Whales ahoy

Whales ahoy

Humpback whale fluke Fournier Bay Antarctic Peninsula Alex Burridge

Alex Burridge – Antarctica Travel Centre

In late December and early January I was fortunate enough to return to Antarctica & South Georgia. On previous voyages early and late in the season I’d seen a few whales but nothing prepared me for the evening of our first day in Antarctica.

An exceptionally calm Drake Passage had enabled us to make very good time, so much so we had the opportunity for an additional, unplanned, zodiac excursion into Fournier Bay. The first idea I had that we might be seeing a few whales was when I overheard the message on the radio of our zodiac driver and expedition guide Tristan ‘there’s some good Hotel Bravo action back here’.

You didn’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out Hotel Bravo HB = humpback whales.  As we manoeuvred between the bergy bits and larger icebergs we were soon in the middle of what I can best describe as a scene from a David Attenborough documentary.  There were Humpbacks all around us, blows, bubble feeding (the whales dive and blow a ring of bubbles that concentrates the krill, they then ‘open wide’ and swim to the surface), diving and calling.  It was the incredible sounds of the whales that I found most powerful, deep guttural bellows that reverberated around the bay.

There were so many humpbacks the biggest challenge was knowing where to look, a blow to port, the bellow of a whale to the stern.  Quite obviously the feeding conditions were excellent and the whales were making the most of the opportunity.

Humback Whale Fournier Bay Alex Burridge
Humpback Fluke and Ioffe Jack Burridge

This zodiac excursion highlights several factors;
1. Flexibility of operation
2. Utilising the extra time afforded by a calm Drake Passage
3. How much chance plays into any individual excursion or voyage
4. That there are so many sites, some well-known, and others like Fournier Bay that can offer life-long memories
5. Perhaps the most important, the ability to get everyone off the boat quickly to ensure everyone could enjoy this magical experience.

Zodiac Wilhemina Bay Antarctica Penisnula Alex Burridge

Sadly it was time to leave the whales and head back to our expedition ship the Akademik Ioffe (One Ocean Navigator). Life on-board an expedition ship is comfortable (not luxurious) the food is excellent (I gained 3kg in three weeks – the deserts were just too good) and the focus is on maximising time ashore or off the ship exploring by zodiac (in part assisted by being a small, less than 100 guests, ship). You’re kept quite busy and that’s how I and my fellow guests wanted it; to maximise this incredible opportunity. The buzz in the dining room at dinner time made it clear how enthralled we all were.

Now the challenge for the expedition team was how to try to match this, our very first, amazing, Antarctic excursion….

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