Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Emmy Nomination for National Geographic’s Untamed Americas

 

Congratulations to National Geographic photographers and filmmakers David Wright and Cotton Coulson for an Emmy nomination on a series they contributed to, Untamed Americas. The episode they helped shoot featured battling bighorn sheep in Canada’s Jasper National Park, where they waited for hours in -30°F weather to get the footage. The Emmy nomination is for Outstanding Cinematography.

This September we look forward to welcoming David and Cotton aboard National Geographic Explorer for our Epic South America expedition. It will be the first time we offer an unprecedented video workshop—in one of the wildest and most cinematic places on the planet. The in-depth workshop will be limited to 25 guests interested in shooting, editing, and producing their own highly personal documentary film. If you’re interested in attending the on-board workshop contact an expedition specialist to reserve you place. 1.800.EXPEDITION (1.800.397.3348).

Doors Off Over Baja California

2013-07-11-001_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg
Aerial Photo Expedition from Land’s End to San Diego
By Ralph Lee Hopkins, Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Director of Expedition Photography

Although we landed in San Diego a week ago, I still have not come down from the adventure of flying over Baja California during the first photo expedition of the
Baja Aerial Archive Project with LightHawk, WiLDCOAST, and iLCP.

This was not your normal flight-seeing operation, but an adventure full of uncertainty, military checkpoints, dirt airstrips, and, fortunately, an awful lot of good luck.

2013-07-11-002_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

LightHawk’s battle-tested Cessna 206 is the perfect high-wing aircraft for aerial photography, especially flying with both cargo doors off. With nothing between me and the earth 1500′ below, I had the best seat in the house. For safety, I was strapped in a harness designed by the US CoastGuard, and also a seatbelt.

The most difficult part was avoiding sensory overload. Every takeoff and landing was an adrenaline rush for sure, but once in the air at our exploring altitude, it was total bliss being in the moment with camera in hand as one incredible scene merged into another.

2013-07-11-005_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

And we didn’t fly in straight lines either — covering over 3,500 nautical miles or 3.5 times the length of the Baja Peninsula in just 9 days.

2013-07-11-003_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

Since tracking the location of the images was of critical concern, B&H Photo outfitted me with a Canon 1DX and GPS receiver, so that all of the 13,000+ images shot on the expedition are properly geo-tagged with lat/long co-ordinates. My workhorse lens was the Canon 24-105mm zoom, paired with the Canon 70-300mm zoom. Singhray ND grads and a polarizing filter helped narrow the exposure values between the bright landscapes and dark water. The camera was mounted on a Ken-Lab gyro-stabilizer to help minimize vibration, permitting me to work at shutter-speeds down to 1/500 sec. at ISO 800-1600 between f/4-f/8.

2013-07-11-019_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

We had the best pilot for the mission Colonel Will Worthigton, a volunteer pilot and board member with LightHawk, and also a retired civil engineer with the US Army Corps. We also had the best operations manager, spotter and chief negotiator/diplomat, Armando Ubeda, Program Director for LighHawk. And teaming with me for video is filmmaker/photographer, Jeff Litton, a virtual energizer bunny always shooting while being squeezed into the tightest seat.

2013-07-11-013_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

It was a photographer’s dream working with “the Colonel.” His plane-handling skills, together with his great appreciation for desert landscapes and understanding of coastal processes, helped us be in the right spot at the right time, flying not only for the best light, but also for the best composition. We worked well together, sometimes circling 2 or 3 times to get the best angle. At one point, we circled 700 feet above two humpback whales that breached repeatedly for 18 minutes.

Connecting the dots from our zig-zag itinerary, we flew from the over-developed tourist sector of Cabo San Lucas, to the noisy, motorized playground of San Felipe, then across to the Pacific Coast at San Quintin, skirting Picacho del Diablo, Baja’s highest point rising 10,000 feet above the sea in Sierra San Pedro Martir National Park. We flew almost the entire length of the mountainous coastline along the Sea of Cortez, the entire length of Magdalena Bay and the Sierra de la Giganta, circled over 500,000 nesting seabirds on Isla Rasa, and along the west side of Isla Ángel de la Guarda.

