18 November 2009

Icebergs and whales

The following was written yesterday, 17. November:

After completing my previous post, something interesting DID turn up.
Today we got to see the humpback whales. They played around the sides of
the ship; we could see their white bellies down in the water. They
surfaced occasionally to breathe, but no spectacular jumps. Our guides
are puzzled by their presence, because they have a long way to swim from
the breeding grounds in more tropical areas. Normally they do not arrive
in Antarctic waters until the turn of the year. This brings our total
whale sightings list up to four species. We saw the Right Whale in
Argentina, Hourglass Dolphins on the leg between Falklands and South
Georgia, fin whales yesterday, and today the humpbacks. Today we also
encountered the first really big icebergs. Big as in more volume than
our ship above the water line. Man those structures are awesome.

On many of the icebergs there are chinstrap penguins chilling out. They
bring the total penguin species count up to five; Gentoo, Rockhopper,
King, Macaroni and Chinstrap. The Adelie penguins have not shown
themselves yet, but I expect they will turn up further South.

Whenever I have seen pictures of icebergs, I have always thought the
blueishness of the ice was a Photoshop construct. It is therefore doubly
stunning to see the actual blueness of the icebergs. Especially close to
the waterline. Must be something about how the light is reflected from
the ice below the waterline, onto the parts we see. Together with the
sheer dimensions of the icebergs it's awesome. Beyond awesome.

Just before dinner, when going through the captures from this morning, I
had a hard time deleting any of the images at all. Even mediocre images
are kept. The landscapes just so blows me away that I can't find the
heart to delete them. But heck, I have already weeded pretty well in the
collection, so I would have to shoot 10.000 images a day for the rest of
the trip to exceed my storage capacity.

Just after dinner, most of us rushed back on the deck to photograph
icebergs in the sideways light of sunset. It was a beautiful sunset in
its own right, but the floating chunks of ice turned even more blue. It
may well be the most stunning sunset I have ever seen. The captain is
performing some kind of ballet with the icebergs, dodge one, swing
around another, and still keeping between 10 and 12 knots. Fortunately
the sea is nearly flat and with no winds. We are indeed on a lucky
streak weatherwise.

The plan for tomorrow is to land at Aitcho Island in the South Hebrides,
receive a crash course in snowshoe walking, and go for a hike to another
penguin colony. If the weather stays like this it will be just a stroll.

Fingers crossed.

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