Archive for the penguins Category

60 days in Antarctica

Posted in antarctica, Leopard seal, penguins, photography, Uncategorized, whales with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2014 by polarguide

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The last voyage of my Antarctic season just ended this morning and I am already sitting in the  airport.  After two months on the ship being completely absorbed in such a remote and beautiful landscape my head is swooning as I am forced back into the  world. The airport is a harsh re-enty to society.

One Ocean expeditions markets the last voyage of the season as a marine mammals special exploratory trip. In late March the penguin chicks have all fledged from the nest and the adults are heading out to sea and penguin viewing becomes less of a focus of our journey. The whales in Antarctica tend to congregate around the Antarctic peninsula this time of year. Krill, the main food source of all the marine critters, aggregate in deep water bays and swarm into a biomass that can exceed  two million tons.  We sail into these bays, launch zodiacs and cruise among the feasting whales hoping for close encounters.

The second day of our voyage we spotted two Blue whales charging forward of the ship.  Blue whales reach lengths of over 100 feet long and weigh over 170 tons. Not only are they the largest living creature on the planet today, they are also the largest animal to have ever lived, larger than any dinosaur that ever roamed the earth. It is estimated that there  are only a two thousand blue whales in the southern ocean. Given the size of the southern ocean a blue whale sighting is a near impossible occurrence.  The opportunity to see  not just one, but two so close to the ship was, well, words can’t describe it and the pictures don’t do it justice.

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Blue whale surging past the ship

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When we arrived in Antarctica we launched our zodiacs and kayaks and were immediately visited by Minkie and humpback whales.  The whales are so satiated from feasting on massive amounts of krill that they log on the surface napping in a food coma. As we cruise past them they ofter become curious and swim over to us to have a closer look. It’s quite exciting to be held in the gaze of such a and large mysterious sea creature.

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We spent six days cruising the peninsula and the South Shetland islands searching for whales and seals. The leopard seals begin to prey on penguins this time of year. As the fledging chicks enter the ocean for the first time they are easy pickings.  Leopard seals like to show off their kill by swimming close to our zodiac’s, forcing us to watch as they thrash the carcass to tear off bits of flesh.

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Along the Journey we get excellent opportunities to see and photograph Elephant seal, Crab eater seals, Wedell seals and Fur seals.

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There are still plenty of penguins around. We make at least two landings a day to wander among the remaining penguins. Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins are the most common penguins we see late in march. On this voyage we were lucky to see a rare pair of Macaroni penguins.

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Wildlife viewing is obviously a huge draw to travelers wanting to see this portion of the world, but the ice that covers and surrounds the entire continent is what gives this place life and creates a magical landscape unlike any other place on earth.

I look forward to getting back there next season.

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Almost amazing

Posted in antarctica, penguins, photography, Uncategorized, whales, wildlife with tags , , , , on March 30, 2013 by polarguide

Still sifting through the thousands of Antarctic photos from this season.  I keep mulling over certain shots that should have been amazing but the forces of nature were not always working in my favor and although the subject matter might be impressive the quality of the images is not great.

Orca whale and Wandering Albatross

Orca whale and Wandering Albatross

Orca whales and Wandering Albatross are incredible animals in their own right.  To capture a great image of either is rare, but to capture an image of both at the same time while far out to sea is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  This was my opportunity and although I got the shot, no matter how hard I try, I have to admit its a not a great shot. You can barely recognize the Orca, the Albatross is out of focus and the colors are muted due to the fog.

Gentoo Penguin and whale Vertibrae

Gentoo Penguin and whale vertebrae

Several Vertebrae and ribs bones of large whales litter the beach’s in some parts of Antarctica.  I layed on the ground for an hour or more hoping a penguin would waddle over to this large whale vertebrae and stick his head through the hole, and one did. I had prepared my self and my camera but the composition is poor and the light is dull and the background is too busy and the penguin in the foreground with his back to camera ruins the whole shot for me.

Then I though: Wouldn’t it be great if a whale swam past and I could get a portrait of a penguin with the whale bone and a whale in the back ground.  Guess what, about ten seconds later two whales swam by.