2013-07-11-015_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

The Colonel was right when he remarked, after landing in San Diego, “If I hadn’t insisted we get back on course, we’d still be circling the blue whales off Punta Colonet.”

2013-07-11-006_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

In between photo opportunities, there was plenty of time to ponder the amazing world we were flying over.

2013-07-11-017_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

What impressed me the most was how much of Baja remains wild, with its vast expanses of desert wilderness, jagged mountain ranges, and endless coastlines. The Baja peninsula is where the desert meets the sea, a young landscape pulling away from mainland Mexico by the same plate tectonic forces that creates earthquakes in California, USA. In between the madness of Southern California and Cabo San Lucas remains one of the world’s last great treasures, not unlike the Galapagos Islands, with many endemic species unique to Baja and the islands along its shores.

On the flip side, what also impressed me is the huge impact large-scale, mega-developments has on Baja’s coastline, with marinas being carved into wetlands, golf courses being watered in the desert, and high-rise hotels blocking the waterfront and limiting public access to the best beaches.

2013-07-11-007_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

From the air I also learned how dynamic the coastline is with the barrier islands and beaches shifting with the seasons, and when breached, how coastal processes cause severe erosion, significantly altering the beach profile, while destroying nesting habitat for endangered sea turtles that come ashore to lay their eggs.

2013-07-11-012_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

And I could also see from the air how fragile the coastal wetlands, estuaries, and lagoons are, not only the obvious impacts along the coastal zone, but also disturbances in the headwaters of the watershed, often hidden out of view from the ground.

2013-07-11-004_HOPKINS_BajaDoorsOff.jpg

But what I will remember most is what an honor it was to ask, “Colonel, Sir, any chance you can raise the wing just one more time? Thank you, Sir.”

Explore Baja California yourself on a Lindblad-National Geographic expedition.

A Rat? A Rat! (A Rather Rare Rat)

Guests exploring Galápagos aboard National Geographic Islander had a rare encounter last month. While hiking on Santa Fe Island they found a small rat that managed to get its teeth caught in the mesh of a backpack a guest had left sitting on the beach. The tiny animal turned out to be the seldom-seen Santa Fe rice rat, one of the few mammal species endemic to the archipelago. The rat was released back into the wild with a handy bit of pocketknife work.

From the day’s expedition report:

“The Santa Fe rice rat is eminently vegetarian. It is a fearless creature that normally comes out at dusk or at night. This afternoon was a rather gloomy one, therefore some rats were seen. This was a fantastic and unforgettable sighting of one the least known animal species of the archipelago. The picture that Walter Perez took today is the first ever published in our daily expedition reports!”

Polar Bear Catches Beluga Whale

Guests aboard National Geographic Explorer in Arctic Svalbard enjoyed a rare sighting yesterday: a polar bear feasting on a beluga whale. How did this bear manage to catch a whale nearly twice its weight? Perhaps the whale was killed by ice calving off the glacier, though the bear would still have to drag the dead beluga onto the ice—no small task. In any case, it is impossible to know since we arrived just in time to see the bear over its kill. It is indeed a rare sighting; in our 30+ years exploring Svalbard only one of our naturalists has ever seen a polar bear feasting on a beluga whale.

Sneak Peek Slideshow: South Pacific Adventures

In honor of World Oceans Day, One World, One Ocean is sharing an exclusive sneak peek at their new IMAX film, shot among the islands of the South Pacific. This photo slideshow was shot at Raja Ampat, Indonesia. It is a string of islands home to staggering biodiversity. Over 450 species of reef-building coral live in the gin-clear waters surrounding the islands—by comparison, all of the Caribbean has about 70 species of coral.

