The Weddell Sea & Danger Islands

Nov 20, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer

We woke up to a strange feeling: calm seas! The ship’s motion had let up, and we were treated to a quiet morning on approach to the Weddell Sea. The further we sailed, the larger the icebergs became until we were surrounded by tabular bergs dotted with deep blue cracks.

Before our first presentation, we spent time with a fin whale and got close enough to see its smooth back and the white markings on its face. This is the second largest whale in the world.

Jimmy White regaled us with stories of his fieldwork and encouraged us to think about where animals go during the rest of their lives when they are out of sight from us. He explained that we can attach new technologies, such as satellite tags, to a variety of different organisms, piggybacking on their travels to uncover new stories of our planet.

Then, Elise Lockton told us the Shackleton story. Ernest Shackleton’s leadership through one of the most gripping survival tales of all time is a legend down here, and she told it with rich imagery and detailed research. We are nearing some of the landmarks that were key to Shackleton’s voyage, so the timing was perfect.

And after lunch, we braved the Danger Islands.

This small group of islands is home to 750,000 breeding pairs of adelie penguins. We explored Heroina Island, which appears to have birds on every available rock. An icy cove gave us some shelter and good looks at Weddell and leopard seals. Icebergs have been broken into brash ice here, so we floated amongst the crunching ice, sipped hot chocolate and marveled that so much life could be supported in such a place. Even on this calm day, rollers crashed to shore and coated every rock with a thick rim of ice.

Before dinner, our ship cruised around an enormous tabular berg. With the ship so close, we could examine its glossy surface and watch it stretch away into the mist. Scale is hard to grasp out here. 

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About the Author

Jennifer Kingsley

National Geographic Explorer

Jennifer Kingsley is a Canadian journalist, a National Geographic Explorer, and the Field Correspondent for Lindblad Expeditions. She has travelled extensively in the global Arctic and throughout the temperate rain forest of the Pacific Rim. After completing her biology degree, she worked in Canada's Rocky Mountain National Parks before moving to British Columbia to specialize in grizzly bear ecology. Jennifer spent several seasons sailing among the whales, bears, and wolves of the Great Bear Rainforest. 

About the Photographer

Jessica Farrer


Jessica graduated with a degree in evolutionary biology from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Since graduation she has worked in fisheries management on commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea, counted Steller sea lions from cliffs in the Aleutian Islands, tagged sea lions in the Galápagos and monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and for four austral springs she lived in a retrofitted refrigerator container on the Antarctic sea ice near McMurdo Station. In Antarctica she worked on a long-term population study of Weddell seals and hopes to continue working in this ecosystem on predator-prey dynamics of the Ross Sea. 

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