Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic
EXPLORATIONS – A Lindblad Expeditions Blog

Expedition Recon: Palm Isles of Fakarava & Night Dives

Update from Sven-Olof Lindblad, who is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

The black tips are still cruising our stern, the breeze is cool and the sunrise perfect. Part of me wishes we could stay here all week.

We pack up gear, lather on sun lotion, and head out to explore the motu, islets of sand and palms.

Photo Justin DeShields

The morning incoming tide starts at 11:30, bringing clear water into the South Pass. Everything here revolves around the tide. The flats around the motu are very shallow. They surround the islands with an incredible blue which feeds into our fantasy of Polynesia. “Be careful of standing under coconut trees,” our dive masters tell us. “I know, as once I was resting under one in the Seychelles and a huge one fell beside me. Lesson learned.”

We see a huge flock of white-capped noddies diving into the deeper water, which is so clear we can see their prey. It’s a dramatic sight as the sea boils with small fish driven to the surface by large trevalli.

Photo Kristin Hettermann

We head back to our boat to catch the incoming tide. This time we dive the outer wall and drift back into the lagoon. It’s a stunning site. Beautiful coral that the locals refer to as roses covers the bottom at 30 meters and then just falls off to hundreds of meters. It’s a deep, haunting blue and dozens of sharks—grey reef, silver tip, and coral—cruise this divide. We begin to drift into the channel, picking up speed. It’s magical, no effort needed. Fish everywhere, a reef that is so healthy that you get a feeling that all’s good in the ocean.

I wish I could just stay here for hours, but we are limited, requiring clumsy gear to be in this ocean realm, and, of course, air, 45 minutes at a time.

Photo Justin DeShields

We all finish the dive elated. A quick turn around and off to snorkel in the shallows. I’m convinced this is the best spot I’ve ever snorkeled in my life. A gentle drop off, almost total coral cover, all kinds of fish, Napoleon Wrasse, goatfish, paddletail snapper, angelfish and more. And always, the lab-like black tips cruising the shallows. The setting sun is spectacular, and for most the day would be done. For us, there is one more adventure.

Photo Vincent Truchet

There are at least 30 sharks cruising our stern. Vincent and Melo, our dive masters, brief us. “Diving with sharks at night is different,” they say. “They are hunting now and their behavior is very different. Of course they are not interested in us but nevertheless it is important to be aware.” We suit up and the adrenaline begins to pump as strongly as the current. “Keep your bodies tight,” says Vincent. “And let’s all stay together.”

Photo Justin DeShields

Down we go into the black. The boat’s underwater lights provide an eerie glow. Sharks dart in and out of the light with purpose. We sit on the bottom and look up. After a bit Vincent feels comfortable enough to move up into the water column. We are now surrounded by hunting sharks. It’s crazy, exciting, and beautiful. I’m somehow totally calm and happy to be in their realm right after lunch. We get back on the boat and the conversation over dinner was abuzz over accounts of our most spectacular day.

— Sven-Olof Lindblad

Expedition Recon: Fakarava South Pass

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Explore this site, Fakarava, on our upcoming expedition Easter Island to Tahiti: Tales of the Pacific

Photo Vincent Truchet

There are more sharks than people in Fakarava. There are so many of them—black tips, silver tips, grey reefs, corals—they can blur the line between animal and architecture. The second day of Lindblad Expeditions’ research mission to French Polynesia began with an incredible dive outside the atoll’s southern pass. There were enough sharks stacked on top of each other between the lagoon and the ocean, they looked almost like a wall.

Countless other species call the pass home. Eagle rays fly against the current. Groupers sometimes school there. Barracuda and tuna shine in the light streaming through the turquoise water. A Napoleon wrasse, nearly a meter long, nosed in and out of the pristine coral.

Photo Vincent Truchet

But the sharks are the main attraction. The strange thing about diving with sharks—once you stop shouting “That’s a shark!” every time you see one—is how unmistakable they are. Even from a distance, even if all you catch of one is its silhouette out of the corner of your eye, the way they look, the way they don’t move through the water so much as they own it: That’s a shark.

