Highlight of an Antarctica Wildlife Expedition
|The night before "The Orca
Incident," our expedition leader suggested we take time to sit quietly and let
Antarctica come to us instead of rushing about trying to see everything. So that next
morning I was sitting on a rock in the incomparably beautiful Yalour Islands,
contemplating the awesome beauty of Antarctica and the family rituals of a little colony
of king penguins.
I was so moved by the natural wonders surrounding me that I completely lost track of time. I was a little startled to realize that I was completely alone. A quick 360-degree survey confirmed that there was not another human in sight in this blue and white wonderland.
As I hurried back in the direction of the Zodiac I met up with a fellow traveler who shouted, "Hurry, they've spotted orcas!" A whale sighting had become the major longed-for event during this trip and I was afraid that my contemplative lingering would cause a boat full of whale lovers to miss the thrill of seeing an orca from the close-up vantage point of a small rubber Zodiac. I ran as quickly as one can in knee high rubber boots on rock-strewn snow and ice to the awaiting Zodiac, and as soon as I got on board we took off through the growlers and bergie bits of icebergs towards the orcas.
||What transpired during the next couple of hours ranks as an unforgettable high point in each of our lives. We sat in our Zodiacs mesmerized by five orcas swimming in unison around three separate chunks of ice. On each chunk of ice there was a leopard seal trying desperately to disappear and avoid the orcas unwanted attention. Our expedition leader informed us that just last year a scientist had witnessed what we were now witnessing for the very first time. It was big news and made National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. His observation was that orcas work in co-operation with one another, swimming in unison to create a wave pattern in an attempt to knock the seals off of the ice. This clever hunting technique quickly and efficiently could provide dinner for a pod of orcas.|
|The adrenaline was rushing through all of us as we witnessed this incredible nature show. Adding to the excitement, the orcas were keenly aware of our presence and kept poking their heads above the water line to have a look. At least a few of us weren't so sure they might not be looking for some variety in their diet! Our expedition leader assured us that humans have never been attacked by orcas, but we all knew that they are also called killer whales! His assurance offered little comfort when they broke away from their hunting activity and swam toward us. Sometimes they even swam right under our Zodiacs! There was one juvenile in the pod and he seemed particularly curious. On one occasion he swam beneath my Zodiac and then rotated onto his side and looked me directly in the eye! Our eyes met no more than two feet apart! A fellow passenger shared this otherworldly experience, and as the whale dove down we turned and grabbed one another shrieking with delight and disbelief.||
As the drama continued to unfold we were amazed to observe each of the seals knocked off of their ice floes and then in turn crawl back up on to the ice a few minutes later. We concluded that what we were seeing was actually hunting training for the juvenile, since it has been documented that orcas don't hunt for sport.
This close-up encounter is the kind of magic that can be experienced when one leaves the bustling human world behind and goes deeply into a world like Antarctica.
By Linda Andrews
|Antarctica is the largest,
purest wilderness on earth, the only continent that has been almost free of human contact
since the beginning of time. Its beauty is so spectacular and otherworldly that it often
leaves visitors speechless. And on the Antarctic Peninsula, a 700-mile-long finger of land
pointing toward the tip of South America, it's not just the breathtaking scenery that
beckons, it's also the spectacular display of wildlife - millions of penguins and numerous
other seabirds like petrels, skuas, and albatross, as well as an abundance of marine
mammals, including most of the world's great whale and seal species.
Mountain Travel Sobek U.S.