Day 7 |
Jan 21, 2011

 Neko Harbour 

By by Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist


Co-ordinates: 64º50’S, 62º33’W
Weather: Sunny clear skies until afternoon – then overcast
Air Temperature: 3ºC

Today was one ‘whale of a day’.

We were heading into Neko Harbour at the southern end of the Errera Channel, for a morning full of adventure – a combined Zodiac cruise and landing. This was our second continental landing of the trip – and what a day we had for it!!!

The skies were clear and the sun was shining, and there wasn’t even a puff of breeze. Although we are expecting rough seas during our Drake Passage starting tomorrow, it was nice to have one more calm, sunny day before the storm!

Onshore, we wandered up to the penguin rookery and were once again entertained by the silly antics of these cute little birds. There were plenty of chicks and the views out over the glaciers were spectacular. We saw the site where an unmanned Argentinean refuge hut used to sit, but last year it was washed away by the surge of a huge calving off the glacier. Even as we were ashore there was a calving that resulted in a large wave and ended up stranding our anchored rescue Zodiac on some rocks. Luke, our Fisheries Specialist, with his long legs, was thankfully able to haul it off.

But the most amazing action occurred during the zodiac cruise! We had a very curious Minke whale who decided to ‘play’ around the boats for most of the time. At one point this beautiful sleek animal actually raised its head right out of the water – nearly touching the guests on one of the Zodiacs. Minkes are usually very shy whales and disappear quickly when spotted – they can reach speeds of over 30kph! But this one whale swam under and between the Zodiacs without any fear! We got great views of the streamlined rostrum and even got to gaze into the large dark eyes. Wow – amazing!

As soon as we were back onboard, the Expedition Team headed out on deck to look-out for more whales – our wish was to have another good Orca sighting nearby, then head a bit farther north to where we had seen Humpback whales last cruise to see if they were still hanging about. Well – we certainly got our wish!!!

There were orcas everywhere – several small groups (pods) encircled the ship – everywhere you looked you would see these gorgeous animals surfacing as they swam past. Just when we thought there were no more orcas around, and the Captain stated to head to our next destination, another pod would appear very close to the ship! These small whales are actually classified as the largest of the dolphins – they reach about 10m in length and 10 tons in weight. There are three ‘Types’ of orcas – those that eat mainly other whales, those that eat mainly seals, and those that eat fish. Recent DNA studies seem to show that these may, in fact, be different species. From what we saw, these were clearly the seal eaters.

If the Minke and orca sightings weren’t enough, when we reached our final destination there were humpbacks – just as we had hoped. But never in my wildest dreams did I think we would see what we did – two large humpbacks lunge feeding within a few meters of the ship for over 30 minutes!! INCREDIBLE!! These animals are up to 15m long and weight over 40 tons, but they were lunging out of the water with their mouths open, gulping up tons and tons of krill. They were so graceful and beautiful like they were ballerinas! Looking around at all the guests out on deck, I had to giggle – every single person had a look of awe on their faces and grins from ear to ear. This was a truly once in a lifetime sighting, and even the Expedition Team was speechless.

This is certainly a day that none of us will ever forget! Antarctic at its best!!