Crossing Bransfield Strait

Dec 08, 2019 - National Geographic Orion


As Spert Island came into view from the bridge, we had no idea just how exciting a morning awaited us! The small island off the coast of Trinity Island was named by the British in 1960 in honour of Thomas Spert; Henry VIII’s first master of mariners, but the history was certainly the least interesting thing about this magical place. Spert is an island of stark geology with a myriad of rocky skerries around its shores, hiding secret passes lined by huge mountainous cliffs. Those cliffs are the nesting grounds of several species of bird, including cape petrels, Antarctic terns and brown skuas. The birds wheel great circles in the air as we careered about in our Zodiacs and a curious leopard seal eyed us up from one of the rocky islands. 

Ice flows were safe refuges for chinstraps and Adélies, while crabeater seals basked in the sunshine on the pebble shores. By far the most arresting feature of this magical place however, were the vast icebergs, grounded in an expansive iceberg graveyard, which lined the wayward side of the island. Iridescent blues and greens shone in the glorious sunshine and as you passed caves and secret passageways, you would occasionally catch a glimpse of a huge towering berg stuck in between islands. 

As we left Spert, it wasn’t long before we ran into an amazing treat; a pair of humpback whales lazily surfacing just off the shores of trinity Island. We crept into a good viewing position and sat watching the whales surface and dive in the glorious weather. As we sat, they came for a brief moment to surface by the ship, their huge white pectorals visible as they dove below us and over towards an iceberg. As the two whales made their way along the edge of the berg, they were watched over by penguins perched on the ice – three chinstraps, a Gentoo and an Adélie. A menagerie of Antarctic wildlife. 

After lunch, the call went around the ship: another sighting. There was a rush of orange parkas and cameras as we all headed out to the bow and observation deck. Before us was a pod of killer whales, much bigger than those we encountered the previous night. Their jet black backs glistened in the sunshine as we snapped shots and watched them race around us. Less interested in us and more the journey in hand than those from the previous night. 

After an exciting morning of whales, we settled in for an insightful hour with our National Geographic photographer, Krista, covering her time on assignment: real insight into the life of an accomplished photographer.

After Krista’s talk, we were treated to a sneak preview of the wonderful video chronicle being created by our esteemed video chronicler Rod. It was a fantastic work of art and was met with laughs and a grand applause, as we watched back over the past few weeks of our adventures from the Falklands and South Georgia. How far we’ve come on our voyage through the wild Southern Ocean. The waves for the first time picked up as we headed north once again.

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About the Author

Ella Potts

Naturalist

Ella’s passion has always been in marine conservation, with a childhood spent swimming, kayaking or boating in the chilly waters of the UK, or surveying the marine life of those waters from windswept headlands. She has numerous, distinct early memories of shivering adults, wrapped up in jumpers and cagoules, looking down at her with slight horror through sheets of rain and commenting on her short sleeves. A phenomena that persists to this day.  She graduated with a Masters degree in Marine Biology: Conservation and Resource Management from Swansea University, setting her up for a career protecting those marine ecosystems that she so loves. 

Ella has worked for several British whale conservancy charities, including ORCA and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and is a British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) marine mammal medic. She has a real passion for lecturing, and during her time in these different organizations has presented to vastly ranging audiences; from groups of young children right up to filled auditoriums at the headquarters of HWDT partner, WWF. 

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