We are in the privileged position to see numerous whale species during our expeditions and here is one encounter. Humpback Whales had been doing amazing displays. We have had the opportunity of seeing plenty of humpbacks and they show their flukes when they dive, they have been breaching (leaping out of the water) spy hopping (sticking their head out of the water to look around) flipper flapping (splashing their 5m long flippers on the water), as well as bubble netting (this is where they swim in tight circles and blow bubbles which corral the fish and krill into a tight group and then the whale comes up with its mouth open and collects all of the food.) We were asked how the krill reacted to bubble netting. The expedition team in their brilliance answered “Bubbles, flee for your lives, flee!” of course we cannot actually tell the guests this but we do walk around going “Bubbles, flee, flee”
We have to travel through the Drake passage from Ushuaia, the most Southern City in the world to get to the Antarctic Peninsula, this is the shortest distance to the Antarctic and is the body of water between South America and the Antarctic. It is where we have to cross the Antarctic circumpolar current, which is 5 times stronger than the Gulf Stream and contains 5000 times more water than the Amazon. This current goes around the Antarctic with no land mass to slow it down, when it reaches the Drake passage, however, it is
squashed between two continents and this bottleneck causes any waves or swell to be compressed and increase in height, leading to this being one of the worst sea crossings in the world. Many passengers are terrified of crossing the Drake as the waves can be as much as 15 or 20m high, although we try to avoid such big seas.
On the last trip we were close to the Antarctic and we had to take in the stabiliser fins in as we were now in an area where we could encounter icebergs. Without stabilisers it means that the ship tends to roll greatly from one side to another. Well, we hit a massive low pressure system with winds of 55knots (1 knot is 1 nautical mile per hour which is 1,852km per hour (so about 102km/h) this ranks as a force 11 on the Beaufort scale which is a 12 point scale. The waves were about 10m high and we were getting hammered. The beds have straps (like seat belts) but the beds themselves were not chained down, this meant that people would strap themselves into bed but then would roll to one side and the whole bed would flip on top of them (This happened to 3 passengers). The Grand Piano flipped over, it broke off its one leg which was bolted to the floor and came crashing down (fortunately nobody was injured). The ship was listing badly to the starboard side and the waves were crashing against deck 4 leaving some of the cabins flooded. So we had an exciting time.
What was good before it became that rough was that we had over 15 Royal and Wandering Albatrosses following the ship. These birds are huge, the Wandering Albatross has a wingspan of 3.5 m making it the bird with the widest wingspan in the world. They were flying mere metres away from the ship. Here is an exercise for you. Get a piece of string and measure out 3,5m and you will have a real idea of its size. Get a longer piece off string and measure out 15m and that is the length of the average humpback whale, double that to 30m and you have the length of a Blue whale.
The Drake Passage may be notorious, but it is only one in 10 times where we hit such bad seas. It is the place, though, where we encounter the magnificent Albatrosses and Giant Petrels, and get our first taste of Antarctic Wildlife.