Jan 01, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer
The New Year began in the middle of our celebrations to ring in Baby 2019 and dancing that lasted into the early hours. Our southernmost sunset and the year’s first sunrise both occurred within those first three hours. It looks like a busy and surprising year ahead.
We woke to stunning views of Flandres Bay and, nudged into nearby fast sea ice, our sister ship National Geographic Orion. We spent a full morning exploring the ice and its entrapped bergy bits, and we spotted crabeater seals and the rarest of penguins on the Antarctic peninsula—four juvenile emperors—resting on the ice. Perhaps they were partying just a few hours earlier, too. A snow petrel and Wilson’s storm petrel flew about. Our return walk felt a bit strenuous as the icy crust of snow started to soften during the day, but to make us forget the effort, a large group of killer whales appeared off the stern as we arrived back to National Geographic Explorer.
In the afternoon, we cruised through the Gerlache and Bransfield Straits, north and east toward the tip of the peninsula. The dark cliffs and mountains, heavily draped with snow and ice, were a spectacular backdrop as the sun broke through the clouds. We saw humpback whales in the distance, numerous crabeater seals on nearby floes, and a lone leopard seal that raised its head as we passed. From the outside decks of the ship, we observed another large group of killer whales that included a number of mother-and-calf pairs as well as an apparently injured male with damage to his long dorsal fin. We could only speculate as to the cause of his injury.
A presentation on penguins and their natural history kept our brains active, while grilled sausages and beer brought us out to the sun deck on a warm Antarctic afternoon. Oh, the things that must be done before dinner.
This remarkable day was made even more so for a couple of our fellow explorers who began the new year as newlyweds—married on the sea ice above 300 meters of icy Southern Ocean in a cathedral of towering cliffs and glacial ice falls. We wished them all the best for many years to come and hope that the sun arcing slowly to the south at day’s end foretells of equally good fortune for all of us through the next 364.
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