightings included a huge female and her tiny calf, piggy-backing its mum. The curious female whale came right up to our boat and almost rested her chin on the pontoon.

While our guests and naturalists were in the midst of these rare, up-close encounters, Justin Hofman, the undersea specialist aboard Explorer, was diving in the area with the ship’s cold cook, Max Westman. He returned to share a video of his own rare undersea encounter with a southern right whale and her newborn calf.

Darwin for a Day

 

Charles Darwin spent more time on Santiago Island in Galápagos than he did on any other island in the archipelago. He stayed behind here to explore the island on foot over nine days, collecting samples with the ship’s physician while the Beagle sailed without them to San Cristobal to resupply. The story of Darwin’s time in these islands is an integral part of every Lindblad-National Geographic Galápagos expedition. One of our fantastic guests teamed up with National Geographic Endeavour’s video chronicler Steve Ewing to tell the story of Charles Darwin’s time on Santiago Island in Galápagos.