The Lemaire Channel and Neko Harbor

Dec 03, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer


We awoke to howling winds as we headed south toward the Lemaire Channel. Spindrift rippled off the surrounding peaks and the wind whistled around the contours of National Geographic Explorer’s bridge. The conditions were not looking good for making it through the narrow, 11km-long channel. It was rumored that the channel was full of pack ice and passage would be difficult. As we approached the entrance, the line of white ice could be seen clearly in the distance, but it was not thick enough to stop our progress.

As we continued through one of the most photographic areas of the Antarctic Peninsula, we passed by ice floes covered with lounging crabeater seals and were escorted by an assortment of Antarctic birds—giant petrels, kelp gulls, skuas, and the beautiful snow petrel. And just ahead: a large group of pack ice-hunting killer whales!

They had just made a kill, as there was a congregation of birds on the surface above them, foraging on the scraps. As the killers continued along the channel in front of us, they spy hopped and investigated all the seals on nearby floes. Large Type B killer whales predominantly eat Weddell seals, but they’ll take the occasional crabeater. As we watched, it seemed most of us were rooting for the predator.

In the afternoon, we arrived at Neko Harbor for our first continental landing and gentoo colony. It was a landing well-earned, as most of us were soaked from the large swells and gusting wind on the shuttle. We then had to scramble over icy blocks to get to the beach. It was completely worth it. A short hiking path—that we shared with transiting penguins—brought us to an overlook from which we had a view of a beautiful glacier. Today was truly magical. It’s difficult to imagine how tomorrow might top it. 

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About the Author

Jessica Farrer

Naturalist

Jessica is a research associate with SR3, SeaLife Response, Rehabilitation and Research (www.sealifer3.org) in Seattle, WA. She is currently working on several projects that monitor the health of the critically endangered southern resident killer whale population in the Salish Sea and humpback, minke and killer whales around the Antarctic Peninsula. Her main research interests are the predator prey dynamics of the Southern Ocean and she will be starting a PhD in fall 2020 to investigate the effects of climate change and fishing pressure on the diet of killer whales and Weddell seals in both the Antarctic Peninsula and the Ross Sea.

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