Antarctica.....The Land of Ice, Whales and some Seals!

February 29th 2020
Published: April 16th 2020
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Majestic MountainsMajestic MountainsMajestic Mountains

Photo credit: Michelle Sole ship's photographer.
With sadness we’ve left the South Georgia Islands behind. We can imagine that many a passenger have felt similar emotions and, in an effort, to buoy our spirits Quark threw a BBQ on the aft deck! What kind of craziness is this? A bit frigid but stimulating and for world adventurers we found it an exquisite idea. So yes, we wanted to embrace all that we could and grabbed an outdoor table rather than a more sensible one inside. Really, how often will we be given an opportunity like this… zero… cool. Wrapped in our yellow jackets we grabbed a cup of hot spiced wine as we socialized in the buffet line headed for the lobsters on the grill. We had lovely salads, fresh fruits, grilled vegetables, fish, chicken, beef and those beautiful lobsters. A BBQ feast well done.

We had such a marvelous experience on South Georgia Island....we were not sure what was next...but how could it top what we had already seen and experienced? The history, the beauty and of course....penguins! It's a good thing that we both are quite fond of these tuxedoed birds, because the abundance of these fine creatures was something to behold.

Looks friendlyLooks friendlyLooks friendly

But not always.
departing South Georgia, we took on some new passengers. They had spent the season working on the island as part of a large ongoing project. They provided us a well-prepared presentation on all they have done to eradicate the rats and other non-native animals and plants. It has taken a decade of hard work and dedication. Our penguin euphoria lingered as we listened. We were happy to hear what they had to say and grateful they could join us for dinner. Bet they were pretty happy as their dining experiences were upgraded!

Drygalski Fjord. 54 degrees 47’ S/ 036 degrees 05’W

As the ship’s Captain moved into this glacial area, we knew firsthand we were in polar regions. This was one of the coldest days we had experienced. We were the first ones out of our cabin and on the bow of the ship for at least 45 minutes before our new friend John joined us and then slowly others came out for the experience. As we looked around at our remote location we smiled at the stark beauty. Dave had to run back to the cabin for more socks and another layer of clothing as the air
Soaring at SeaSoaring at SeaSoaring at Sea

Photo credit: Michelle Sole ship's photographer
was bitter cold and we didn’t want his toes feeling like he was in an icebox. At this point we were admiring chunks of floating ice and the mountain peaks surrounding us were growing larger the closer we got. The water had changed color and in some spots was more of a Caribbean green rather than the deep blues of late. We slowly entered the bay and sat for a couple of hours admiring the beauty -- somehow the captain turned around and we headed back to sea. It really is amazing what they can do with a ship this size. We were glad to go inside for a while to warm up as the intensity of the wind was penetrating.

Whales!... Whales!... and more Whales!

The original itinerary had planned on taking us to a bay where they thought we would have a good chance of seeing whales. Well.....we never got there. On the way the whales found us! Whales and more whales! We are told we saw more than 100 and we would not be surprised if the head count was higher. Some were blowing off in a distance, some were near the ship, some showed
Whale of a TimeWhale of a TimeWhale of a Time

Photo credit: unknown passenger
their fins and another breached. Fins whales and humpback whales for the most part but yes, we are told they confirmed at least one illusive Blue Whale. It is amazing to see so many spouts blowing in the wind. People would point, ooh and ahh, click, click, click attempting to capture the perfect shot…. and then, stand quietly absorbing the moment. It is unlikely we will ever see that many whales again unless we repeat this trip.

Over the next few days it seemed as if we saw whales everywhere, we went......Please note six of these photos are given credit to other passengers. Quark creates a drop box for passengers to post some of their photos each day to share. They are available for us to download for one year. We didn’t have a lens that would capture the whale photos that were far away, so we’ve added a few of theirs. Please note photo credit. We always want to give credit where credit is due.

Point Wild on Elephant Island. 61 degrees. 05’S 054 degrees 52’ W

Our trip historian and guide had filled our heads with many of the adventures and misadventures of great explorers
Zodiac ViewZodiac ViewZodiac View

Love Antarctica
to include Shackleton. In 1915, this location because significant as his ship Endurance became trapped in the Weddell sea and eventually sank. After months of being stranded they sailed to Elephant Island where they sheltered. Shackelton left with a few men heading to South Georgia Island with an attempt to rescue. Long story short, 105 days and 4 attempts later Shackleton arrived back at Elephant Island and rescued all 22 men. We cannot imagine what it must have been like for all of these men.

