Tagging Whales in the Antarctic Seas

Flandres Bay (Sat., 5/29/10) – Full Moon Memories
by -- June 1st, 2010

I’ve been watching the full moon set this morning, remembering the first time that I photographed a full moon in Antarctica.

Full MoonA huge moon rose over a great tabular iceberg, and Captain Joe graciously stopped the ship for a few minutes so that I could take a photograph. It was August of 1995, and I was traveling on this very same ship, the Nathaniel B. Palmer. That was my first time in Antarctica, and I was besotted with the strange new landscape of grease ice, pancake ice and icebergs. I spent hours and hours standing on the deck of the ship, watching the white world go by — the Ross, Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas. The scientists on board the ship were studying the formation of sea ice, and our trip took place in August — late winter in the southern hemisphere. Now it is May — late fall — and I am still in love with this landscape, but with a greater sense of familiarity than that first time.

I now know that I prefer the fall and winter to the summer season, which I have also seen down here. I like the freeze up best, like watching the snow fall back at home, rather than the slushy, messy, melt after the storm. Dusk lingers in May. I enjoy the darkness, and cherish the days between storms when the sun graces us with its presence, hanging low and golden in the sky all day long; rising at 8:30 and setting at 3:30. These are civilized hours if you are going to spend all day outside, not the workaholic hours of the summertime when you stay awake until 2 a.m., hoping for a few minutes of decent light. In the summer the glaring sun stays high in the sky, never setting. It drives me crazy with lack of sleep, and forces me into a marathon. I want to go to bed in the dark, sleep a good long while, and wake up before dawn. I like it now.

There’s a new gift on this voyage that is as fresh and exhilarating for me as that first moon in Antarctica — the whales. I love our outings in the zodiac, and thrill to get close to  the humpbacks, to see these giants dive right under our tiny rubber boats and stare up at us with curiosity. To hear them breathe; their loud deep groans and satisfied blows. This is mythic, this is immense. Thank you, Antarctica, for your gifts — moon and sun, ice and ocean, whales and adventure.

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