The morning dawned beautiful and calm, cruise ship Plancius weaving her way through the seas ever nearing Antarctic Sound. The waters were fantastically gentle, with minimal amounts of swell and waves ever so gently rocking the ship. As we neared the jagged scarred mountains of rocks known as the South Shetland Islands, more and more icebergs loomed on the horizon. Soon the ship was nearly surrounded by large magnificent icebergs, massive tabular’s whose presence dwarfed our tiny vessel.
Massive numbers of Fin whales
Soon large blows filled our view; small groups of fin whales sped by heading north all the while feeding on concentrations of krill & small fish. Group after group was seen, with many simply feeding in the general area and not heading anywhere in particular. Soon it became evident that we were not simply seeing a few random groups of fins, but a very large concentration spread out over a large area of sea just north and around the islands north of the South Shetlands.
Dozens upon dozens of fin whales were feeding, diving around the ship and on the horizon in massive numbers; we must have seen well over fifty fin whales in the general area of Elephant Island, something many of the guides had never seen before.
Landing at Point Wild on Elephant Island
As we neared Elephant Island it soon became quite clear: the possibility of landing at Point Wild on Elephant Island, the very spot where Shackleton had landed with his men and left the majority of them stranded while he sailed towards South Georgia in search of rescue, was a very real possibility. With seas generally rather rough and the swell both at the ship and at land being usually quite strong, the chances of landing there was always slim and several years could pass before a ship could have a chance at making a landing there.
With the seas as calm as they were, our chances would never be better: the decision was made in the early afternoon to send out a scout zodiac to appraise the landing site and see if it would be at all possible to land with passengers. At 3:30pm the zodiac headed out, and within several minutes the call came through: the landing site Point Wild was a green light! With guides possibly more excited than guests, as we knew the rarity of being able to land there, two groups were organized: one would head out and land on Point Wild directly, while the second group would zodiac cruise and hope for the chance of close encounters with some fin whales.
As the first group scrambled around on the slippery rocks and pondered the entirety of Shackleton’s men being stranded on that small strip of land for months on end, ever wondering if rescue would even find them with only a couple small upturned boats for shelter, the second group headed out towards large tabular icebergs in search of whales to play with.
In search of fin whales
Success! Blow upon blow was seen on the horizon, sometimes up to 14 blows nearly at once as many more fed and frolicked within close proximity to the Zodiacs. Several even had the audacity to dive under a Zodiac, a wonderful if terse moment as these leviathans of the deep displayed their enormity.
Ear to ear smiles were shared by guests and guides alike, as this was something many of the guides themselves had never experienced: such close encounters and gentle behaviour from fin whales in such close proximity to zodiacs, in such large numbers was something special indeed. And doubly so! To be able to land on Point Wild, such a rare occasion, was a double guilty pleasure that would most likely not be duplicated in a rather while.
As the last zodiac left shore and headed back to the Plancius, the dining room full of laughter and smiles and various stories from the day, the sun making its way down towards the horizon, we could only marvel at the luck of taking part in a day such as this, a very special day indeed.
A day of fin whales, ice, rocks, but not least of all, memories.