Travel

Dispatches from Antarctica: Wilhelmina Bay

  • Mar 05, 2014
  • 459 words
  • 2 minutes
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Photographer Rob Stimpson is travelling with One Ocean Expeditions on two trips to Antarctica. This is the fourth in a series of blogs on his travels through the southern part of the world.

The magnificence of marine wildlife in their natural habitat is truly a sight to behold. For me, the whale – a giant among other marine mammals – casts a spell whenever it’s seen.

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Dinner time for a humpback whale. (Photo: Rob Stimpson)

It is a moody day weather-wise in Wilhelmina Bay, Antarctica, where a low lying mist has settled. Snow is falling, which soon gives way to a soft hazy light. Our zodiacs launch and we head further into the bay towards the glaciers. The gentle ocean swell promises a great day of photography.

The Antarctic Peninsula is a spectacular part of the continent. Mountains and huge walls of ice tower above the ocean.

Whales are on the photographic agenda, though we haven’t told the whales that yet. I have been to this area a number of times and always see whales, mostly humpbacks. These timid creatures reach monstrous sizes of over 15 metres in length and can live for 50 years.

We continue to cruise around Wilhelmina Bay, photographing the walls of ice and icebergs, but waiting for the opportunity to take some good whale images. We float quietly, hoping for an up-close-and-personal encounter with these leviathans. Out of the blue comes a sound that’s like a booming canon. We turn around to see a wall of ice release from the glacier. We are almost a kilometre away as we watch the ice flip over to reveal a green luminescent hue.

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Humpback tail. (Photo: Rob Stimpson)

A few minutes later, a large swell sweeps under our boat, lifting us up. It passes without incident. About 30 minutes before we head back to the ship, the sound of a whale blow is right beside us. The ocean is in a tumultuous swirl as a humpback surfaces, waving its pectoral fin. We realize they are bubble netting: swimming in circles, exhaling through their blowholes, they create a cloud of bubbles that traps their prey, then swim straight up, mouth open, ingesting krill or small fish.

As we sit in our zodiacs, the whales swim about us with such precision. One humpback rolls over, its mouth open to display a very pink tongue and its baleen. My camera is shooting nine frames per second, filling up the memory card. Minutes later, the humpback starts the process again, but this time, I just watch in awe, no camera in hand. Then, I see a long dark shape just below the surface swimming underneath our zodiac, heading in the opposite direction.

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