27 March – What a day!

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Friday 29 March 2019

Written by Lucy

This morning we were woken up early, as daylight was starting to poke through the clouds, to snowy scenes on deck; in places the snow was two inches deep. After breakfast we were supposed to be landing at Portal Point in Charlotte Bay, for our last chance to walk on the Antarctic continent but unfortunately due to ice conditions and waves this was not possible. Instead, we went out for a zodiac cruise looking for wildlife amongst the ice. Despite the hail and bumpy sea conditions many students saw humpback whales, a minke whale and Antarctic fur seals. However, the first major excitement of the day was yet to come. As Sonja’s zodiac with Tiffany, Christy, Meaghan and Will onboard returned to the Plancius, they were intercepted by two very inquisitive humpback whales. The two whales circled them, spyhopped next to the zodiac and covered them in whale snot with their blows. The spectacle lasted for at least 15 minutes, and everyone returned with enormous smiles on their faces.

 

Humpback whale spyhopping Sonja’s zodiac with another whale surfacing right in front (photo by Lucy)

 

And the view of the whales from the zodiac (photo by Sonja)

 

As the sun came out we started our three hour transit to our second destination further north, Cierva Cove. The marine mammal observers battled strong winds and glare whilst surveying, but it was Maeva’s keen eyes that first spotted the next major excitement of the day – Orca! As the ship-wide broadcast announced the sighting, our cameras and binoculars were rapidly grabbed and we lined the railings of the upper deck. At first they were a white and black flicker in the distance but to everyone’s amazement something very special then happened. The orca changed direction and came close to the ship, and for a few wonderful minutes the pod swam alongside us. There were many squeals of delight and disbelief.

 

One of the killer whales – its dorsal fin is clearly notched (photo by Lucy)

 

Once we reached our destination at Cierva Cove we boarded the zodiacs again, this time for a science cruise. Before starting to collect data we visited a Chinstrap penguin colony. Most of the penguins were high up on the rocks due to a very large leopard seal patrolling the water. At one point the leopard seal started showing an interest in our zodiac which made us nervous because a few days ago another leopard seal had bitten and punctured a zodiac! Our environmental conditions were measured successfully, and much to Antonia’s excitement we even saw some salps. On shore we could see red huts of the Argentine base Primavera that was used earlier in the season but had now been closed for the winter.

 

Chinstrap penguins (photo by Lucy)

 

Once back onboard Plancius we sat in a line with our laptops out and started collating our data from the trip so far with an awesome view of ice capped mountains and humpback whales out the window. Beats the library any day! This truly spectacular day ended with that classic Antarctic dinner, a BBQ on the back deck, and then at the disco we danced our way into the night.

The ice and wildlife continue to amaze and although tonight we are leaving the Peninsula, heading north towards the South Shetland Islands, slightly earlier than anticipated due to bad weather coming our way. Everyone is just so grateful for everything we have experienced so far. Many of us have already said that we want to come back, the “polar bug” has got us.

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