We saw lots of seals and penguins. There is a monument to Shackleton and his men. Amazing stories from times past. One of the great things about this trip is all the education we receive about explorers who have come before us.....and survived in such a harsh environment. The spirit of exploration can bring out the best in some, as they long to go where no one has been before.

Iceberg A68A. 61 degrees 56’S / 053 degrees 33’W

We set off on a cloudy day in search of Iceberg A68A, which broke off from the Larsen Ice Shelf in July 2017. We are told that when they break off and are
Hanging out on the Ice. Hanging out on the Ice. Hanging out on the Ice.

Photo credit: Michelle Sole ship's photographer
of a certain size, they are named by the U.S. National Ice Center. The names are based on a grid system, so you’ll know which section of ice it came from and given a number, so you’ll know how many have broken off. We can all probably agree that some icebergs are big....and some are not. But this particular one is beyond huge. How big you say? Well...for starters, it has a surface area of 5,800 square kilometers (2239 square miles). Okay...still not impressed? How about is two times the size of Luxembourg....larger than the U.S. state of Delaware. It weighs one...trillion...tons. Now that's big!.

Our ship cruised along-side of this massive iceberg for a few hours so we could enjoy the beauty and take photos. It has thick with a flat top. At times we could see blue hues dancing off the side. There were lots of whales in the area, so more photos were taken of them also. Whales, whales and more whales. Once we returned home, we investigated and found videos of satellite tracking where this chuck has floated. It is fascinating. It is really hard to get your head around the size of this
A whale of a time.A whale of a time.A whale of a time.

Photo credit: Ship's passenger
ice berg. 660 feet thick.

Danger Islands 63 degrees 22’S/ 054 degrees 35’W

We have a friend in Australia whose moniker on Travel Blog is Dancing Dave. When we vacationed with David and his lovely wife Denise on the Legendary Blues Cruise there was a small group of Dave’s hanging out together, so they all got nick names. Dancing Dave, Dapper Dave, Diesel Dave and my Dave became Dangerous Dave. So, you can imagine the excitement we experienced when we learned we were going to The Danger Islands. Dangerous Dave does the Danger Islands! Very cool. A match made in heaven?

There are seven islands in this group, and we landed on Heronia Island. Normally this island is full of Adelie penguins, this being late in the breeding season most were gone to sea when we arrived but the island has hills and great views so many hiked to the top for the scenery. There were enough Weddell seals and penguins to entertain those of us who didn’t want to go to the top. There were good vantage points for scenery half-way up where we had a nice view of tabular icebergs. We’ve mentioned in past blogs
The Bird MistressThe Bird MistressThe Bird Mistress

Jean Pennycook
how bad penguin poo smells. Well this island was particularly pungent, and the ground was covered in the penguin guano. Such is paying the price to be such intrepid explorers!


We landed first today and that meant our last hours would be on the zodiac in search of sea life from an ocean view. Almost immediately our guide Jen saw humpback whales halfway between our current location and the ship….. and off we went. Yes, we followed all the rules and kept our distance as we zigged and zagged in an effort to keep up. These whales were traveling with purpose. They were not just hanging around. Splash, splash, splash we ducked as the waves hit the zodiac…. Jen apologized and asked if we wanted to continue. We hate to admit that the first few minutes we Binkley’s were looking at each other with eye contact our secret language and communicating that this was a wasted effort. Boy, were we wrong!! We caught up and at the same time the whales slowed a bit and were close. We could see them spouting, surfacing and putting on a show. Fortunately, the whales didn’t know the rules about how
Love the colorsLove the colorsLove the colors

The big part is under the water.
close to get so once our engine was off they could come close. We were about thirty feet away. They were off again. Jen started the motor and we followed. By the end of our time tailing these two whales all of us were varying degrees of wet and getting cold. One poor soul was drenched head to toe and Jen shared her gloves with him because his were soaked. On some days depending on which way the wind is blowing there can be a “bad” seat in the zodiac. We stayed relatively dry....and were quite glad.

