Archive for the ‘Cetaceans’ Category

Slide Show From The Antarctic Expedition

March 9th, 2010 at 2:01 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We had several photo pros on board the National Geographic Explorer, including Lindblad staff photographers Michael Nolan and Eric Guth and National Geographic photographers Sisse Brimberg and Cotton Coulson. This photo “team” was always readily available to provide guests with tips and critiques, as well as technical assistance.

Some of the ways they used to help improve the quality of the photos taken by guests was to lead seminars on photography and photographic techniques, as well as have open critiques of submitted photos. There’s no question that general photo quality improved as a whole over the three weeks we were traveling the seas.

The culmination of the photographic experience was a computer-based slide show put together by Mike Nolan, including most of the submissions from the first two critiques, plus a final set of photos, all contributed by a large number of guests and staff alike. There are many amazing photos from our trip included in the slide show, including wildlife, landscapes, abstract works, and even ones of various people you might or might not recognize.

While the slide show was distributed to folks on memory cards on board the ship the last day at sea, I offered to Mike that I could also post it here on our site for on-line access by our fellow guests and their friends and family, and that offer was gladly accepted.

The link below leads to a .MOV file containing the slide show, which can be played back via QuickTime, iTunes, or any of a number of other video players. You can download Apple’s QuickTime here in case you need it.

The .MOV file is just over 50MB in size, and takes about 32 minutes to play through (there are a lot of photos there). There is no sound in the file, so don’t be alarmed if you hear nothing when you start the slide show. I would suggest playing some Jazz or Classical music in the room you view the slide show in to add a nice aural ambiance.

To play the .MOV file, click on the link below, and then save the .MOV file in a local directory on your system. Once it is fully downloaded, and assuming you have QuickTime or another compatible player installed, you can double click on the file to play it. You may also have to click on the “play” button in your video player to start the slide show.

NatGeoExplorerSlideshow.mov

Enjoy the show! And special thanks from all of the guests (including us) to the National Geographic Explorer Photo Team for all their advice, comments, and support!

 

GPS Tracking – A Day In And Around Ushuaia

March 4th, 2010 at 8:21 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Our unexpected full day in Ushuaia turned out quite nice. We started with a visit to the Maritime Museum of Ushuaia, located in the former prison which had been the core of the foundation of Ushuaia as a penal colony a long time ago.

We then wandered through the main shopping and restaurant portion of downtown Ushuaia – lots of tourist goods, a large number of restaurants offering all you can eat buffets (we didn’t partake), and tour companies offering trips to see penguins (been there, done that).

Lunch required busing to Patagonia Mia, a restaurant near the entrance of the Tierra del Fuego national park. While not bad, the meal we had there was perhaps the most disappointing of the trip – they only offered fish (cod) as a main course (we managed to get a breaded beef filet for Bas), and it was bland and uninspired. Quite a contrast from the diverse and almost universally great food we’ve enjoyed aboard the National Geographic Explorer.

After a quick stop at the ship, we took a two hour bus ride to Estancia Harberton. Estancia means “ranch” or “farm”, but while Estancia Harberton used to be a sheep farm and place where firewood was harvested, today it’s more of a historic site. On property is also the Museo Acatushun Aves y Mamiferos Marinos Australes, the Museum of Birds and Marine Mammals, which features the world’s best collection of marine mammal skeletons and skulls. Pretty impressive, although we had limited time available to truly appreciate the collection.

Our final dinner aboard the Explorer awaited our return.

We’re now just about thoroughly packed and ready to get up before dawn so we can leave Ushuaia just after dawn. We hope to be in Miami late Friday night at a hotel Lindblad has arranged for all of us on the charter. On Saturday we move to a nice hotel in Coconut Grove, a trendy area south of downtown Miami.

The GPS track for our day in and near Ushuaia is below.