See the photos, and if you’re inspired to explore it yourself, join us aboard National Geographic Orion in April 2014 for our expedition, Voyage To The Spice Islands & The Coral Triangle, which includes an exploration of Raja Ampat.

Wild Baby Whale to Kids: “Play with Me!”


Each year the gray whales migrate from their feeding grounds in the north to their nursery lagoons on the Pacific side of the Baja California where they rear their young—a time when most species exhibit a high degree of protectiveness. In the 30+ years we’ve been leading Baja California expeditions, we’ve found the opposite: mother whales show a great deal of curiosity around us, and a willingness to let their playful calves approach us. While these encounters don’t happen all the time, they do happen a lot in Magdalena Bay during the right time of year.

Sven Lindblad, founder of Lindblad Expeditions, shared the video with this note:

There are many things I love in life—being a father, exuberant nature, and moments of pure joy.

My 13-year old son, Eric, filmed this encounter in March with his Christmas present—a GoPro.

I believe lots of people would enjoy this. Feel free to share.

-Sven

Afar Magazine Seeks Your Exceptional Travel Experiences

Afar Magazine is offering a path to publication through their Exceptional Travel Experiences 2013 Contest. They ask travelers to share an Afar Highlight—a photo and brief, detailed description—of a peak experience while traveling. It could be a morning spent wandering among a colony of King penguins on South Georgia Island, a close encounter with a Minke whale in Antarctica, or a day among the dolphins of Baja. Winners of the contest will be featured in the August/September issue of Afar.

The deadline to submit an Afar Highlight is May 20.

Teachers in the Arctic: The Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program

Photo by Mark Thiessen, National Geographic Staff Photographer

Last week 14 teachers from around the country gathered at National Geographic Headquarters in Washington, D.C. for a three-day professional development workshop in preparation to be Teacher Fellows this summer. In groups of two and three they’ll sail aboard National Geographic Explorer to Svalbard, Iceland, Greenland, and the Canadian High Arctic over their summer breaks.

The teachers were selected to participate in the Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Program, named in honor of Gilbert M. Grosvenor, Chairman Emeritus, National Geographic Society and Education Foundation. The program is designed to give teachers and educators the opportunity to extend Grosvenor’s legacy of excellence in geographic education, in this case through firsthand experience that they can bring back to their classroom and beyond.

The workshop, sponsored by Google Education and hosted by National Geographic Education Programs, included a host of Lindblad-National Geographic naturalists, a National Geographic photographer, a screening of James Balog’s film Chasing Ice, and a question-and-answer session with Gil Grosvenor. The group also found creative uses for technology, using iPads for a FaceTime session with last year’s Grosvenor Fellows, plus hands on data collection activities with Vernier probes, GPS units, and other tools for exploration.

Meet fellows Bill Schmoker, Joe Super, Sue Pike, and the rest of the group. We look forward to following their adventures in the high Arctic and their innovations in education upon their return.

 

Orcas Attack Juvenile Sperm Whale

Photographers off the coast of Sri Lanka managed to capture underwater footage of a rare encounter when a pod of orcas attacked a sperm whale. Fewer than a dozen of these types of predation have been observed, though some of our guests are among the lucky few to have seen it. During an expedition in Baja California’s Sea of Cortez, we observed orcas attack a juvenile sperm whale. The orcas were chased off when a large male returned to the group and sped into the fray. Our video chronicler shot a video expedition report on the event, but without underwater footage, you can largely only see the roily waters.



Shawn Heinrichs, the photographer in Sri Lanka, took the bold step of suiting up to dive with the orcas attacking the sperm whale. As no humans have ever observed this kind of behavior up close, he was relying mostly on faith for his safety.

