Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

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.

So, What’s Sven-Olof Lindblad Up To?

Are you on Instagram? Follow Sven-Olof Lindblad. Today he’s in Reykjavik, Iceland attending the first Arctic Circle Conference. See what he sees—in New York City and beyond.

Explorations Cover: Circle of Love

The cover photo of our fall Explorations brochure was shot by Jill Wharton, who won the Orion Expeditions (now Lindblad Expeditions) 2013 photo contest. Jill shot the photo of a mother orangutan who had fashioned an umbrella of leaves to protect her head and her child’s head from the sun at Camp Leakey in Borneo. We’ll return to Camp Leakey aboard National Geographic Orion in 2014 on our new Wild Encounters: Borneo to Bali expedition.

The Last Paradise

A Dispatch from the Galápagos Islands
by Ralph Lee Hopkins, Director of Expedition Photography at Lindblad Expedition-National Geographic

Here in the new Galápagos airport on Baltra Island I’m reminded just how remote the Galápagos Islands really are. I’m returning from a series of photography expeditions with Lindblad Expeditions on board the National Geographic Endeavour. Even in this modern age it takes time and effort to travel this far off the beaten path—a pilgrimage to one of the last places on Earth that is totally wild and pristine.

Straddling the Equator, it’s hard to imagine a place on earth with a higher percentage of endemic species, including the famous Darwin’s finches, playful Galápagos sea lions, and the world’s only marine iguanas. What separates the Galápagos Islands from other places in the world is that 97% of the land is protected within the Galápagos Island National Park, and the islands are surrounded by one of the largest and most successful marine protected areas in the world. My hope is that it will always be this way.

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Google Science Fair Grand Prize Winner in Galápagos



Seventeen-year-old Brittany Wenger designed an application that helps accurately diagnose breast cancer through a minimally invasive procedure. Her program filters massive amounts of data to detect complex patterns, and it turned one of the least precise diagnostic tools available to doctors into one that’s 99% accurate. For her feat of science she was awarded, among other prizes, a Galápagos expedition aboard National Geographic Endeavour, where she shot this video.