One of the reasons I choose National Geographic / Lindblad Expeditions was because the group was small enough that we can actually get off the ship and embark on some active adventures on land and on the ocean. It’d be such a shame not to be able to do so!
Not only were we surrounded by the sheer beauty and serenity of white and blue Antarctica nature, but we also encountered various species of wildlife, such as penguins, whales, seals, and birds. Luckily, our knowledgeable naturalist staff taught us quite a bit during talks and on shore, and even they were surprised by how much we were able to see and experience on our trip. Even though they’ve been doing this for a long time, they also experienced some firsts with us as well. They said we were quite a lucky bunch!
The craziest experience was watching two killer whales hunt a gentoo penguin around our ship. If you were watching us from above, you’d just see a bunch of orange blobs (us in our parkas) run from one side of the ship to the other — leaning off the side of the ship trying to see where the penguin or whales were popping up, and cameras everywhere trying to get a good shot of the action. The orange blob gathered to the left, then rushed to the right, and ultimately scattered to the back of the ship. People dashing as quickly as they could to the back of the ship following the action. People were yelling “over here!”, “c’mon, penguin! you can do it”, “anyone see anything?” “right here, right here”, “oh shit!”, “so close!”, and the ultimate “nooooooooo!”. And it was over.
We learned later from the naturalists that it was a mother killer whale teaching its calf how to hunt. In harsher terms, they were playing with their food. Apparently, once the killer whales have their sights on a penguin, it didn’t have a chance of survival at all. In a desperate act of survival, heard the penguin did a crazy vertical leap as it was attempting to get onto the ship for safety, but unfortunately, it leaped towards one of the higher points of the ship instead of the lower disembarking decks (sadness!). The penguin was so fast, so agile, and fighting for its life. But it gave its life so the mother and calf killer whale could survive instead. Team killer whale won.
You never know what you’ll encounter in nature. We saw new life at its start, and life being taken away so another could survive. The rush was exciting as these sights are so rare to experience in person with my own eyes. You definitely don’t get experiences like this living in a city or even on a normal vacation. Yah, I was team penguin and rooted for the underdog. I was sad, but it’s a part of life, right ? It’s survival of the fittest.
Instead of getting all philosophical, I’ll share some tips for being outdoors or outside the ship while out in Antarctica:
- Bring binoculars. You’ll be able to spot a lot more wildlife and scenery that way. I couldn’t see the lighthouse at the end of the world as the ship couldn’t get closer as we would’ve had to trespass into Argentinian waters. Luckily, the nice (and honestly, super cool) older couple that I’ve befriended lent me their binoculars, so I could see it.
- Bringing or renting a lens with some crazy zoom capabilities pays off on getting some great shots at a distance. Your iPhone is still a great resource for wide angle shots.
- Wear layers — parka, beanie, gloves, or even a scarf or something to cover your neck and face. The chilly winds out there can really numb your extremities and face. Bring gloves that allow you to use your touchscreen devices as well. Because I was forgetful, I couldn’t feel my hands at times.
- Knowing there were so many professional photographers and photography enthusiasts, you don’t have to be the one that has to take all the shots either. They do have a shared folder people can upload and download photos (just be sure to attribute the owner of the photography…if you know who it is). Lindblad also created custom videos of the entire trip along with interviews that you can purchase as well as we also had a videographer on board, too. We got to see the videos at the end of the trip before purchase, and it was absolutely worth it.
- Leverage the pro and enthusiast photographers around you to all the tips and tricks of taking a great shot while you’re out. Or if you’re absolutely clueless, they can set up your camera for you in a generalized manner to take the best shots.
- Bring a waterproof backpack to place your camera in when you get on and off the zodiac boats. You don’t want your camera equipment to get wet. You could also stuff your camera in your parka and zip it up, too.
- Bring a lens wiper — in case it rains or water gets onto your lens. It’s much, much better than trying to use your gloves or clothes to wipe the lens. It also minimizes the chance of you scratching the lens, too.
- For all my lens, I screw on a UV lens filter to protect my lens from scratches. If it does by chance scratch, it’s easy and cheaper to replace the lens filter with another one.
- Bring multiple camera battery packs and a couple larger quick read/write memory card. So you don’t run out of juice being outdoors all day, nor run out of memory. Faster read/white allows you to capture those unexpected wildlife moments much quicker. You don’t want to be waiting around for your camera to load/save while the action passes you by.
- Set your camera on multi-shot mode. Our National Geographic photographer Jonathan Irish told me that for action shots, typically the first shot you take won’t be the best. But by holding down the button, you’ll eventually get or have at least a higher chance of ending up with a good shot you can pick out from later. I ended up with more than 7000 shots on my 2 cameras and my iPhone. =p
- Don’t delete photos on your memory card! I learned that was a big no-no to ensure the longevity of your memory card and minimize memory card save errors. Resist deleting photos no matter what!
- [ Sidenote ] Do bring a laptop or iPad (with the SD card dongle) with you to download your photos onto another device as backup or photo management. Then delete to your heart’s desire there. After you’re done, you can reformat the memory card as it is inserted in your camera if you run out of space. But you won’t since you listened and brought that extra memory card, right?
More stories from Antartica tomorrow… on happier notes. Stay tuned!