Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

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.

One Picture: Baja California at Sunrise

by Ralph Lee Hopkins, Director of Expedition Photography

Canon 5D MkIII, 16-35mm @ f/22, 2 seconds, SinghRay 2-stop Soft-step Grad ND, Induro Tripod and Ballhead

For everyone who attended this year’s Baja Land & Sea Photo Retreat they will never forget the sunrise along the wild shores of the Sea of Cortez. Even those that slept through it heard about it. It had all the potential of just another cliché sunrise. But with each passing moment it became more and more unreal, until it was over the top.

My eye was drawn to the reflections on the wet rocks and motion of the surf. I set up my tripod as close to the rocks that I dared. The sturdy Induro tripod and ballhead made it easy to stabilize the camera in a tenuous situation. I’m after foreground that adds a sense of place, depth, or drama to the image. Sometimes the motion is too much, the water lost in the cotton-candy look. Other times not enough, looking stiff and streaky. To get it just right takes practice and experimentation. Even then it’s in the eye of the beholder.

I shot through a sequence of exposures varying my f/stops from f/2.8 to f/22 to alter the depth-of-field, changing ISO to control shutter speeds between 1/4 and 2 seconds, with a neutral-density filter used to hold back the intense sky. Sometimes we get seduced by the filters when software might achieve a better result, so always shoot with and without filters so you can make the choice later.

The high-ISO capability of the Canon 5D MKIII is superb. I always use the lowest ISO possible for the desired result, but I don’t hesitate cranking it up to 1600 ISO, if that what it takes to get the shot. The RAW image was processed in Lightroom for color balance and saturation, which was held back because of the naturally intense colors. Noise reduction was applied to the final image. The selected frame had the best reflections combined with the velvety motion of the water.

What I love about nature photography is that it forces you to be in the moment out in the wilds – to be mindful enough to wait for the light, fine-tune the composition, and anticipate the action. The magic is when it all comes together in the viewfinder, then “click.” We filled our memory cards with memories that will last forever…

Click here for information about the January 11-18, 2014 Baja Land & Sea Photo Retreat with Flip NIcklin and our friends from B&H Photo.