 

Southern Right Whale on the Starboard Bow – Announcement

February 19th, 2010 at 2:40 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

February 18, 2010 – We had just finished lunch, when we heard exactly what I titled this blog. The table we had been eating at was on the starboard side, so I looked out the closest window to see it. I was not able to see it, Plan A failed. Plan B, meaning, I ran to my cabin and grabbed my camera and jacket, then immediately headed towards the bow. At the time that I started snapping photos of the Southern Right whale, my mom was in the chart room, my dad was in dining room, and my brother was in the bridge talking to the captain about the whale. We all saw the whale dive, but all from different angles.

Southern Right whale's fluke

Southern Right whale's fluke

My mom had seen me on the bow without my parka and decided that the whale would take its time resurfacing, and so she went to get my parka. My dad figured the same thing and headed in to get his parka and cameras. Bas stayed where he was.

The right whale is named such because it was the right whale to hunt, it was slow and it floated after it died. It is also extremely rare because they were hunted so much and for a longer time than most of the other whales and they did not get protection until the 1930s. The V-shaped blow is unique to the right whale and the callosities on the head are unique to each individual.

Sort of V-shaped blow

Sort of V-shaped blow

Okay, we had seen the whale in the distance and were catching up to it again. I had no idea where the rest of my family was…until my brother handed me my parka which meant my mom was involved somehow because Bas would not naturally do so. I heard my dad’s voice somewhere behind me but not quite sure where.

The right whale reappeared first on the port side but then came back to starboard for the true performance. I could see the small white spot (compared to rest of the whale) as it surfaced and the whale opened its mouth to gather copepods, and at the same time lifted its tail (one fin was bent). The Whale sank back into the water but returned back for the final perfect, photo opportunity, a dive.

Right whale starting to eat

Right whale starting to eat

The Southern Right whale is eating

The Southern Right whale is eating

We see the Southern Right whale's fluke a second time

We see the Southern Right whale's fluke a second time

We saw it again further out but I was firm in my belief that nothing could beat what I just seen. Plus, it was declared that the ship was not going to continue following the right whale.

Bas started talking about other things we could be seeing that would be “so much better”, the blue whale and the sperm whale. Preferably the blue whale, and then tried to “convince” me of this. I would be happy with either one and I was and am pretty happy about just seeing the right whale……

We saw blue whales the next day.

 

The World’s Largest Animal Ever – The Blue Whale

February 19th, 2010 at 1:34 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

As I write this latest blog post, I continue to be distracted by penguins literally popping out of the water just a dozen or two meters from me on the other side of my cabin window. Hundreds of them. Plop. Plop. Hop. Plop… But never mind – need to focus…

As I mentioned in an earlier post today, Bud roused us from slumber with the announcement that a small pod of whales, including at least two blue whales and possibly a fin whale, had surfaced and could be see on the port side at the bow. Blue whales are the world’s largest animal – even larger than the largest dinosaurs were tens of millions of years ago. And thanks to exploding harpoons – the only things that could subdue them – they were hunted nearly to extinction at the early part of the last century, and they remain incredibly rare even today as a result of that decimation.

So it didn’t take a lot of prodding for us to groggily pull on some weather protection, grab cameras, and stumble our way to the other end of the ship and stand out on the bow, freezing but thrilled at this wonderful opportunity.

The whales were quite some distance away, so great pictures were tough, but I did manage the following photos:

Two of the whales we saw this morning, including a blue whale just coming out of the water

Two of the whales we saw this morning, including a blue whale just coming out of the water

The blue whale blowing as it emerges from the water

The blue whale blowing as it emerges from the water

A close-up of the blue whale coming up out of the water to blow

A close-up of the blue whale coming up out of the water to blow

The blue whale is the world's largest animal, and it took quite some time after the head went under water to see the dorsal fin

The blue whale is the world's largest animal, and it took quite some time after the head went under water to see the dorsal fin

The obligatory blue-whale-in-front-of-tabular-iceberg shot

The obligatory blue-whale-in-front-of-tabular-iceberg shot

After nearly an hour we moved on, had breakfast, and I was just getting ready to go upstairs to use the sauna they have here (what a wonderful thing, when it’s on) to rid my hands of the morning chill when the call came that a larger pod of blue whales had been found. I already had sauna momentum (since I was in my swimsuit and bathrobe) but Linda grabbed my camera and tried for pictures, but the whales were too far away. After my sauna time I found the ship was still tailing the whales, and witnessed a half-dozen near simultaneous blows, and flukes coming out of the water, but have no photos to record the moment.

