Whales and Seals and Penguins – Oh My!

Day 28, Grand World Voyage 2020

Friday, Jan. 31, 2020; Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

If we were thrilled to be in Antarctica yesterday, today was simply stunning. I awoke at 4 a.m. and saw the sun hitting a distant mountain. The days start early and end late.

By the time I got up at 6 a.m., heavy fog surrounded us. But it lifted some an hour later and the clouds remained for most of the day, with the occasional spot of sunlight.

The Crow’s Nest filled early with people eager to watch our journey through the narrow Neumayer Channel – really a fiord — from the front of the ship. The outside temperature hovered just over freezing, but there wasn’t much wind and the ship moved slowly.

I spent the morning and early afternoon listening to the commentary of our Antarctic Expedition team, working on yesterday’s blog and rushing outside to get photos of the majestic mountains, the glaciers too numerous to name and the sea life surrounding us.

Eventually I stopped jumping up to see the whales.

We cruised slowly through Neumyaer Channel, passing icebergs small and large. The granddaddy of them all was 350 feet high and a half-mile across, our experts said. Even from Deck 9 it towered over us. Many of these icebergs have floated around here for decades, as the seawater is about the same temperature as the ice.

At one point it appeared that we hit a dead end, but the channel made a sharp turn and we continued between the high mountains and steep glaciers.

After leaving Neumayer Channel, we sailed the Gerlache Strait to Paradise Bay on the Antarctic mainland. Captain Mercer felt his way slowly through the ice in this bay, and sometimes we could see how much the ice extended below the surface. We even one with an “Antarctic hot tub.”

The outside deck extends from the back of the Crow’s Nest on either side of the sliding pool cover, and passengers hurried from side to side to see feeding whales. Many times the whales floated along the surface as they ate, lazily dipping under the water and reappearing a few feet further along. But occasionally they went for a deeper dive, signified by the flip of a tail.

Many of the ship’s staff ventured out for photos, including Angela, one of the stellar Crow’s Nest crew. Another steward served chowder and bullion.

Our Antarctic Expedition team helped us sight other sea life. Seals passed by on floating ice, including a leopard seal.

Birds and ice circled the ship. As we neared the northern exit from the bay, a small expeditionary ship passed by us going in the opposite direction.

The narrow exit features a Chilean station that was abandoned by people, but the Gentoo penguins took over. They stayed despite the recent return of people during the summer months. Thousands of these small penguins nest right up to the buildings. One building boasts the Chilean flag, similar enough to that of Texas that some passengers thought the state had its own Antarctic station.

By late afternoon we had traveled a bit further north through Gerlache Strait to Wilhelmena Bay. It is described as another beautiful place but now it was hidden by fog and mist. A few whales surfaced, but we had seen so many that few people bothered to get up for a closer look.

Just before dinner the Captain made a disappointing announcement. The planned visit tomorrow by scientists from America’s Palmer Station is canceled. The outpost has canceled all interaction with cruise ships and expeditionary boats out of an abundance of caution about the coronavirus.

The Antarctic Treaty governs all visits to the Antarctic and there are lots of regulations the ship must follow. We even received detailed guidelines to help us minimize our impact on the environment. For example, the ship has suspended laundry services so we won’t be discharging wastewater, even if treated.

Dinner was a pleasant surprise – a theme dinner that didn’t call for gala attire. The theme was Winter Wonderland. Snowflakes hung from the dining room ceiling and cool blues and whites decorated the tables. I wore white slacks and a silver top along with all my silver and white gold jewelry. Later there was a Great White Way party that we didn’t attend. Maybe I will hear more about it tomorrow.