Photo Vincent Truchet

And when there are so many of them, the experience is close to overwhelming. Because sharks have suffered for years from their outsized reputation for aggression, fear, at least a little of it, might crackle through the water. It takes only a few minutes for that fear to subside and turn into wonder. You realize that you might be looking at hundreds of sharks at once, but none of them is looking at you. You’re just one more fish in the sea, swimming between corals into the calm of the lagoon. You just happen to be swimming there together.

Chris Jones

Expedition Recon: Fakarava & Shark Paradise

Update from Sven-Olof Lindblad, who is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

We entered the northern pass at Fakarava this morning at sunrise. It wasn’t the beauty of sunrise that heralded the day but the calm waters after 36 hours of banging our way east into the swell of the trades. It was a big relief for all and as soon as we dropped anchor in the south pass it became clear the next two days would be action packed. We instantly became surrounded by black-tipped reef sharks investigating the newcomers in the hope of getting an easy meal. The mood aboard was intense as we prepared for our first dive.

The current would begin to enter the lagoon at 10:10 brining in clear water. The dive in the pass is world famous and ours certainly did not disappoint. As soon as we entered the water and for the next 45 minutes we were surrounded by grey reef sharks. They ride the current and behave almost like labs, absolutely nothing to fear here. We went again in the afternoon and then later hung in the shallows with the black tips. This is shark heaven for the snorkels, the diver, and even for those who just want to watch from shore.

Fakarava is indeed a slice of paradise.

Sven-Olof Lindblad

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Sven-Olof Lindblad surveys coral debris left from a recent storm on Fakarava.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Expedition Recon: Exploring Huahine

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Follow along for an inside look at the thought, planning, and passion that goes into creating Lindblad itineraries. Follow Sven on Instagram. 

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Our recon team arrived at Huahine, part of the Society Islands of French Polynesia. It’s known for superb, healthy reefs near shore and dense, thriving jungles inland.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

We sailed past canoes paddled by local fishermen as we made our way to explore one landing site.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Our team found a site where we may be able to offer guests on our French Polynesia: Beyond the Postcard expedition a chance to drift snorkel.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Floating in a current that feeds nutrients to a variety of sea life we were afforded the opportunity to see a thriving ecosystem. Clear seas and bright sunshine make for ideal conditions.

Photo by Kristin Hettermann

Colors of undersea life are brightest and most vibrant near the surface where the light is best. This site will offer our snorkelers a fantastic place to see and photograph the undersea.


Expedition Recon: Snorkeling with Rays & Sharks

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Follow along for an inside look at the thought, planning and passion that goes into creating Lindblad itineraries. Follow Sven on Instagram

Photo Vincent Truchet

Just off the tiny isle of Moorea, which we’ll explore on our Isles, Atolls, and Pristine Corals: Southern Line Islands expedition in 2018, our recon team discovered a splendid place for our guests to snorkel with schools of rays and sharks.

Photo Justin DeShields

No need to be scuba proficient to swim with these sharks and rays. Our recon videographer Justin DeShields captures some of the schooling action with a drone.

Photo Kristin Hettermann



Expedition Recon: Sailing the South Pacific aboard Hōkūle‘a

Sven-Olof Lindblad is in the South Pacific right now leading a reconnaissance trip to seek out never-before-offered experiences and ultimate snorkel and dive sites for guests on our five new 2018 South Pacific & French Polynesia expeditions. Follow along for an inside look at the thought, planning and passion that goes into creating Lindblad itineraries. Follow Sven on Instagram

Sven & team joined the Hōkūle‘a, a traditional Polynesia sailing vessel, to sail from Papeete to Raiatea on one of the final legs of their around-the-world journey. This is their first dispatch.

Photo Sven Lindblad

“A full day preparing the Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia for our momentous journey Papeete to Raiatea tomorrow.” -Sven Lindblad, who will be joining one of the last legs of Hōkūle’a, a Hawaiian voyaging canoe, sailing across earth’s oceans to grow the global movement toward a more sustainable future.

Meanwhile Justin DeShields gets on with expedition preparation.


Photo Kristin Hettermann

Before sailing Sven Lindblad interviewed fellow Ocean Elder Nainoa Thompson as they prepared to embark the Hōkūleʻa and Hikianalia on one of the final legs of the three year Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage. Heading towards the completion of a circumnavigation of the globe using the stars and other elements of nature in traditional Polynesian fashion, they from Papeete to Raiatea. The goal of the Mālama Honua Worldwide Voyage is to cross the Earth’s oceans to join and grow the global movement toward a more sustainable world. The interview will be part of a video created at the completion of this recon expedition.