The highlight of the second encounter, however was that Stephanie got her first ever DNA sample of a blue whale with her crossbow, and was ecstatic and deliriously happy.

 

Visiting Pourquoi Pas Island in the Antarctic

February 19th, 2010 at 11:19 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Monday, February 15th – It was the second day on the Antarctic Peninsula so far, and we had an early start as Bud, our expedition leader, decided we should visit Pourquoi Pas Island as we headed back north.

In addition to both the regular shore visit and a Zodiac tour, we were also given the option of kayaking in the area, so that’s what we all did.

The National Geographic Explorer includes an easy to assemble kayaking platform which floats in the ocean

The National Geographic Explorer includes an easy to assemble kayaking platform which floats in the ocean

We were in the Group B kayak group, meaning we left the National Geographic Explorer at 9:15am by Zodiac, getting to a special floating kayak launch platform in the open seas, and then getting in two-person kayaks. Bas and I were in one kayak, and Linda and Krystyana in another.

Krystyana and Linda in a kayak at Pourquoi Pas island

Krystyana and Linda in a kayak at Pourquoi Pas island

We spent about an hour paddling around, looking at the floating chunks of ice, the glacier cliff, and various critters on bits of land (and a penguin on one of the ice floes too).

Another gorgeously colored glacial ice berg

Another gorgeously colored glacial ice berg

The bits of ice in the water ranged in size from the size of a pack of cards to larger than our house. We were warned during our briefing to stay away from anything taller than us because they were dangerous and unstable.

One small iceberg had an Adelie (pronounced “Ah-Dell-Ee”) penguin on it, and on a nearby rock outcropping we found a group of fur seals.

Fur seals line the rock outcroppings at Pourquoi Pas Island

Fur seals line the rock outcroppings at Pourquoi Pas Island

I also took the opportunity to approach a smaller “berg bit” and break off a chunk of ice to taste it. I was surprised to find that it tasted pure – not a bit of salt. Apparently, with glacial ice, even floating in the water, the saline of ocean water does not penetrate beyond the surface of the ice.

After our kayak workout, we were taken to shore at nearby Bongrain Point, a landing on Pourquoi Pas Island, where we found numerous small groups of Adelie penguins on a broad expanse of rock rubble and a glacial moraine (deposits of rock left by receding glaciers).

Adelie penguins observing the National Geographic Explorer

Adelie penguins observing the National Geographic Explorer

Penguins prefer to enter the water in groups to reduce the risk of predation of any one particular penguin

Penguins prefer to enter the water in groups to reduce the risk of predation of any one particular penguin

Adelie penguins leaping into the water to go feed

Adelie penguins leaping into the water to go feed

A swimming Adelie penguin

A swimming Adelie penguin

We found many of the rocks on shore covered by lichen, a fungal spore “plant” which can be hundreds of years old and grows very slowly. Lichen are the most populous plant family found in Antarctica, as regular tall plants simply cannot survive the climate. There’s a rare specie of grass, two flower plants, and several mosses that grow in the Antarctic, but not much else that will grow on land.

Lichen grow surprisingly abundantly in the Antarctic

Lichen grow surprisingly abundantly in the Antarctic

Close-up of the same lichens seen previously

Close-up of the same lichens seen previously

A different set of lichens on a rock at Pourquoi Pas Island

A different set of lichens on a rock at Pourquoi Pas Island

Later in the day our progress was interrupted by a pod of over twenty killer whales, and we got to spend nearly an hour following them around.

