Lindblad Expeditions - From the National Geographic Explorer in the Falklands - Justin Hofman, undersea specialist
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From the National Geographic Explorer in the Falklands

Nov 13, 2012 - National Geographic Explorer

Light-mantled sooty albatross
Long-finned pilot whale male and calf

Southern Ocean

It doesn’t matter how many days and nights you’ve spent on a ship, leaving the protection of a beautiful natural harbor such as Port Stanley for the open-water crossing to South Georgia will always be accompanied by a hint of trepidation. This is the Southern Ocean, an endless conveyor belt of water peppered with low pressure systems and frosted by strong winds. This is a legendary body of water that inspires both fear and revelry. However, just as the massive and tempestuous Pacific Ocean was named during one of its more mellow days, the Southern Ocean can be lenient. Pushed along by light winds and a low swell, we have cruised comfortably and quickly and are now one day closer to South Georgia.

Our progress might have been a tad bit quicker were it not for a detour to investigate distant splashes. Initially we were diverted by the tall, columnar blow of a large baleen whale, but soon it was clear that the behemoth was accompanied by many smaller cousins, long-finned pilot whales and hourglass dolphins.

Luckily, seas were calm and the Captain proceeded to turn the ship around for a closer look. Apparently the pilot whales felt the same as they swam closer and closer to the bow and decks full of guests. It was a fruitful encounter as these small-toothed whales are generally difficult to spot amidst whitecaps and heaving seas. Our encounter included dozens of sightings of baby pilot whales, some replete with fetal folds, a sure sign of their extremely young age.

To top off the encounter, a Southern Ocean favorite dropped in to distract the bird nerds and naturalists. Light-mantled sooty albatrosses passed so close to the bow that photographers went scrambling for lenses amidst shouts of “I need a wider lens!” Watching us with inquisitive eyes, turning and dipping in sync, the birds displayed why they are kings and queens of the sky.

And to think, at one point we thought the highlight of the day would be a couple of sprinting Minke whales. Let’s hope we don’t have to pay our dues later.

About the Author

Justin Hofman·Undersea Specialist

Justin’s love of the natural world started at an early age flipping through books on dangerous marine life. The striking photographs contained in those books are what captured his imagination and led Justin to pursue a life dedicated to exploring wild places. Using his collegiate education at University of California, Santa Cruz as an excuse to work on any research project possible, he hand-caught sharks and rays for tagging studies, learned how to handle adult blue sharks for implanting tracking devices, mastered the art of sneaking up on elephant seals for easy capture and a variety of other extracurricular activities.