We were awoken to more orca and a humpback whale off the port side of the ship. A nice wake up call for sure.
We had been steamed overnight north to Cuverville Island. Cuverville Island lies in the Errera Channel, between Rongé Island and the Arctowski Peninsula. The island was discovered by de Gerlache’s Belgica expedition of 1897-99 and named after a vice-admiral in the French Navy. This small rocky island had vertical cliffs measuring 200m in elevation with extensive moss cover. It is home to the largest gentoo penguin colony in the region (9,648 breeding pairs), along with southern giant petrels, kelp gulls, Antarctic terns, snowy sheathbills and south polar skuas.
We also saw fur-seals, penguins jumping as they fished, and a leopard seal zooming about - hunting for those very same penguins.
They measure the effect of tourists at this colony - we were only allowed to see one half of the island. Interestingly the “tourist” half has a better penguin breeding success rate. Why? Because the polar skuas are put off by man and don’t fly down and steal the penguin chicks as much. Interesting....
After lunch we motored to Enterprise Island where we cruised in Zodiacs.
Enterprise Island lies at the northeast end of Nansen Island in Wilhelmina Bay. It was again charted by de Gerlache during the Belgian Antarctic expedition in 1898, and originally named Île Nansen.
Enterprise Island was known to whalers who operated in this region in the early 1900s and there are numerous abandoned ships from that whaling period. Rusting in the water, they were a testament to a bygone age of savage slaughter.
As we cruised away from these rusting sunken whalers’ monstrosities in our little rubber boats we suddenly encountered a pair of humpback whales feeding. They dived, showed us their huge tails, and submerged for 5-10 minutes before reemerging again with mouths full of krill and the odd deep rumble of a fishy burb.
At one point the whales even came up under the Zodiac we were in. It was very exciting to see them up so close us.
Then we got the call over the radio there was another larger pod nearby.
We throttled over to the location but saw nothing. We waited. And waited. The sea was flat. We waited some more. Nothing.
Then suddenly thousands of bubbles appeared all around us and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven humpbacks emerged from the deep. We saw their mouths break the surface full of krill, numerous dorsal fins long and sticking proud out of the water, their massive deep-grey bodies sliding into view, and finally their beautiful tails like triumphant V shapes flicked up and gracefully descended into the depths once again.
We were utterly stunned.
Before long the original two whales had joined the school of seven and we had nine humpbacks by our boat surfacing, blasting out air from their blow-holes, flicking their tails in the air, and diving deep into the Antarctic water once again.
It was incredible.
We were laughing, whopping, taking photos, and exclaiming our good luck. Our pilot said they had never seen anything like it.
After over an hour of watching these magnificent creatures we returned to our ship. Happy that we had seen what those whalers from 100 years ago had plundered now refreshed and swimming free.
In the evening back on board we enjoyed a warming dinner, shared stories of what we had seen, and marvelled at the recovery of these beautiful aquatic giants.
After dinner we took part in a charity auction for Penguin Watch, and reminisced on the day just gone.
A good day. A very good day. And one I will remember as long as I live.