Six orcas swim together in the frigid waters of Antarctica

Six orcas swim together in the frigid waters of Antarctica

We stumbled across some crabeater seals relaxing on an ice floe while watching the orcas nearby

We stumbled across some crabeater seals relaxing on an ice floe while watching the orcas nearby

Two orcas with a glacier in the distance

Two orcas with a glacier in the distance

Our cetacean mammal researcher, Stephanie Martin, went out on a Zodiac in order to use her special crossbow and quarrels to try an obtain a DNA sample from one of the orcas, but after a half hour was forced to return to the Explorer, unsuccessful in her efforts.

Our cetacean specialist Stephanie pursues a bull killer whale with a crossbow to get a DNA sample

Our cetacean specialist Stephanie pursues a bull killer whale with a crossbow to get a DNA sample

Our day ended with what is likely to be our only passage through an ice pack. The ice pack was loose, composed of countless chunks of varying size of ice. But what was thoroughly impressive was the loud grinding noise that accompanied our ten minute passage through the ice pack.

Linda and I watched the forward progress of the Explorer through the ice pack on the TV in our cabin, and the trailing progress from our balcony at the rear of the ship. Pretty amazing.

Each cabin on the National Geographic Explorer has a TV on which the view from a forward mounted camera can be seen - here we are in a loose ice pack

Each cabin on the National Geographic Explorer has a TV on which the view from a forward mounted camera can be seen - here we are in a loose ice pack

This is what the loose ice pack looks like - it was not cold enough to freeze solid while we were there

This is what the loose ice pack looks like - it was not cold enough to freeze solid while we were there

The National Geographic Explorer's wake through the ice pack it is breaking through

The National Geographic Explorer's wake through the ice pack it is breaking through

 

Entropic Planning in the Southern Seas of Antarctica

February 19th, 2010 at 9:40 am (AST) by Jake Richter

One of the things that we find really wonderful about our current trip on the National Geographic Explorer is that no part of our itinerary is thoroughly planned in detail. The closest thing to planning of our daily activities is fervent hope on the part of our expedition leader, Bud Lenhausen, that what he would like to do is in fact possible.

Reality is part of the reason for uncertain scheduling – here in the Antarctic weather and climate conditions can change rapidly, as can ice conditions. For example, the original plan a week ago was for us to be down in the northern part of the Weddell Sea somewhere, but word had come from other ships in the area that the ice pack had gotten too heavy there to break through, even in the type of icebreaker we’re traveling in at present. So, a couple of nights ago Bud decided to have us head for the South Orkney Islands early and give us an extra day on South Georgia island (which was fine with most everyone on board).

In fact, even the first landfall on the Antarctic Peninsula was a bit of serendipity. Bud and Captain Oliver Kruse had decided to try and get us below the Antarctic Circle, but weren’t sure ice and weather would permit it. Fortunately, conditions were amenable, but fog prevented our first landfall, so we had to move to a new location. The result, however, was that we reached the furthest south latitude that the National Geographic Explorer had ever been, as well as the furthest south some of the naturalists had ever visited. Certainly it was the furthest south we had ever been, but that can be said for every day of the last week and a half as well.

And then there’s the wildlife that “gets in the way” of our “plans”. This morning, at 6:50am, Bud’s voice emanated from the ceiling about our bed (where the public announcement system speaker is located), apologizing for waking us all up, but wanting to let us know that the ship had come upon a blue whale adult and calf as well as a fin whale, and suggesting we might want to see them. The Captain then kept the Explorer circling to keep us near the whales for nearly an hour so we could admire (and take pictures of) one of the world’s rarest whale species.

And an hour later we came upon another mixed pod of blue and fin whales (half a dozen in total based on the blow counts I made), and the ship stayed with them for a while too. These two “distractions” will put us into the South Orkney Islands a bit later than originally planned (with planning done only a day or two ago), but so what?

On a regular cruise ship, port schedules are firm and inflexible – they are the rule. Here on the National Geographic Explorer, the only rule is to let nature adjust our course and schedule. That rule seems to be working pretty well for us so far, and it makes each new day an adventure full of unexpected surprises.