The Bird Mistress

On our first day aboard the Ocean Endeavor we were in the lounge enjoying the welcome tea with our acquaintance from Travel Blog, Dave Allcorn and he introduced us to Jean Pennycook, the ship’s ornithologist, also affectionately referred to as The Bird Mistress. Jean was a delight! She has a wicked sense of humor and her knowledge about the birds we saw seemed to know no bounds. There is something quite special when you run into someone who is extremely knowledgeable about a subject and also can get you excited about it by how they convey their knowledge.
Happy Dave & MJHappy Dave & MJHappy Dave & MJ

Antarctica Rocks!
Jean was most definitely that person. Every presentation was funny, stimulating and left us wanting more. Jean introduced us to the world of sea birds and penguins. Each day the list was updated of what saw on this trip, photos were shown and additional details of these soaring or huddling creatures was presented at the wrap up in the evening.

For all you birders who want to take this trip you are likely to see what we did and that includes 7 kinds of penguins, 5 albatrosesses, 14 petrels & shearwaters, 3 storm petrels, 3 kinds of diving petrels, 4 cormorants, the Black crowned night-heron, 7 kinds of swans, geese & ducks, 4 vultures & raptors, plovers, oystercatchers, the Snowy Sheathbill, 4 skuas, 6 gulls & terns, flycatchers, wrens, finches, sparrows and a few others. we've become bird nerds....and loving it!

The penguins, the storm petrels and the South Georgia pipit were some of our favorites. The pipit is only found in South Georgia...and the only songbird in the Antarctic.

6 Degrees of Separation

You’ve heard of the concept that all of us are connected in this world by 6 degrees of separation. On this
A68A IcebergA68A IcebergA68A Iceberg

The size of Delaware.
trip we proved that may be true. We know Dave Allcorn because we write a blog on Travel Blog, Dave introduced us to Jean the Queen of Birds and as it turns out Jean has worked at McMurdo Base, Antarctica since 1999 on a penguin research project. Well, actually she works in one of the field camps but for the purposes of this story McMurdo is close enough. After Jean and Merry Jo were introduced many conversations about McMurdo ensued and they discovered they knew a couple of people in common. MJ needed to find out all the changes at McMurdo since she worked there in 1989. As you can imagine over the years, we’ve read many Antarctica blogs and have another travel blog acquaintance that lives an hour from us in Florida. Yes, another Dave…. Surfbird surfbird of Travel blog fame… although he hasn’t published a blog in a long time --we intend to discuss that with him when we get together soon. Dave and Jean know each other… we have walked away from Antarctica knowing the Ice connects many people. Simply amazing........

Farewell for now…. Soon we cross the Antarctic Circle.

PenguinScience You can read about Jean's work.

Our recent Antarctic Blogs:

Antarctica with Quark Expeditions!

Bountiful Birds, The Big Battle and a TravelBlog Reunion

Antarctic Expedition Ships and Zodiac Etiquette

In Search of King Penguins!.... and we found them!!

Additional photos below
Photos: 57, Displayed: 30


Good FishingGood Fishing
Good Fishing

Pristine Waters
Rainbows AboundRainbows Abound
Rainbows Abound

We've seen several on this trip. Amazing.
Welcome BBQWelcome BBQ
Welcome BBQ

Fun, fun, fun.
Heck of a BBQHeck of a BBQ
Heck of a BBQ

Lobster and more
Lazy SealsLazy Seals
Lazy Seals

Hundreds of them lounging about.
Fin WhaleFin Whale
Fin Whale

Photo credit: Unknown ship's passenger
Penguin on the RunPenguin on the Run
Penguin on the Run

Places to go.

16th April 2020

Happy Dave & MJ
What a fan-bloody-tastic post! How lucky you both were to experience all that your Antarctic cruise gave you. xx
16th April 2020

Michelle and Kevin, Thanks for continuing to read and comment. This was a one of a kind experience and we embraced all that we could.
16th April 2020
Weddell Seal

Can it get any better?
Each time I read one of your blogs on your Antarctica cruise, I think Wow, it nothing tops these sights and experiences -- but the next one always does. Hundreds of whales -- how lucky can you get!?! Great photos!
16th April 2020
Weddell Seal

Can it get any better?
That is the same question everyone asked themselves in the mud room each day as we were un-layering from our adventures.We were always worried the rest of the trip would be disappointing...and that never happened. Always another spectacular animal or landscape. Simply amazing.
16th April 2020
Good Fishing

Too bad we don't have smell-a-vision yet. Wonderful descriptions. Where would you rate this in your travel adventures?
16th April 2020
Good Fishing

