From the National Geographic Explorer in Antarctica
Dec 6, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer
Orne Harbor & Dallmann Bay, Antarctica
We were on cloud nine or in seventh heaven or paradise. Take your choice of words or find another expression of pure delight and you will know just how we felt each moment of this day.
Yes, the sun was shining and had been since 0230 or so. On many occasions just that fact would make the day pleasurable but this week the event has become quite routine. There is light almost constantly here on the Antarctic Peninsula and for many sleep has been in short supply. For those who did put their heads on pillows, the alarm at 0530 was not an intrusion but a welcome, exciting call. Killer whales! Surrounded by glaciers cascading from mountains high, the icy waters of the Gerlache Strait were sliced by the dark dorsal fins of a pod of killer whales. For an hour they led us toward the south, the high peak of Mount Français their backdrop. Unconcerned by our presence, they traveled shoulder-to-shoulder, males, females, and the very young. On deck shutters snapped, intent on capturing the moment.
High on the crest of a ridge separating Orne Harbor from the Errera Channel we stood. How tempting it was to simply throw one’s head up and trumpet in ecstasy along with the chinstrap penguins. Bejeweled by glimmering icy platters, the deep dark waters of the harbor tossed back images of clouds and sky and sharpened mountain peaks. Tiny specks spurted from the water far below and began a determined walk up an ice filled valley. With a swaying, swaggering walk chinstrap penguins ascended more rapidly than we to be greeted by their partners that shouted in glee. It was time to change the guard on the nest site and pass off the duty of defending the precious eggs. Unlike the sedate gentoo colonies or the nervous, fidgety Adélies, the chinstraps are a boisterous bunch bugling in unison or competitively. We sat and watched or stared far off drinking in the beauty of the scenery.
Dallmann Bay was a silver mirror upon which were displayed nature’s icy carvings. Misty blows of humpback whales drew us to the edges of our journey, towards the open sea. Crabeater seals rafted on ice floes while a leopard seal rested on a turquoise rooted berg. Behind, our wake fractured the surface into pastel patterns. Ahead the sea is edged in gold as we sail north, euphoric and exhausted.