Cierva Cove and Mikkelson Harbor

Dec 14, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer


The morning of December 14 greeted guests of National Geographic Explorer just like any Saturday should—with killer whales before breakfast! The killer whales were spotted from the Bridge at about 6:30 a.m., a perfectly reasonable time to rise from bed on a weekend when there is charismatic wildlife to be seen!

Killer whales are separated into ecotypes, which are species that are not yet truly categorized as different. However, when you consider them along the whole spectrum, from behavior to physical characteristics, these ecotypes do seem incredibly different from each other. Their diet, range, and even the dialect of their vocalizations changes from type to type. We have had the incredible privilege of witnessing three of the five ecotypes that exist in Antarctica—type D, type B1, and now type B2. Type C is seen only in the Ross Sea, where we will not be voyaging on this trip, but type A is still on the horizon for a potential polar “royal flush” of killer whale sightings. The type B2 killer whales, which were spotted this morning, are quite small in comparison to the other ecotypes, sizing up at lengths between 20 and 24 feet.

These animals prey on penguins at the surface, a behavior which National Geographic Explorer had the opportunity to witness this morning. It was a wildlife highlight of the day—and remember, it was only 7 a.m.! There was much more to come.

After breakfast, the ship pulled into Cierva Cove. A beautiful area for scenic ice cruising, Cierva Cove is backed by a large glacier, calving massive icebergs into its open bay. The Argentinian research base Primavera sits at the bay’s mouth, welcoming visitors to the ethereal landscape. Guests embarked on Zodiacs for a long cruise on the small boats, enjoying up-close views of leopard seals, Weddell seals, gentoo penguins, even a juvenile emperor penguin, and incredible ice sculptures. A beautiful morning in the boats ended back on the ship for a filling lunch and a short break before the ship’s afternoon location—Mikkelson Harbor, a relatively shallow location on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

With gigantic ice-lined walls, the harbor makes for an incredibly beautiful kayaking location, when conditions allow. The guests brought the good weather luck with them, and lo and behold – the bay was flat and calm, with only the slightest lick of wind. Kayaks dropped from the ship’s Zodiac deck, and operations began. Within no time, teams were out paddling in the inflatable yellow boats, cruising from place to place, peering into the shallow sea, and taking in the solitude of the White Continent. While the kayakers were out, the ship’s dive team took advantage of the beautiful conditions and went for a quick dip, gathering video footage to share with all on board.

A beautiful day culminated in the lounge, where information was shared, libations were enjoyed, and the entire ship came together to sing our expedition leader a very happy birthday. Happy birthday, Lucho, and thanks for the incredible day!

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About the Author

Alyssa Adler

Undersea Specialist

Originally from Oregon, Alyssa has always had a strong relationship with nature and the outdoors. In search of a life full of adventure, she found her passion for the ocean while studying at Oregon State University. She graduated in 2012 with a B.Sc. in marine biology, a minor in chemistry, and a PADI divemaster certification. The year following graduation included extensive traveling and diver training, gaining experience in Greece’s Ionian Sea, the Caribbean waters of Honduras and Bonaire, and the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.

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