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I fumbled around to find the right angle. I changed lenses in a bit of a hurry and nabbed this shot. But again the light is grey and uninteresting. The color of the water, the whale bones and the rocks are too similar, they all blend together. There’s not enough contrast, nothing pops. If you look in the upper right portion of the picture, just below the horizon there is a black cycle shape on the surface of the water.  That’s a humpback whale, barely noticeable and out of focus. I thought the icebergs would add a nice element, but they don’t. Or maybe they do, but the composition is all wrong.

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This was one of the most beautiful pieces of ice that I saw this summer.  It was washed up on the beach and I wanted to show how the still ice was shaped by the motion of the waves.  I do like this shot but its a little boring.  I spent a-lot of time with this piece of ice and I thought the outcome would be better.  I should have changed my position and looked at it from different angles.

Antarctic Reflections

Posted in antarctica, penguins, photography, Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 26, 2013 by polarguide

I am sitting in the Buenas Aires airport waiting to board a flight back to Alaska.  The Antarctic summer season has ended and I will be in transit for the next 20 hours until I reach seattle.

Leaving the ship is like leaving home and the relationships made on board are family bonds but I am never sad to start my travels home because I have so much to look forward to in the Alaskan spring. Yet I am already reflecting on my past three months at sea in Antarctica and looking forward to next season.

Here are a couple reflective photos from the past two voyages.

Reflections of Antarctica

Reflections of Antarctica

Gentoo penguin reflection

Gentoo penguin reflection

Prion reflections

Prion reflections

 

 

In Ushuia

Posted in antarctica, Falkland Islands, penguins, photography, South Georgia Island, Uncategorized with tags , , , on February 18, 2013 by polarguide

We are in port today for just a few hours after finishing an 18 day voyage to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia Island and Antarctica.

We had a great voyage with lots of bad weather and terrific wild-life experiences.  I have just a few minutes to post this and a few of my favorite photos.

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Most of the Reindeer have been removed from South Georgia Island.  We bartered some fresh vegetables for a hindquarter with the folks doing the removal.  We cooked it in the galley, I have to say it was by far the nicest meat I have ever eaten.

King penguin with newly hatched chick

King penguin with newly hatched chick

Sea ice in the Drake Passage

Sea ice in the Drake Passage

We spent one full day trying to find a route around sea ice that had drifted up from the Weddell sea.  At one point the captain decided to break straight  trough.

Antarctica, early season

Posted in antarctica, penguins, photography, sea kayaking, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on November 25, 2012 by polarguide

I Just flew in from Argentina.  I made it home to Juneau, Alaska around 10 pm November 22nd, thanksgiving evening, after completing the first voyage of the season to Antarctica.  The voyage ended on the 20th of November but Argentina was in the midst of a national strike and all the airports were shut down.  I finally made it to the airport on the afternoon of the 21st. After twenty five hours of flying and over thirty five hours of travel (including layovers) I was blown into Juneau by the seasonal Taku winds at 10 pm, late for thanks giving dinner.

Our Voyage began on November 8th with a two day crossing of the Drake passage. The Drake passage is a five hundred mile wide body of ocean that separates Antarctica from south america, it is famous for foul weather.  The Drake lived up to her name on our two day sail south.  We encounted winds in access of thirty five knots and seas over five meters high. Not the most comfortable of crossings but it does make for some great birding and bird photography as the petrels and albatross love to surf the wind over the swells. Capturing birds in flight over a stormy Drake passage has become one of my photographic obsessions.

Pintado Petrel over the Drake passage

It is early spring in Antarctica and the weather was a dominating factor in deciding our itinerary.  Temperatures remained well below freezing for the entire journey and we had to dig our Zodiacs out from beneath several inches of snow each morning.

Regardless of the weather we were able to complete all but one of our excursions off the ship. In fact it was the perfect weather for skiing and snow shoeing given the amount of fresh snow that fell each day, although it did make kayaking a-lot more challenging. Fortunately we had a hearty group of adventures on board who were ready and willing to face the elements.  They didn’t travel to Antarctica expecting sun and palm trees, after all.