“Getting settled in with a good wind and 8 knot speed.” -Sven Lindblad


“Dolphins escorted us out of the port in Papeete and the adventure begins. Always a good sign to be beside these messengers of the sea. The Hokulea is underway and we will shadow to Raiatea.” -Kristin Hettermann

“Kalepa gazing out towards Moorea. A captain and a master navigator, he seems to be contemplating our course and everything that plays into our journey.” -Sven Lindblad

10% of World’s Mangrove Finches Aboard National Geographic Endeavour II

Hatched between 0200-0500 aboard National Geographic Endeavour II Thursday en route to the Charles Darwin Research Station.

It is the rarest bird in Galápagos with an estimated population of just 80 individuals—and 8 of their eggs were just safely transported to the Charles Darwin Research Station via our ship National Geographic Endeavour II. And even better news—one of the eggs hatched en route! Beau Parks, lead keeper at San Diego Zoo’s Avian Propagation Center, was aboard with the team from the Mangrove Finch Project who are bringing the 7 eggs and one hatchling back to the Charles Darwin Research Center. Thank you Fanny Cuninghame, Mangrove Finch Project Leader at the station, for trusting us with this precious cargo. The eggs and hatchling retrieved on this expedition, the latest in a multi-year collaboration between the San Diego Zoo and the CDRS to give the birds a a head-start. It’s a good day for conservation in the islands. We’re thrilled to be support this important work.

You’re looking at 10% of the world’s Mangrove Finch population aboard our ship in Galápagos.

Peek Inside A Photo Instructor’s Expedition Kit

By Rich Kirchner

I’m very lucky to work for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic on a number of different expeditions around the world. As a Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor on these voyages it is a big part of my job to give advice to guests on all aspects of digital photography, including what gear I use for traveling on board our ships! Even though there are slight variations in what I travel with, depending on which itinerary I’m on, most of my gear remains fairly consistent.

I am a “wildlife” photographer, so here is a quick overview of what I normally travel with!

Two DSLR bodies, one full size sensor, and the other a smaller APS sensor. Also, I’ve started bringing either a mirrorless camera along, and or a good point-and-shoot, so I don’t always have to carry a larger body on shore!

An add-on vertical release battery pack, several extra batteries and charger, and a number of additional memory cards. What I have found over the many years of doing these trips is that many guests don’t bring an extra battery, or any at all (very necessary, they do fail), forget their charger, or forget both because they plugged them into charge and then neglected to pack them!

Several ranges of zoom lenses, 200-500mm, 70-200mm, plus a compatible 1.4 tele converter, and a wide angle of 18-35mm.

Often I’ll also bring either a 16mm fisheye, and or a 60mm macro, depending on where I’m headed!

I try to bring my medium sized camera pack whenever possible, but sometimes it is my large one that gets pressed into service, as well as a smaller one that can hold a single body and telephoto zoom. This is for carrying on shore and will fit into my dry-bag (backpack) for coming back-and-forth to shore on Zodiacs (very important). It can also be used to protect equipment while on shore in inclement weather, or while kayaking!

A monopod, rather than a tripod, seems to work better for using telephotos from a crowded bow on board ship, or doing walks and longer hikes on land! Many modern zoom telephotos can be hand-held however using the vibration reduction technology, and a faster shutter speed!

One of the most important tools in my bag always is a really good pair of binoculars, used to spot and observe wildlife movements.

Lastly, having several good microfiber cleaning cloths along, and accessible, for cleaning lenses, as well as a “Rocket Blower,” or similar tool, to clean particles off of your sensors, is very important to take care of your equipment under “outside” environmental conditions!

One last thing I’d like to talk about is the advantage of traveling by ship for photography. Often we are visiting places in remote locations worldwide that can only be accessed by ship. Ships can access extreme sea ice conditions in the Arctic and Antarctic for observing, and photographing, elusive or dangerous critters like polar bears, walrus, and other pinnipeds or whales! The other great advantage is our fleet of Zodiacs that can safely get guests to and from shore in very remote places, plus can get you an incredible close encounter with many elusive animals around the world! It’s a great way to travel, and can be an incredibly rewarding photo experience!

