Heads or Tails – Tales on fire!

February 26, 2023

Off the West Coast of Graham Land, claimed by Argentina, Chile and Britain, we spent 4 hours each landing/zodiacing at

Portal Point – Charlotte Bay in the AM


Foyn Harbour – Wilhelmina Bay in the PM

We sailed south towards Charlotte Bay to set foot on the Antarctic Continent at Portal Point, on the northeastern part of the Reclus Peninsula (Cape Reclus). On deck, while prepping for our zodiac rides, a pair of humpback whales were gliding underneath the calm surface exposing their blow holes.

We approached the rocky platform at Portal Point. Since there was no beach, we climbed up slabs of slippery rocks until we reached the plateau in a matter of minutes. My first sighting was a couple of Antarctic Fur Seals bickering with one another on some other pile of rocks mixed with leftovers of a foundation that was once a British Hut (Portal Point) set up in 1956 by Sir Wally Herbert, leader of a dog sled trip from Cape Reclus to Hope Bay. We passed by a lounging Weddlle Sea that jazzed up the whiteness en route to the hike up the accessible peak overlooking the bay. At the top, 360 degree of glittering calm waters mirroring numerous ice bergs calved from surrounding glaciers. It was out of this world. I mean, literally. The wind blowing in all directions swayed the sun’s radiance in between lingering clouds hanging low across the snowy mountain range. A light blue radiance seeping through the clouds.

We were back on the zodiac to track down the whales that frequent this part of the Peninsula to forage for Krill. With time, the water gradually turned darker, swells growing in size. Oftentimes we confused rolling waves for rolling humps and dorsal fins. As soon as we spotted a blow, we zoomed towards them and enjoyed the acrobatic show. Humpbacks were coming up to the surface, breathing air through their nostrils (blowholes) on top of their head. They can hold their breath for up to 45minutes. We waited like we had all the time in the world. Never mind the freezing temperatures, below C. Some rolled on their side and flapped their pectoral fins, a way of asking for attention or flirting perhaps. At one point we saw a few lunge feed, their mouths wide open exposing baleen plates and pleats on their necks.

Humans screaming with joy. Before a deep nose dive, they raised their flukes elegantly before hitting the water, oblivious to the applaud of cheerful humans and camera shutters that captured their individualistic markings on their flukes.  Like fingerprints, humpbacks are identified by their flukes that have pigmentations, color and battle scars, with orcas in particular. A few had diatoms, a “yellow coating of a group of ocean-dwelling algae”, a sign of how long they’ve stayed in cold temperatures. Now with AI and the brains of computer engineer whiz kids, their migratory patterns can be tracked by uploading and sharing photos of their flukes on an app.

Foyn Harbour, Wilhelmina Bay

In the PM, we weaved through massive ice bergs, some tabular shaped, others geometric with striking blue crevasses that looked like it was freshly sliced. We rode towards The Governoren – a totally rusted out Norwegian factory ship wreck that caught fire in 1915. The harbour is named after Norwegian Svend Foyn who was a commercial whaling pioneer in the 19th century. He developed the steam powered whaling ship and a cannon harpoon and made a killing for Norway. As a result, they dominated the whaling industry. He died in 1894, way before the deliberate sinking of this ship.

After successfully completing the whaling process from harpooning to boiling whale blubber into the final product of thousands and thousands of gallons of whale oil, the crew members partied like it was 1999 on a factory ship that was not designed for crazy dance moves. 

A lamp fell over at the party and a ship fulla whale oil ready for sale burst up in flames. Luckily, the crew escaped leaving what was once the largest whaling factory ship to a burnt out structure for gutsy adventurers to moor their sailing boats over a hundred years later who marvel at these gigantic mammals and want to keep them safe. The irony (pun intended).

While we slowly cruised around the site, blue eyed shags were perched on the edge of the mountain, flying Skuas and petrels livened up the ambiance until our guide spotted blows from a distance. Zoom Zoom, she revved up the engine towards the humpbacks, known to navigate these krill fested waters. They were diving in and out of the water, flapping their fins, lobtailing and elegantly fluking. Did they want to impress or pick on us? After the parade, they disappeared and left a pink oily looking streak at the surface with whiff of ‘je ne sais quois’. Whale poop.

2 responses to “Heads or Tails – Tales on fire!

    • Thanks Jolandi! Yes it’s even more fun writing about it, brings back alot of memories of how peaceful it was out there.

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