Day 7 – Tuesday March 25th 2014 Gourdin Island

Not long before breakfast this morning the ship escaped from the pack ice and we headed gratefully northwards. There was still a lot of ice around but the sea was flat calm and was studded with icebergs. There was no wind at all, to speak of, which made a pleasant change! Soon we approached Gourdin Island, where we had hoped to go ashore. However, there was too much ice at the landing site so we went out for a zodiac cruise instead. Compared with yesterday, -10 seemed positively warm! A number of seals (including fur) had already been seen from the ship and from the boats we got very close views of several Crabeaters; there was also a Leopard Seal too, resting peacefully on a large floe. Not many penguins were seen but one or two Chinstraps put in an appearance. The star bird was Snow Petrel, of which two were seen on ice at very close range. They blended in so well that it was very difficult to see them until they moved. Everyone who wanted to left the ship and saw that the hull was still covered in ice from yesterday’s much lower temperature. The morning was a great success!

As soon as the ship weighed anchor some distant whale spouts were spotted. Getting closer we could see that there were two species – Antarctic Minke, a sleek baleen whale up to 30’in length and Humpback Whale, large-flippered, rotund and up to 45’ in length. Both species gave excellent views and both were present in some numbers. There were perhaps 15-20 minkes and maybe 10 humpies. It was the latter that we got very close to. For a long time, as we approached, they were lifting their tail flukes high in the air when making a dive. However, when we got closer they changed their behaviour and were only making shallow dives. The reason could be seen on the depth sounder – a huge swarm of krill just below the ship. Two whales peeled away but the other two, perhaps a female and a large calf, stayed with us for a long time. Mostly they were diving to feed but their curiosity got the better of them so they swam around the ship several times – righ t below us! From above we got fantastic views of them and the sound of them exhaling was unforgettable. Eventually they moved away so we did too, towards the north and yet more adventures.

That adventure came very quickly! In the distance there was a tongue of ice that had come out of the Antarctic Sound. As we sailed towards the end of it more humpback and fin whales appeared and there were numerous fur seals too. However, the greatest excitement came when some Killer Whales were spotted. There were three males that were babysitting two playful youngsters. The ship was able to get quite close to them before they dove under the ice, only to reappear on the far side. The calves were slapping the water with their flukes and rolling too; they also lifted their heads up to see where they were. Most, if not all, of the whales had an orangey look – caused by minute, non-parasitic organisms on their skin called diatoms. It was an extraordinary way to end the daylight hours for after dark it started snowing again!

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