The Orcas

PXL 20230120 213750868

So yeah, we kind of dropped off the face of the earth there for a while. Or at least the internet. But also the face of the earth, a bit. I’ll plead that the internet here is a little sparse and…wait – I’m writing from aboard a boat off the Antarctic freaking peninsula, and I’m apologizing that the internet is slow?!?


IMG 2311

As I wrote back whenever, there’s sort of a rhythm here on the boat, interleaving excursions, meals, talks, sleep, wash, rinse, repeat. At the evening recap each day, our “expedition” leader asks what our favorite thing of the day was. As expected on a ship of ~120 pax, there’s always a pretty wide range. There’ll be the penguin chicks on D’Hainaut Island, the chunk of glacier we watched calve into Paradise Bay, the humpbacks cruising the Neumeier Channel.

There have been a lot of humpbacks. It’s funny how quickly we all got jaded about humpbacks.

First couple of blows we say out on the horizon, the whole ship probably listed five degrees as everyone scrambled to the windows on one side or the other, and piled out onto the back deck in t-shirts or whatever they were wearing to lunch. Couple of days later, a whole pod breaching just abeam, pecs slapping, flukes high in the air, barely warranted comment. “What’s that off starboard?” “Oh, just more whales.” “Humpbacks?” “Humpbacks, I think.” “Cool. Pass the butter?”

PXL 20230122 184538848

But two days ago, when Danny got to that point in the recap, he said something like, “Do I even need to ask what everyone’s favorite thing today was?” The chorus went up: “The Orcas! The Orcas!”

Yeah, it was definitely the Orcas.

We’d popped back into the Gerlache Strait to look for somewhere with a bit less wind when someone spotted a couple of dorsal fins ahead of our starboard side. And while humpbacks are pretty darned cool, there’s something about that orca fin cutting the water. Maybe it’s the way it evokes our primal fear of sharks, or the orca nickname: killer whale. But we all piled out on deck to look for the pair of fins closing in from a quarter of a mile away. No, not two – there are three fins. Or four? Wait, how many Orcas are out there? A couple of fins there, a few more over there…it was a whole pod, and it was coming toward us. Definitely, deliberately coming toward us. An entire pod, upwards of a dozen orcas, all coming to check us out.

Captain cut the engines and let us coast a bit, turning toward the approaching swarm. They came right up to us. Swam under, ducked around to the stern, then approached us again. We were clearly being checked out. Then, amid the scramble between decks, someone noticed something kind of startling. The largest member of the pod, likely the matriarch, was not only showing her “kids” the boat, she was bobbling something along in front of her, balancing it on her nose (technically, on the forehead part known as the “melon,” but that just sounds strange). It was a gray’ish, black and white and…uh, she’s carrying a dead penguin around.


So, is this what? An offering to the boat? A little something for a snack later? Our ship’s naturalists had no idea – they’d never seen anything like it before. So we watched, we snapped pictures and speculated idly.

They moved on after three or four minutes, taking their penguin with them, and so did we. Off to our next landing, off to more penguins, to yet more spectacular vistas and another round of kayaking among the icebergs. You know, that sort of thing.

PXL 20230122 121948163

PXL 20230122 002509461PXL 20230121 130558900

5 responses to “The Orcas

  1. A pilot friend of mine and his wife are on a ship off the peninsula in Antarctica now! They’ve been posting photos and when I saw your story here I wondered if you’re on the same ship! Do you know Greg Bell and Lori Bell by any chance? Love reading about your adventures!! Enjoy!!


  2. Thanks again Pablo. What a great trip this has been. It’s a little challenging for me to figure out some of the photos only due to the size and I can’t make them bigger so couldn’t quite make sense the whales with the penguin and some bones? In another one. I think the last photo I saw was of Devon and it’s a great shot of whoever it is. I do sure enjoyed looking at your photos and reading your updates. Harmony


  3. Great stuff Pablo. I have a friend here in PT that sailed a 43′ wooden sailboat through the Northwest Passage a couple of years ago. It took him 3 tries. He holed the boat on ice the first 2 tries and had to do emergency repairs at sea and limp back to a safe haven for more robust repairs before trying again. His first attempt can be viewed as a documentary on Amazon Prime. It is titled “Disko” since he started the trip from Greenland’s Disko Bay. The NW Passage landscape has the same monochromatic sparseness as Antarctica, but imagine being there without the support functions of a fully staffed ship! If you’d like to meet Olivier, I can introduce you when you return. Gary

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s