14th November 2018 -having a whale of a time

Morning Zodiac cruise

A new day in Antarctica and a new program of brilliant experiences were anticipated.  Cierva Cove was to be our first stop.  Cierva Cove lies 6 nautical miles (11 km) southeast of Cape Sterneck in Hughes Bay, just south of the Chavdar Peninsula along the west coast of Graham Land, Antarctica.

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This morning I swung open my curtains to see a wall of glacier flowing down a mountainside and reaching the sea perhaps 100 metres from my balcony. It was real.  I needed to tell myself this was a real glacier. You can look at it in the photo below, and see its pressure crevasses.IMG_4201Once layered with clothes and a balaclava, I could see more of this glacier bay and the thin spreads of sea ice, from my balcony.IMG_4199.JPG

IMG_4200.JPGNot a breath of breeze is passing so that the water below me is calm, with small blocks of ice floating imperceptibly without melting.

And then there were the gigantic blocks of ice that looked like land, seemed almost indistinguishable from land, but were small icebergs right in front of me; see video here.

When I look from my cabin balcony, I can see a Zodiac with a few passengers meandering through the sea ice near the foot of one of the glaciers.  The Zodiac is a small black/dark shape to the right of the photo below.IMG_4206.JPGThis morning we are not taking an on-shore excursion rather we are scheduled for a Zodiac cruise around Cierva Cove on the Antarctic Peninsula, without landing.

When I left half an hour later, I expected to find myself looking up at the ends of several glaciers that have reached the sea. That did not happen but my experience out on the water was unexpected and astounding.

Now I have just returned from an amazing AMAZING amazing hour cruising Cierva Cove on a Zodiac with 9 others – and we have had a whale of a time.  Whoops!  Spoiler alert!  Let me start at the beginning.

From the ship we headed towards the sea ice/’brash’ ice seemingly emanating from a glacier, and we began to travel through it.  Hard as rocks even when small.  Rocks of ice. It is a hard powerful sound as the Zodiac propellers hit these and they crunch against the craft.  Andy, our driver, asked to be told if he we heard a hiss.  We all laughed hoping that the inflatable Zodiac will not be pierced.IMG_4209.JPG

IMG_4215.JPGTwo different types of ice are floating; one that is comprehensively aerated and appears shades of white to blue. The other is clear like a diamond (no aeration and perhaps from the bottom of a glacier where the pressure has squeezed all air from the ice) and at a distance seems to be black and dirty – it is simply reflecting the darkness of the water within which it bobs.  Often when looking across the water it could be difficult to discern the difference between snowy ice on water and snowy rocks on land.IMG_4207.JPG


IMG_4236.JPGSometimes we would swear this ‘dirty’ ice was a seal because the distant shape appeared to be a head or tail or body.  But we never saw a seal. Just stunningly beautiful ice structures in all directions.  I guess I preferred the blue/white ice combinations.IMG_4240.JPGWhen Andy said he could see a Minke whale in the distance, there was a collective intake of breath and our eyes widened. He powered our Zodiac towards the whale.

I stared at the ocean surface until I saw the whale’s dark body arcing up and down into the water with its fin being the last to drop below the surface.  I looked around and realised there were a great number of Zodiacs on the water (previously hidden behind icebergs or at a great distance across the Cove) and they were all motoring to this area. The word was out. For fifteen or more minutes the Minke whale occasionally surfaced and slipped out of sight again.

Andy decided to follow it into some sea ice and there we idled without sight of the whale. For a while. To our eye-popping amazement, suddenly the whale seemed curious and even to play around our Zodiac. It rolled over under water, so we could see its white underbelly length glowing through the crystal-clear ocean. And then a couple of times its head cut through the surface and rose high above the water less than 5 metres from where I sat/stood (can’t remember what I was doing in so concentrated a moment, except keeping my eyes open).  Here is a photo by Australian Andrew, of one of those moments; thanks Andrew.DSC_1067 -Andrews photo of Minke.JPGThe Minke twisted and turned under the water, arced occasionally, swam under the front of our Zodiac, meandered over to another Zodiac and then headed elsewhere leaving us with the occasional view of its back arcing up from the sea surface. Its length was easily twice that of our water craft yet its flexibility and ease in the water was supreme.

Phew!  Wow!  These are the beautiful unplanned moments of life.

As the Zodiac returned to the ship, our sense of profound satisfaction with our extraordinary luck was almost tangible.  Everyone except me took many photos of the whale and some got the ‘money shots’ – whether those photos will be emailed to me or not, somehow I don’t care.  These images are locked into me. I am in Antarctica. I am in that environment. I am here.  I am not over there on that map. I am here. But I am finding the notion of being here difficult to grip.  I have now seen an Antarctic whale up close in its own environment. It was real.  I have seen it. I have experienced being as close to its deep-water environment as it is possible to get (the water temp was minus 1.1 degrees, and flakes of snow constantly fluttered around us, so no-one was prepared to take a dip).  My god! Stupendous. Momentous.


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