Category Archives: Seals

Up Close and Personal….

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Over the radio came the call to action. “Howard to Judd, Howard to Judd come in please, humpbacks by the ship” …….

Three km from the ship, we headed back. Quick. Double time. The first of our truly closer than close encounters that made us appreciate, just how privileged and insanely lucky we were on this trip, came about as were heading back from our landing at Cierva Cove. Arms aching from pushing and pulling our paddles at breakneck speed, we headed back to the Polar Pioneer and the bobbing Zodiacs, unsure of what to expect. Whales, yes but which ones and where were they?

Captain Sascha had spotted two ‘sleeping’ humpbacks earlier and they were, some thirty odd minutes later still spy-hopping, ‘spouting’ fishy breath, diving and showing their flukes to the passengers and crew of the ship, who watched in awe and astonishment from the four zodiacs… Thankfully some with Go-Pros and decent cameras!!

Suddenly the pair turned their inquisitive nature towards us and the rest of our band of merry kayakers, slipping under us, literally and quite scarily, (all 15m of their length gliding within a metre of us) performing underwater acrobatics to reveal their barnacled flippers beneath the surface of the water. The whales sauntered off, circling and spouting en route, to check out the Polar Pioneer with the crew running from side to side, watching what the gentle giants were going to get up to next.

Frigid with cold and excitement we didn’t capture many decent images, but what we took away with us was the most incredible memory; one of the most majestic creatures there is on this earth honouring us with it’s playful presence. It truly felt like we were in our very own ‘Frozen Planet’ episode… Minus the cameramen.

We are sooo looking forward to sharing the video footage – it was THAT incredible and really quite difficult to put into words alone!

The very next day our whale blowing experience was replaced by seal sirens…. One leopard seal in particular took a shine to Judd (or his kayak) and led us a merry dance through the labyrinth of ice around Cape Renard.

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Crystal clear water around the cove

Not only was the vista amazing with shifting colours of blue; azure, indigo and turquoise troughs of water and icy sculptures capturing our senses, we also were on the look out for the numerous penguins and seals that were in nearby waters – lone seals where seen hugging the edges of the bergs and floes, a herd of fur or Weddell seals popped up out of nowhere and swam across our path, followed closely by a raft of penguins powering by in the opposite direction – we were left wondering where to look and point our kayaks!

Leopard seal heading over to J's kayak

Leopard seal at large

A particular leopard seal and his few friends came to the rescue. They came right at us before neatly turning and deftly sliding behind a berg. We started to turn our kayaks, trying to keep up with their high speed ballet in the water, only to find they, or one leopard seal in particular, returned to “play” with us, swimming beneath our kayaks in turn; nibbling at our rudders and gently knocking the underside on the way. Not forgetting they do have a set of very sharp (read flesh tearing teeth) Judd sensibly told us (Matt) to keep his hands out of the water.

Shadow of leopard seal under kayak

Shadow leopard seal …

Awkward on land they were so graceful and energetic in the water; twisting and turning beneath the kayaks, to pop their curious heads up our of the water, one within centimetres of Judd numerous times and all three staying within 5 metres of us for sometime.

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The Weddell Sea and Antarctic circle….

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This trip became a first for not just us, but the crew and expedition team too… Not one ship had managed to make it into the Weddell Sea this season, with pack ice far too thick and treacherous to push through.

Captain Sascha, who headed up our all Russian crew, skilfully pushed through the farther than anyone had; the craggy buttress of Rosamel island marked the entry point, skies brightened and an eerie silence fell on the deck, broken only by the sound of ice cracking loudly beneath the hull, as we slowly slugged our way through the frozen waters.

Tabular iceberg stretching as far as they eyes can see

Tabular iceberg

Polar Pioneer pushes her way thru ice into Weddell Sea

Pioneer pushes into Weddell Sea

We passed ice floes bearing lone crab eater, Weddell and fur seals and the most incredible tabular berg stretching for miles and miles – in fact as far as the eye could see.

 

Sadly we had reached the point of return, as the skipper conceded safe passage could not be found around the peninsular. BUT with perfect conditions, icy calm clear waters it was once again time to jump (not literally for obvs reasons) into kayaks and zodiacs to check out leopard seals we had seen dozing.

Crab eater seal taking a nap on

Napping on a floe

A HUGE consolation prize for not spending time in the Weddell, we would now be able to head further South, 66 degrees 33′ to be precise and actually cross the Antarctic circle!!

Yippeee!!!

Huge cause for celebration, we amassed on the forward deck and raised a glass as we crossed ‘the line’.   240 years and 42 days, to the day, we all took the same oath Captain Cook did …

“We will keep Antarctica pristine and untouched for peace, harmony and nature. So be it”