The wildlife stars here are undoubtedly the penguins. On the Antarctic Peninsula – the three commonest species are gentoos, chinstraps and Adeles. Not the largest varieties – the giant penguins are rare sightings here - but tens of thousands of birds and it would be impossible to tire of watching them. They are completely unafraid of humans – quite the opposite - they are very curious, particularly the chicks and the colonies are a constant buzz of activity
. It is incredible to watch penguins clambering over the rocky terrain, climbing up near vertical ice cliffs, leaping out of the water just waddling around, or as the Adele penguins do, marching in columns! This part of the world is just a bird-watchers paradise – massive ones with wingspans of up to 3 metres (11 ft) like the albatross and the giant petrels, many other variety of petrels, skuas – which look a bit like pigeons on steroids and which attack and eat baby penguins and many others whose names we’ve forgotten. Seals are less entertaining – they mostly ignore us other than looking mildly irritated that we have woken them up, but we’ve found huge elephant seals, aggressive leopard seals which eat penguins, magnificent-looking fur seals, and very cute and appealing Weddell and crab-eater seals.
But of course, what everyone wants to see are whales. When even one is spotted, the word quickly gets out and there is mass excitement and stampeding for cameras. According to the expedition leaders, we have been very lucky with our sightings – but then perhaps every group is! We’ve had a minke whale playing for a while around the ship and a couple of zodiacs which just happened to be in the sea at the time, seemingly enjoying entertaining us. In the stunningly beautiful Paradise Bay, we came across a pair of humpback whales – a mother and calf – quite unconcerned as we approached within 10 feet of them in our zodiac. There was great excitement when we encountered a pod of killer whales (apparently a rare sighting in this part of the world) in a particularly beautiful channel renowned for its spectacular sunsets. The sighting caused near hysteria on the boat. The sunset was ignored and people stampeded round the decks trying to get the “money shot” of leaping orcas. It was bitterly cold and we had the feeling that the whales were playing with us – always surfacing about 100 yards ahead, despite the best efforts of the ship’s captain to get closer
! We mostly agreed that you get a better (much warmer, if less spectacular) view of killer whales at Sea World!! But the prize sighting was of a pod of around eight humpback whales which for nearly an hour entertained the entire ship, passengers and crew on a bitterly cold evening, as they played around us – leaping, diving, swimming back and forth the under the ship, and most amusingly, swimming on their backs waving their flippers!! And then as we began the return crossing of the Drake Passage (mercifully, almost calm – a big contrast to the outward journey) we encountered a pod of fin whales (size-wise, second only to the blue whale) accompanied by a small group of hourglass dolphins – the only species found in Antarctic waters.
So think about this part of the world for your next (or even first) safari!
Apologies for the patchy wildlife photography – it’s very hard to get whales in particular to pose!!
Do you associate Antarctica with "going on safari"? Most likely not – that term seems mostly to conjure up images of Africa and the “big five”. But our expedition is indeed a “safari”. We have all the components – breathtaking scenery, uncomfortable weather and a stunning variety of wildlife. In fact all that's missing are the nasty insects (there are none at all in Antarctica) and the chances of catching some unpleasant disease!