Epic South America Expedition Aboard National Geographic Explorer Offers Rare Chance to Rub Elbows with Giants of Science and Anthropology

Whether the words “theme cruise” pique your interest or turn your stomach, you’re probably familiar with the concept. For decades cruise companies have filled ships by organizing departures around specific areas of interest: jazz, golf, motorcycles, and more recently, mid-90s alt-rock bands and Kid Rock, both featured in a New York Times profile. Part of the appeal is sharing the experience with like-minded people, and usually there are a couple of traveling celebrities thrown into the mix—people you might see walking around the 3,000-person cruise ship.

A Lindblad-National Geographic expedition is about as far as you can get from a theme cruise. Though, the argument could be made that all of their expeditions encompass certain themes: research, photography, history, and engagement with the wild world. And certainly every cruise aboard their 24- to 148-guest expedition ships attract like-minded guests.

In 2009, they took it a step further by adding their own type of onboard celebrities with the Global Perspectives guest speaker program aboard their flagship National Geographic Explorer. They began inviting individuals from the top tiers of science and journalism, or experts with rare experiences to add layers of interest to the already lively onboard expedition atmosphere. Travelers to the Baltics, steeped in the history surrounding the fall of communism got the added resonance of meeting Mikhail Gorbachev. Guests on a circumnavigation of the British and Irish Isles got a historical perspective from journalist Ted Koppel. And while exploring Antarctica, Buzz Aldrin has shared stories of exploring the moon with spellbound guests. Within a few years, the roster of past Global Perspectives guest speakers read like a list of adjunct professors at a top university.

While every National Geographic Explorer expedition includes guest speakers, one is nothing less than a complete debrief on a continent. This expedition would be the dream of biology lovers, filmmakers, photographers, and international music lovers. It is called Epic South America: an ambitious 38-day voyage along the east coast of the continent—from Trinidad along Brazil’s tropical and human history-rich eastern coast, to finish with a flourish in Buenos Aires. Along the way, the expedition will explore a trio of legendary rivers, visit seldom-seen wildness like Fernando de Noronha, multiple UNESCO World Heritage cities and vibrant colonial cities.

The list of Global Perspectives guest speakers for this expedition is so extensive that as long as you’re interested in something, you’ll find someone very interesting to talk to.

Cesar Gaviria, former Colombian president, will be aboard. He guided Colombia through turbulent years, and even saw Pablo Escobar’s reign of terror to an end. Some of his work was documented in the popular book, Killing Pablo.

Bio-nerds and anthro-geeks will be in ecstasy with some of their field’s historic leaders, including Thomas Lovejoy, the man who coined the term “biological diversity.” National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Wade Davis will join a portion of the trip. An ethno-botanist and anthropologist, Davis wrote The Serpent and the Rainbow, among other books, and has been called “the explorer of the millennium” by National Geographic.

Students of the nature documentary will even have their own clique. National Geographic photographers and filmmakers Cotton Coulson and David Wright will be aboard, offering a video workshop to enable nature-film lovers to shoot and produce their own documentaries during the voyage. Photojournalist Tyrone Turner, whose Brazil portfolio appeared in National Geographic’s April 2012 issue, will offer field shooting tips and inspiration.

Given the importance of music to the region, music will be a theme, too. Jacob Edgar, an ethnomusicologist, researcher for Putumayo World Music, and record label owner will be aboard to arrange concerts and explain the diverse musical styles the voyage will encounter.

Also aboard: author of New York Times bestseller, How to Be a Carioca, Priscilla Ann Goslin; Suzana Machado D’Oliveira, an expedition pioneer and expert on the region; and Mark Curran, who taught Spanish and Portuguese at Arizona State University for 34 years and whose research has n Brazil’s folk-popular poetry and its relation to Brazilian erudite literature and history has resulted in 11 books published on the topic. And perhaps best of all, the guest speakers who’ve opted to join the expedition do so as fellow travelers, so among only 148 travelers, you’re ensured opportunities to share one-to-one conversation over dinner or drinks.

Get up to date on Brazil, a country and an economy on fire, and have the time of your life exploring a new destination. Some cabins are still available and there’s an enticing airfare offer too; Epic South America expedition sails September 18, 2013.