Travelers often describe Antarctica as a transformational, unpredictable place where anything can happen. Here, John and Karen share the most memorable experiences from their Antarctic voyage aboard Ocean Diamond.
Celebrating Travel Achievements
Embarking in Ushuaia, John and Karen visited the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Elephant Island and the South Shetland Islands before moving on to the Antarctic Peninsula. As they approached and first caught sight of the white continent, passengers rushed out to take pictures of the stunning peninsula.
“For a number of people on our trip, it was their fifth or seventh continent and everyone was taking pictures,” Karen recalled. “They were holding up fingers to show it was their 7th continent or 5th continent visited. It was a dream trip for many, because it was the last continent that they had left to visit. Everyone was just so excited to step on the land and say ‘I'm here, I'm in Antarctica!'”
Southern Elephant Seals
“The most memorable thing for me were the Southern elephant seals, which are massive. I think they are like the second biggest mammals?” John recalled. “They have their own harems and are very protective. I don't think I saw a single male that wasn't scarred from fighting.”
Growing up to 16 feet in length and weighing up to 6,600 lbs., bull Southern elephant seals are a sight to see. Once you spot these creatures in their natural environment and actually experience the harsh conditions animals in Antarctica have had to withstand to survive, it changes your perspective.
“It was unbelievable,” John mused. “If another male starts to approach the harem, the alpha male of that harem gets up and is ready to attack. Either the attack happens, or the aggressor backs off. The males have got to be four or five times the size of the females and they are very protective of them.”
Wildlife in Antarctica: An Immersive Experience
The type of wildlife you see on your Antarctic voyage is completely unpredictable. Passengers on John and Karen's voyage had one incredible experience that was shared in the evening recap of events.
“Out on one of the daily zodiac excursions to see wildlife, some unbelievable orcas were hunting for seals,” Karen said, adding, “They said it almost looked like the big ones were training the small ones on how to catch a seal!“
John explained, “A seal would be lying on an ice floe and the orcas would come up, swim quickly towards the ice floe, then dive down and whip their tail around to create a big wave.” The result, he said, was that the wave washed the seal right off the ice floe. Passengers watched in amazement as the orcas then let the seal recover and get back on the ice floe, only to knock it off again.
“I don't know exactly how long it went on… you lose track of time caught up in something so unusual,” John said. Only one zodiac witnessed the action, but sharing it in the evening recap brought the amazing event to life for everyone!
One of the most awe-inspiring aspects of their Antarctic adventure was cruising amidst the icebergs, said Karen. “It looks like an architect designed them, they're so beautiful,” she recalled. “Some of them have huge arches, with ice on either side and a big arch in between. They're just magnificent.”
Photo courtesy: Quark Expedition Staff Liz Teague
As they shared this experience with the rest of their fellow Zodiac passengers, John marveled at how even the experienced Antarctic travelers among them delighted in the spectacular sight.
“One of our guides had probably been down there 50 times. He took us out on the Zodiac in this still, calm water, with massive icebergs all around, and he stood up with this… just this huge grin on his face. He looked out at the icebergs and said, ‘And I get paid for this!'” John said.
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