Antarctic Peninsula and Mikkelsen Harbor
Antarctica is one of the places that continually exceeds expectations. No matter how much preparation goes into anyone’s trip, no one is fully prepared for this place. Today was one of those days that, simply put, was mind blowing. Words such as “out of this world,” “incredible,” “unbelievable,” and simply “WOW!” were used to describe our day.
It all began around 5:30a.m. with the announcement of killer whales on the bow. What a start! To begin with, this was a group of type-A killer whales, known to eat minke whales and other marine mammals. The killer whales were milling around the bow, even approaching to investigate the ship very closely. A minke whale passed by and the chase was on. For nearly fifteen miles and a few hours, we watched the hunt. With spectacular scenery, massive icebergs, and sunny skies, this was paradise.
To add to our experience onboard, we have two of the leading killer whale biologists in the world, Bob Pitman and John Durban. They added to the narrative by giving their expert take on what we were watching. After a long and exciting chase, the minke whale disappeared into the ice, and the killer whales decided to come full circle and approach the ship again. Repeated passes directly under the bow were incredible. To see these top ocean predators so close in perfect conditions was breathtaking.
Then our scientists sprang into action, going out in a Zodiac to try and deploy satellite dive recorders on these whales. Within a matter of minutes they had deployed three tags on three different whales, the first time these tags had ever been deployed on type-A killer whales, ever! Later in the evening, we were already able to see where these whales had traveled and how deep they were diving, and we are eagerly awaiting the upcoming weeks and months to know where they go. This will help unravel a little more of the science of the different types of killer whales here in Antarctica, including dietary preferences. This is tourism supporting research and is one of the beautiful parts of the partnership between Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic.
For the afternoon, we entered the postcard perfect bay of Mikkelsen Harbor and divided and conquered. Some of us went ashore and enjoyed a gentoo penguin colony. Others took a Zodiac ride. Many of us took to our fleet of kayaks to explore the ice and penguins on our own. All of this while being surrounded by massive peaks and ice reaching all the way down to the ocean. This spot was the stereotypical Antarctica experience, with abundant wildlife and spectacular scenery, and we enjoyed it in perfect conditions.
To finish off our day, many chose the polar plunge. Certainly, more words of excitement were uttered. And then, with a spectacular sunset, we cruised by some massive tabular icebergs, ending a day that will forever be etched in our memories.