The ocean temperature was so cold that the falling snow failed to melt and accumulated on the surface of the water.  The kayakers were paddling through two inches of slush while snow piled up on the decks of their kayaks.

The continent of antarctica is beutifull this time of year.  The penguins are just retuning and havn’t had time to foul the pure white snow to a muddy shade of guano red.  They are coming home after a long winter at sea and its facinating to watch them exit the ocean and climb the steep snow banks of the beach to return to their nesting sites. Once there mates greet each other with ritual dancing and braying, they squabble over nesting sites and then mating begins.

Copulating Gentoo penguins

The weather conditions didn’t allow much opportunity for photography.  I shot less than five hundred photos on the entire trip, most are not worthy of sharing.

I will be home in Juneau until December 2oth, I will return to Argentina on December 28th to board the ship again for more Antarctic adventure. I will remain on-board the ship until March 27th.

Antarctica and then some

Posted in antarctica, Elephant seals, Falkland Islands, Fur seals, guiding, Leopard seal, penguins, photography, South Georgia Island, tourism, travel, Uncategorized, whales, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 29, 2012 by polarguide

Our ship, Russian owned and operated Ice class research vessel the Akademik Ioffee

For History buffs, photographers, adventurers and wildlife enthusiasts Antarctica is the ultimate vacation destination. This will be my third season working in Antarctica with One Ocean Expeditions. One Ocean offers several Antarctic voyages ranging in length from ten to eighteen days.  The crown jewel of wildlife viewing polar expeditions is the eighteen day Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica adventure.

The Falklands float 250 nautical miles west of Argentina, it takes two full days at sea  to reach the Islands.  The archipelago is a self-governing off shore territory of the United Kingdom.  There are more than 200 Islands  with a population of  3,100 people, the vast majority being of British decent.  Argentina has always claimed the Falklands to be an Argentinian territory and in 1982 the Argentinian military invaded the islands and a two month-long war ensued resulting in the defeat and surrender of all Argentinian troops.  To this day Barbed wire fences barricade beaches and pastures laden with land mines.

The Islands are a windswept landscape of stony hills and sea cliffs  punctuated  with  emerald pompoms of  tussock grass. For three days we make landings at significant wildlife viewing areas. We visit nesting sites of the Black browed albatross, Rockhopper, Magellanic and Gentoo penguins.  Fur seals, Sea lions  and elephant seals rest and raise their young on wavy beaches.  We complete our time in the Falklands with a visit to the city of Stanley, the capital of the islands, Population 1,500.  From there we begin our two-day journey to South Georgia Island.

Windy hillside of Carcass Island, Falkland Islands.

Nesting colony of Black browed albatross

Nesting pair of Black browed albatross

Magellanic Penguin

Rockhopper penguin

Captain james cook was the first person to step ashore on South Georgia Island in 1775.  The first Sealing campaign began in 1788 and by 1828 1.2 million Fur seals were slaughtered for their pelts, driving the species to the edge of extinction.  Whalers arrived in the late 1890’s and by 1930 40,000 whales had been killed. By 1965 the whale populations had declined so severely the industry was no longer economical and the whaling stations were abandoned.   During our three days on South Georgia Island we visit the remains of these whaling stations.  The bones of long abandoned building and the rusty corpses of ships that once participated in the slaughter  now serve as shelter for the Fur seals and penguins they once exploited.

Abandoned ship near whaling station

Fur seal pups take shelter under propellers from abandoned whaling ships

South Georgia Island  is one of the most intense wildlife experience on the planet.  Its stormy shores teem with life and the  number of animals on one beach can be overwhelming.  We visit King penguin colonies where the penguins number in the hundreds of thousands.  They waddle down beaches along side fur seals.  The Elephant seals stack themselves side by side so numerous you could walk their backs for the entire length of the beach, although I wouldn’t recommend it, these behemoths weigh in at eight tons.