SEA CHANGE — Fish as Food or Wildlife?

Global Efforts to Protect Our Depleted Ocean Ecosystems Present Difficult Choices for a World That Depends on the Consumption of Fish

By Kristin Hettermann, Grace Delivers

My seafood vs. wildlife conundrum about fish really started about two years ago, when I started traveling the world with a partner who shares my deep love of the ocean. We began exploring, ocean by ocean. The more I saw, the more I learned. We witnessed pristine seas, rich in wildlife, but commonly saw destroyed ocean ecosystems. The more I experienced, the more I felt both strong love and awe for the ocean, and also a heavy concern for the loss of fish and ocean destruction. Over 70% of the earth is covered in ocean, and reports point to the fact that ocean fish populations have been cut in half since 1970. That’s a lot of life on earth lost.

Where did all the fish go? We have consumed them. Nearly three billion people rely on fish as an important source of protein. The trend seems to be: eat the big fish. When they are depleted, eat smaller fish. When they are gone, only the smallest edible fish will remain, and we will, out of necessity, eat them. Eventually, all of them. Until the fishermen catch what they refer to as “the last fish.” Scientists refer to this chain reaction as “fishing down the food chain.” In the 1870s, Atlantic cod were so abundant in the North Atlantic Ocean that it was a popular belief that one could walk across the ocean on the backs of cod fish and never get wet. Today, there is barely a geographical area in the world unspoiled by fishing and containing primeval, non-exploited fish populations and intact ecosystems. Aside from a few remote, far-off reaches of the globe, most places are missing their stars of the sea.

There are still some spectacular exceptions to this devastating trend. Hope spots: places where you see and experience biomass as it swirls around you and the abundance darkens the waters above. It is in these areas, mostly “no-take” protected zones and remote areas far from humans, that I began to understand what it felt like to be a fish. I saw life through their eyes—sometimes looking into their eyes. Because of this connection, I then lamented the loss of these creatures at a personal level—something I had never experienced. But my heartache soon turned to hope and a new determination to take action to inspire others to understand the fragility of these ecosystems and work toward solutions.

Recently, I dove in the Galápagos, a place found to have the largest shark abundance in the world. Healthy oceans need sharks. Marine biologists point to the presence of large predatory fish as a sign of the health and resilience of an ocean system. What I found in the Galápagos was biomass unlike anything I had ever seen—massive schools of fish, from the surface to the depths.


Turning an 800-Year-Old Tree Into A Story of Reconciliation

By Sharon Eva Grainger, Naturalist & Lindblad-National Geographic certified photo instructor

James Hart carving. Photo by Sharon Grainger. 

All cultures create monuments to represent and commemorate an aspect of their history and ancestry. In the Pacific Northwest First Nations people carve these stories in tall and ancient Western red cedar. Since the end of September, James Hart, his family and several colleagues have been in the final stages of carving an 800-year-old tree, transforming it into their story of Reconciliation. The pole is being completed behind the Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus in Vancouver British Columbia. The creation of this 70-foot tall story pole actually started far to the north in Haida Gwaii more than two years ago.

I have been very fortunate to watch this process from the beginning. Working for Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic as a naturalist and photo instructor, I travel with guests for two weeks, once in the spring and again in the fall, aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion and Sea Bird through the Inside Passage from Washington State, through British Columbia to Southeast Alaska. In the spring, we travel north, following the migrating animals and birds returning to their feeding and nesting grounds. In the fall, we travel south, following the return of the salmon, an ever changing bounty. These fish return to their natal rivers, flowing through Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, providing food for bears, birds, small forest creatures, and for all humans who celebrate in the harvest of these fish. In the spirit of this place, our small vessels journey through the waters of the Inside Passage following canoe paths of generations of Native and First Nations people who have called this land home and celebrated the abundance of land and sea. Indigenous peoples are resilient, living their culture in spite of generations of trials and tribulations. They constantly consider how they are treating the Earth and how to preserve it for the next seven generations who will follow in their footsteps.

A highlight of our journey is a visit to Haida Gwaii, an archipelago, located approximately 62 miles off the coast of Northern British Columbia. Crossing Hecate Strait and waking up in Haida Gwaii is heartily welcomed by staff, crew, and guests. I often rise early, walk out on deck and watch the approach to the dock in Queen Charlotte City, excited to be in another home along the Northwest coast. I am looking forward to visiting old friends and seeing where the months have taken us all! Once our guests are on shore, we board two school busses, the only available transportation large enough for all of us, and make our way north along the length of Graham Island to the community of Old Massett.

