Last week our naturalists aboard National Geographic Endeavour spotted an odd bird while preparing to load Zodiacs to cruise along the cliffs of Punta Pitt, San Cristobal Island. With its very pale head and neck coloration, unusual barring pattern on the wings and body, our naturalists knew it was not a normal Galápagos resident. As several of our expedition team are trained photographers with powerful camera lenses, two of our photo instructors were able to get good photographs of the bird. It has since been confirmed by the Charles Darwin Foundation as the first ever sighting of a Peruvian Booby in the Galápagos Islands. Common on the West Coast of South America and endemic to the Peruvian current, it is a mystery how or why precisely this solo bird ended up in the Galápagos Islands.
For World Oceans Day, Sven-Olof Lindblad, President & Founder of Lindblad Expeditions, wrote about his recent trip to Cuba’s national marine sanctuary.
On March 30 I plunged into the depths of the Gardens of the Queen National Marine Park in Cuba. I had some trepidation, as it had been a long time since I had donned a tank to spend time 60 or 70 feet below the surface. Maybe it’s like riding a bicycle or skiing after a hiatus; anyway, it felt like that.
What we saw within minutes was astounding, particularly in a Caribbean context. First came Caribbean reef sharks — plenty of them circling us with great curiosity, sleek and beautiful with piercing eyes. Then as we approached the sea bed, groupers — big black groupers and a few Goliath groupers, the biggest one weighing approximately 300 pounds.
They followed us around like puppies, seeming to enjoy the encounter as much as we did. I don’t recall ever seeing so many large fish at once. It was remarkable and beautiful and comforting that they were here under protection
I heard that Fidel Castro was an avid diver and that he was responsible for setting up this National Marine Park and went there often. Dictators with an environmental bent — now that’s probably as rare as sharks are becoming in much of the world.
During most of the 70s I lived in Kenya, much of the time in Tsavo East National Park, a 5,000 square mile terrain of mostly thick bush. Here resided the largest populations of both elephants and black rhino in all of Africa.
One day I went out to see how many rhino I could find. I found 59 that day; 8 years later I was in the same region for a week and found not one. They had been largely killed off for their horns which were prized in Yemen for dagger handles and in the Far East for potions.
It was that day when I realized that we, as humans, had far too much power in a world that needed balance of all living things.
Now fast forward three decades and the assault on natural systems and our atmosphere is beyond dangerous, immoral, and stupid.
The Ocean is, in much of the world, a dump. Our voracious appetite for fish, combined with our growing populations and governmental shortsightedness, points in the direction of global collapse. And perhaps the most disgusting of all practices is shark finning — cutting the fins off and throwing them back to die a slow, painful death.
Will we come to our senses before they are all gone? Will we develop the sense of urgency that clearly is needed to overt disaster?
Somehow I believe we will. Somehow I do not believe we will want to look into our children’s eyes before we depart this world, having destroyed their future.
So to the sharks and groupers of the Gardens of the Queen — you are fortunate that the human leader of your waters was a diver.
On Tuesday the 148-guest National Geographic Explorer once again made history when it became the first passenger vessel to call at Harlingen in the Netherlands. A large crowd of onlookers and the mayor, Roel Sluiter, turned out to watch the ship arrive and greet Captain Ben Lyons. He was presented with a port of call placard to commemorate the first visit by an expedition ship in the medieval port. About two-thirds of our guests chose to enter the town by Zodiac and explore its historic canals, while those who stayed aboard were met by a local news crew. See the footage here (the action starts at about 2:00 with the local pilot coming aboard Explorer).
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.