Typical South Georgia beach

250,000 king penguins

Don’t get too close to these guys

Before landing at south Georgia we issue bright red rain-gear and green rubber boots to every passenger. This wardrobe serves two functions: It keeps the penguin poo off the passengers clothes and  helps the staff differentiate people from penguins. We lecture every passenger about how to safely conduct themselves around so much wildlife.  We remind people that Elephant seals are wild animals,and although they have a placid demeanor they can be accidentally dangerous.  “You can avoid being crushed to death” I tell people, “by not napping on the beach.”  I also advise that if while photographing a fur seal it rises up on its flippers and runs at you open-mouthed as if it might bite you, it might.  And last but not least, please don’t stand on the penguins.

Pushing the limits

Passengers give their full attention to this lecture.  They nod in agreement as if it were all common sense, but when the first zodiac surfs to a landing grown men and women revert to children. I call it the “Willy Wonka effect”. Remember that scene in Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory when Willy swings open the doors to his world of candy ?  All the children run wild stuffing their faces with exotic sweets and wreak havoc on willy’s wonderland of confection. Then the fat kid falls into the chocolate river.  landing on South Georgia Island  is a-lot like that.

A zodiac slides up the beach, red pants swing over pontoons, green boots trudge up the gravel slope and penguins scatter.  They knock into each other like concerned and confused umpa-lumpas. I stand back and watch the comedy unfold: People can’t control themselves, I watch them chase penguins with their point and shoots cameras. To my left I see someone topple over a penguin while walking backwards trying to take a photograph. A little old lady runs past me with an angry fur seal hot on her heels while to my right a man inches too close to a mountain of Elephant seals, daring one to crush him. And then the fat kid falls into the chocolate river, except the river isn’t chocolate its a hot puddle of penguin shit mixed with Elephant seal dung.

After snapping several thousand photographs everyone relaxes. The penguins catch their breath and with the guidance of experienced staff people learn that if they just stand still the wildlife becomes curious.  Slowly, animals assemble to gawk at the strange creatures with red legs and awkward green feet.  Penguins side up to inspect the new comers in a highbrow manner, as if comparing wardrobes. At the end of every excursion passengers return to the ship in a state of joy. cocktail hour and dinner are all a buzz with tales of the day.  Everyone has an exciting story to share of their intimate wildlife experience.

Close encounters with Fur seal pups

Communing with king penguins

Our last stop at south Georgia is at Grytviken whaling station to visit the grave of Antarctica’s most famous explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.  We make a procession to his grave and toast the boss with a slug of whiskey then spend the afternoon walking among the relics of the whaling station.

Grytviken whaling station

Shackleton’s Grave

As we sail south I watch from  the aft deck as the island fades into the northern horizon.  Here I become washed by a wave of nostalgia.  Our ship surfs the wake of  histories great heroes. We are following a course set by men such as: Vasco DA Gamma, Ferdinand Magellan, Francis Drake, James cook and Thaddeus Von Bellinghausen. Our destination, a continent so secluded its existence remained a myth until it was first sighted in 1820. Antarctica.

The ice in Antarctica is immense and looms above everything like a great glinting mountain.   Black cliffs reach to the sun as if trying to escape the sinking weight of the blue blanket if ice .  The entire continent is entombed in a world of winter.

Enormous iceberg dwarfs a zodiac

The continent is frozen under seven thousand feet of glacial ice, the downward force drives its plastic mass seaward until its precipice shatters into the ocean creating icebergs the size of small countries.  The bergs glow a surprising shade of blue that seems to radiate from deep inside, as if an icy neon light burned at its core. The temperature of the thick ocean drifts around 32 degrees. There are no trees, the vegetation is limited to lichen and moss.  It is a stark world of contrast that shines like a jewel.

Breaking through sea ice below the Antarctic circle

Regardless of the harsh, barren environment Antarctica flourishes with life.  The extended summer sunlight and constant upwelling current create a marine soup that supports a complex and bountiful ecosystem.  Thousands of Penguins nest on rocky snow-covered hill sides.  Leopard seals, crab eater seals and Wedell seals nap on ice floes while orca whales hunt through a maze of icebergs.  humpback whales graze on krill in the frigid inky water.  Being there  feels like  you have traveled through time to a place before people.  A place where the earths forces conduct a symphony life.

Lonely penguin returning to the nest

Close encounter with a Humpback whale

Orca whales dwarfed by Antarctic landscape

My first voyage departs November 8th.