ANTARCTICA Day 7: Orne Harbour & Wilhelmina Bay
Orne Harbor 64°37′S 62°32′W
On this morning’s excursion at Orne Harbour we experienced some harsh Antarctic winds that whipped the snow around like a desert sandstorm. I had never experienced winds this strong, at times I felt like I was going to be blown down the hill. Here we climbed a steep icy hill to perch at the top and watch a small colony of chinstrap penguins. The wind being as strong as it was, the penguins weren’t terribly active and spent much of the time huddled over with their backs to the wind. As a result of rising temperatures, Antarctica’s population of chinstrap penguins has been declining. It was a special occasion to spot these penguins since nearly all of the penguins we had seen so far were Gentoos.
Wilhelmina Bay is nicknamed “Whale-mina Bay”, because of how populated the area is with whales including humpback whales. Our afternoon excursion was a zodiac cruise through Wilhelmina Bay in order to spot whales and cruise through the icy landscape. The weather at this point was gloriously Antarctic with giant snowflakes falling and temperatures dropping just below freezing, allowing the surface of the ocean to freeze into sea ice.
The scenery was phenomenal. The water was very still and as the snow began to fall the blue icebergs became dusted with white. We saw several seals swimming, but we were carefully looking out for whales. Our zodiac driver was on the radio with the other boats with tips on whale spottings, but we were not seeing any. Then very near to our boat I saw a dorsal fin pop out of the water and disappear, it was a minke whale I had spotted, but nobody else on our boat had seen it! Later I spotted a humpback whale breaching in the distance, but I was unable to capture a photo of either whale. On this chilly cruise I was layered up in extra socks, extra pants, an extra thermal shirt and a balaclava and neck gaitor, yet I still got cold pretty quickly, but I brought a thermos of hot tea to warm up at the end of the cruise. On the way back to the ship we lost sight of where it had gone in the dense fog, and the zodiacs radioed the captain and asked that he sound the horn.