Oh no, you would not want smell-a-vision on this one. This trip was spectacular. Still absorbing but easily in the top 3 if not higher. An amazing trip.
16th April 2020

Dangerous Dave does the Danger Islands!
Had to laugh. Yet unless you defaced a rock with "Dangerous Dave was here" only a select group will know he had been there!
16th April 2020

Dangerous Dave does the Danger Islands!
No defacing needed. The universe knows the Dangerous One was there. It was awesome.
16th April 2020

Whales, whales & more whales
In our whale chasing during humpback whale migrations down the East coast of Australia we have found they only seem to breach in rough seas while in calm seas they preferred to just snort and wave. I appreciate you would have seen a variety of whale species in Antarctica. Did you notice variations in whale behaviour depending on the size of the swell?
16th April 2020

Whales, whales & more whales
I'm not sure we noticed a difference based on ocean swells. I'll send you a video of some action in calm seas.
16th April 2020

McMurdo Station
Pleased to see reference and reminiscence of your time at McMurdo Station in 1989 in this blog, MJ. Hope to hear more about that in your Antarctica blogs as that was a pivotal reason for you being so keen to return to Antarctica and introduce the Dangerous One to the world's largest hunk of ice and snow.
16th April 2020

McMurdo Station
Thanks for reading and commenting. Living among the Ice in Antarctica captures a piece of you and indeed I needed to share that with my honey. MJ.
17th April 2020

Birds and whales...
Did you actually see all those birds in the Antarctic or were some in Argentina? As for whales you've had a whale of a trip! I love that you made connections to those you knew in the past.
17th April 2020

Birds and Whales....
Only a couple of those birds were in Argentina and the rest were along the route of the ship. Amazing locations. Stanley is family warm considering and lots of birds. The ice connect people. I loved this adventure. Thanks for reading and commenting.
17th April 2020

Very beautifully written post. Thank you very much. We, readers, love to read articles like this.
17th April 2020

Thank you for reading and commenting. We are happy you enjoyed it.
18th April 2020

Amazing wildlife
Wow, what an absolutely amazing trip. Seeing all these whales and getting so close to them must have been a unique experience.
18th April 2020

Amazing wildlife
Indeed it was amazing. We were amazingly close to so many whales. Truly an experience. Thanks for commenting.
20th April 2020

Whales and seals and penguins oh my!
Fantastic! I can not comprehend an iceberg that big!
20th April 2020

Whales and seals and penguins oh my!
It truly was difficult to grasp what we were looking at. This was a terrific trip.
26th April 2020

Yay, Antarctica! Great blog, and just amazing photos! I love the stark, raw beauty of it all, together with the cosiness and comfort that the ship provides. The size of the A68A iceberg is just incredible! And what amazing whale photos and experiences! I'm looking forward very much to reading your next one 😃
26th April 2020

Your comments mean a great deal to us so thank you for following along. This is the perfect size ship. The iceberg is hard to imagine... even after seeing it. Oh... and the whales were marvelous. Antarctica is special.
23rd July 2020

A whale of a time !
The food on board looks great did they keep the salad fresh ? Icebergs and whales .....I am there with you , thanks for taking me along. Lynne
27th July 2020

A whale of a time!
The food was very good. We were amazing they had fresh salads at all times. Glad you joined us on Icebergs and whales. It is an amazing part of the world.
21st August 2020
Close to Us

Did we see a Blue Whale?
You said that you might have seen a Blue Whale. We went on a whale watching trip in Sri Lanka some years ago. We were told that one of the whales we saw was a blue whale. But I doubt that it was true. I think they just said that to make us happy. By the way, the only time I've seen a film clip of David Attenborough where he actually looses control and is anable to speak was when he was riding in a boat just nest to a blue whale. When he reached out and touched it he just kept saying "It's a blue whale, it's a blue whale" over and over again. /Ake
21st August 2020
Close to Us

Blue Whale
I do believe a blue whale was spotted because one of the passengers got a photo. We can't say we saw it. It was too far away. I might question it if they hadn't had a giant telephoto lens. MJ
15th October 2020

Absolutely incredible
Wow, just wow... what an amazing part of the world. I feel cold though after reading your blog and seeing all these beautiful icy photos. Amazing that there are so many different birds to see. I would love to do this trip.
16th October 2020

Absolutely incredible
You must find a way to take this trip. Secretly we must be becoming birders. They were amazing. Each day better than the next.

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