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  • Writer's pictureRomy Jansen

It's a Wild Life! - The Biggest Highlight

As we stood in line, we were a bit nervous and weren’t looking forward to it. Surprisingly, even the seasoned adventurers, the older ones, were queuing up ahead of us. We couldn't hide in the safety of our room, because they would notice. Beneath the shining sun and against breath-taking scenery, our moment approached. Just when the tension reached its peak, a person appeared, armed with a shot of vodka for some extra thrill. And then, with hearts pounding, we took the plunge—literally—into the icy depths of the Southern Ocean. The polar plunge was a very cold and a once-in-a-lifetime experience ;) 

 


Antarctica is known for its extreme weather conditions. Our bags were filled with all our clothes to layer up when needed. Surprisingly, during our World Travel we only needed our rain pants twice, leaving them untouched in our car the rest of the time. Unfortunately, Rob’s pants had lost its waterproof charm and the Polar Boutique lacked his size (and Rob the finance; 125USD for rain pants?!). Fortunately, the generosity of those who contribute to donation boxes at the end of their voyage came to our rescue. Rob managed to borrow a waterproof pair just in time, a crucial necessity given the unpredictable Antarctic weather. Transitioning from the ship to the shore, we embarked on Zodiacs, depending on the weather; the journey could be both bumpy and often really wet.


But luck was on our side, the weather conditions weren’t that extreme. Or we were extremely lucky. Our journey between South Georgia and Antarctica faced a major storm with extreme winds and 10+ meter waves. Uncertain if we could even reach Antarctica or that we would end up staying an extra 5 days in South Georgia until the storm passes (thus skipping Antarctica altogether!:O). The captain skillfully managed to find a gap in between storms, allowing us to proceed and avoid another approaching storm. Despite one snowstorm day and a few times it was too windy to disembark, the majority of our time was bathed in sunlight, giving us beautiful landscapes with amazing sunsets.



The primary goal of our visit to these remote places is, of course, the wildlife. The number of penguins in a colony was enormous; the biggest King Penguin colony on South Georgia boasts up to 500,000 penguins. Witnessing so many penguins together on a beach was a stunning sight, engaging all our senses: their sounds, the scent in the air, and the softness of their fur. In Grytviken, the capital and only 'town' in South Georgia, there was a museum where we could feel the incredible softness of the fur of a King Penguin and a Fur Seal. We were in awe of how these birds and mammals could survive in such harsh conditions. On the Falkland Islands, we visited a Black-browed Albatross colony. It was fascinating to see how they use their beaks in a bill duel to maintain the connection between mates.



For most guests, the sea days are the days to relax. They stay inside, read a book, join a lecture, take some sleep, or go to the sauna. For us, these were the days to be on deck whenever we could to search for pelagic birds, dolphins, and whales. Our ship had different decks where we could stand. There was always a place to stand with some shelter. We were so excited; the first morning we woke up at 5.00 am to see the first birds. These birds stayed the whole day, and waking up at 5.00 was a bit too much for the next days. But we enjoyed it so much—searching for new ones, seeing the tiny Storm-petrels tapping on the waves, and witnessing the biggest bird alive: The Wandering Albatross flying next to the ship. It was incredible!


Between South Georgia and Antarctica, the captain and the expedition leader had a surprise: we could cross paths with the biggest iceberg on the planet, Iceberg A23a. From a distance, we could see the glow of the iceberg, and as we approached, it grew bigger and bigger. We were so close that we could almost touch it; the captain stopped only 80 meters away. It was indescribably gorgeous. The ice displayed beautiful shades of blue, revealing arches and caves, with birds flying around it. One of the guides had a drone and captured a video of this incredible moment. When the decision was made to continue our journey, it took hours before the iceberg and its glow disappeared from our view. As we stood on the deck, still looking around, we spotted a blow in the distance. It took a while until we saw the blow again. It was a huge blow. We waited again and then we saw a big whale coming to the surface with only a very tiny dorsal fin. Rob immediately thought: Blue Whale! And of course he was right, because he knows his species :). It was the biggest mammal on the planet: The Blue Whale!



As we marveled at the amazing wildlife in these breath-taking landscapes, it hit us: this is their wild life, where nature thrives without people around. But, on our journey, we couldn't ignore the impact we humans have had. Back in the whaling days in South Georgia, from the early 20th century to the mid-20th century, 175,250 whales were killed in the surrounding waters alone. They went after species like the Antarctic Blue whale, Fin whale, and Sei whale, all for their valuable oil used in lamps, soap, margarine, and industrial stuff (transmission oil for certain cars for example until 1972). The whaling industry peaked in the early to mid-1900s, contributing significantly to the decline of whale populations in the region. Today, you can still see traces of that whaling era on South Georgia, as the whales are slowly making a comeback. But now, new challenges emerge, like diseases (avian influenza) impacting wildlife. We sadly spotted many seals that didn't make it. And we could feel global warming in Antarctica! Despite lathering on sunscreen with SPF 50+ multiple times, we still got sunburned. The glaciers were melting, icebergs floated in the ocean, and our guides told us they were popping up more often and way farther north than usual. Despite all this, the beauty of these places persisted, reminding us to cherish and protect their wild life.



After our last excursion in Antarctica, it was time to say goodbye to this impressive continent. During dinner, guests noticed Humpback whales in the water. We quickly finished our meal and headed to the upper deck to enjoy the final Antarctic scenery. There were many Humpback whales around, and the landscape was breath-taking. Suddenly, someone mentioned to Rob that she saw something else but couldn't identify it without binoculars. Since everyone on the ship knew that Rob was always on deck, she asked the right person. When he looked, he spotted a pod of ORCAS. Immediately, he sent someone to the bridge to ask the captain to slow down. Fortunately, there was a guide in the bridge, and he managed to convince the captain to turn the ship around. In just a few minutes, 200 people stood on the deck, being impressed by these incredible creatures. We couldn't have asked for a better end to an incredible trip!



 

 

 

 

 

 

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