Wilhelmina Bay & Gerlache Strait

Dec 12, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer

I wonder how many of us imagine what it would be like to visit an alien planet. To board a starship, travel through space, descend through the atmosphere of an unexplored world, and disembark onto the surface of a world that’s never seen human footsteps.

Well, today our guests on National Geographic Explorer very likely experienced something similar here on Earth. After traveling throughout the morning, our ship entered Wilhelmina Bay—and another world. It was snowing hard and mist had closed in on all sides. Our view from the ship consisted of the constant passage of glassy water past the hull and ghostly icebergs emerging briefly from the fog. This was our journey to another planet, and when the mist retreated and the snowfall lessened, a new world of stunning beauty was revealed. Mountains towered in the distance, reflected in the mirror-like surface of the water, and dozens of icebergs gently drifted by. Like a starship touching down on an alien world, the ship drove into a sheet of fast ice.

Several minutes later, the gangway was extended, and we stepped out into a magical plane of soft snow, drifting snowflakes, and mist-wreathed mountains. A solitary crabeater seal eyed us with modest concern for several seconds before deciding we were harmless, rolling over, and falling back asleep. Before long, a line of telephoto lenses was pointed at it from a respectful distance. Other than casting the occasional, disdainful glance in our direction, our brief companion wasn’t stirred to strike a photogenic pose.

Guests, however, had a blast with photographic opportunities galore, numerous impromptu snowball fights, and laughter echoing through the frosty air. The joy we felt as we explored this unbelievably memorable place was palpable, and the sudden appearance of a table serving mulled wine was the perfect complement to the occasion.

Eventually, we returned to the ship, backed out of the ice, and continued our journey to the next interstellar destination. Antarctica is truly another world.

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About the Author

Adam Britton

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Adam is a British-born zoologist who has lived and worked in northern Australia since 1997. Before arriving in Darwin, Adam gained a Ph.D. on the flight performance and echolocation of insectivorous bats, but his passion has always been large predators and the relationship that different cultures have toward them.

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