Old Massett is one of several communities in Haida Gwaii where the resurgence of Haida culture and art can be found. Over the last three years our travels here have included extraordinary visits to the home and workplaces of Haida Artists. In Old Massett, in the late 1960s a new totem pole was raised, the first one in nearly 100 years. Today, 50 years later, as we walk around the community we see many totem poles, carved canoes, painted house fronts and signs advertising argillite carving.

I think back on my first visit to James and Rosemary Hart’s home three years ago. I often reflect on those moments being welcomed into the home of a renowned living Haida artist with his family all around him. His home was his studio, his studio was his home. It was a visual feast: tools, future plans for projects, and so many implements associated with family life covered in form line design. When I really listened, I heard James speak about Haida Gwaii, a land he is firmly a part of. I could not only see the sharp and precise motions he made in carving, but I became aware that it was exactly how he spoke, carefully choosing words, shaped to make the same impact as a crooked knife or elbow adz makes in red cedar.

In these last weeks I have been fortunate enough to watch as James and members of his family and community continue transforming this 70-foot Western red cedar log into the Reconciliation Pole that tells the painful story of the residential schools of Canada.

From 1876 until 1996, when the last federally-operated residential school was closed, the Canadian government removed First Nations children from their homes and communities to eradicate First Nations language and culture. As a result of the effect on First Nations people in Canada, the Truth and Reconciliation commission was officially established on June 2, 2008 and completed in December of 2015. The James Hart Reconciliation Pole was inspired “To keep the memory of residential school history alive. Through understanding, through truth, through respect, forward movement can happen.”

Northwest coast art is constantly evolving. The Reconciliation Pole tells a story in wood but James has taken that idea a step further by placing a residential school near the center of the pole “to look like it was dropped onto the heads of the people.” The carvings below the school represent the world of the Haida people before the children were removed from their families and villages. A mother bear and her cubs, a shaman in ritual, salmon, and the central figure of Raven, the trickster. Raven not only cajoled the first humans out of a clam shell in his trickster voice but also brought the sun, moon and stars to the world of Haida Gwaii along with many other things the Haida people enjoy today. Above the school are the children with numbers carved into their torsos, as was the custom during the time of the residential schools, where children were only known by numbers.

James is working with different indigenous carvers from North America carving the faces of these children. Fifty-seven-thousand-two-hundred solid copper nails are being pounded into various parts of the totem pole represent children who died while attending residential schools across Canada. Above the carved children, the spirit figures of a killer whale, bear, eagle and thunderbird representing water, land, air, and the supernatural moving the story towards the future with hope. Above these figures there is a carved mother, father, and children showing “the family unit getting stronger today.” Following upward another symbol of reconciliation: water waves and two boats. One is a non-native long boat, the other, a traditional First Nations Canoe representing reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples moving forward together. At the top of the pole an eagle is poised about to take flight. This part of the carving was done by James and his late son Carl, an expression of keeping those we have lost close to us, always near in our hearts. As James would say, “that motion of flight taking us towards our future.”

When this pole was shipped in late September from Haida Gwaii to Vancouver it was scheduled to be raised on October 15, 2016. That date has been changed to accommodate ongoing meetings with the Musqueam band council, whose unceded lands include the UBC campus. All parties involved are now completing decisions on the exact location for the raising of the pole and that date has been delayed until March of 2017. An honoring celebration was held on October 15, 2016 in support of the Reconciliation Pole, hosted by James Hart and his family. Many supporting Northwest Coast people and community members across borders were in attendance. Speeches, blessings, and a fine meal were shared by all!

The delay of the raising of this pole has allowed many people within the Pacific Northwest to be involved, to share, to witness and to help in completing the Reconciliation Pole.

I will continue to write segments throughout the winter to inform, not only all our guests who have watched the carving of this pole, but our communities both in Canada and the United States about its progress. I look forward to sharing more as this project moves towards the raising of the Reconciliation Pole this coming spring.

Dos-Polacas – Photography, Heart & Stories
Founded by Sharon Eva Grainger and Pamela Pakker/Kozicki