A whale of a day!

Our fifth (and second to last) day in Antarctica was spent in a place called Yankee Harbor, which used to be the site of an American whale processing facility. Indeed, we found a number of whale bones (and more than a few penguin bones) as we walked along the peninsula that formed the outer barrier of the harbor. Well, technically it was a moraine, which is more or less a river of rocks that is carried along by a glacier as it moves. This moraine was at the leading edge of the glacier so when the glacier receded the moraine became a peninsula and a bay formed in the depression left by the glacier. More detail than you wanted I'm sure, but at least you know I'm doing something on the cruise aside from eating, drinking, and taking pictures. Wait, I haven't been able to upload pictures, so I suppose I could just be eating, drinking, and getting my learnin' on.

The day started with an 8a kayak trip, which Walter was not overly enthused about. In fact, the only reason he consented to join is because we bribed him with games of Risk the day before. We've now figured out that it's easiest if he doesn't even take a paddle, as they are too long for him and they don't have smaller paddles. That keeps him drier and more comfortable, but also means that about half way through or so he's bored out of his skull. And unfortunately, this was a pretty boring kayak trip. We did see a couple of Weddle seals and an iceberg that rolled around a bit while we were close by, but otherwise it was nothing but clouds and choppy waves. We've come to expect an incredible level of service from the crew on Seabourn, but we were still impressed when we got back on the boat and they told us that given our poor experience they were refunding the cost of the kayaking. Given that half the reason we go is just for the exercise we would have been perfectly fine paying for the excursion, but we're now booked for two more kayak trips in the South Georgia Islands so also nice to get the refund.

The other upside of kayaking is that it allows you to then participate in the shore landing with any of the color groups. Every cabin is assigned a color group so that they always have less than 100 people onshore at any given time. Since we went kayaking at 8a that freed us up to join the 11a shore landing instead of waiting for our group at 12:30, which is right when we normally eat lunch. Walter really wanted to lounge around the boat instead, but we got him a few croissants and forced him back out at 11a.

Normally for the landings you have a couple of options of which you can do some or all depending on your enthusiasm or fitness level, and we always do them all. For this landing there was a choice of a Gentoo penguin rookery on one side or a long hike out along the morraine in the other direction. We started straight out along the morraine, counting whale and penguin bones along the way as well as looking at all the different rocks deposited by the glacier. Some were pretty neat looking, resembling a yam sliced lengthwise far more than a rock.

As we reached the end of the moraine and started talking to one of the guides a woman next to us shouted and pointed...at a whale pup breaching not 100 yards from us. We rushed to the shore on that side of the moraine and I started recording videos. I caught two more breaches on video, a number of surfaces by both the mother and pup, and finally several good dives with great views of the mother's fluke. As the whales moved further away from us and into the harbor itself the expedition crew pulled up three zodiacs right at the end of the moraine and told us that anyone who still had a life jacket with them could get on and ride after the whales. Fortunately, rather than drop off Walter's life jacket I always clip it to my backpack, and Jie and I always wear ours throughout the landing. So off we went, riding through the harbor following this mother and pup at a distance as they dove and surfaced several more times. It was incredible. I've pulled together a video of it, but it's 600mb so no idea when I'll be able to upload it.

After following the whales for a while our time for the landing was up so we were returned straight to the ship. That meant we missed the rookery, but it was well worth it to observe the humpback whales. After lunch that afternoon when the boat was underway to our next location, Jie and I went to the steam room while Walter did his journal and reading in the relaxation room of the spa. Jie got back to the room first and on a whim went outside to look around, and what did she see but 4 more humpback whales!!! When Walter and I came back down the bridge had just seen the whales and started turning towards them. We then spent another 30 minutes or so outside on our balcony, still in our robes from the spa, taking pictures and watching the whales. We didn't see any more breaching, but the whales did get VERY close to the boat and we got some excellent photos of their blowholes and flukes. Again, it was incredible.

Fortunately, our last day in Antarctica was almost as amazing...but more on that tomorrow.