Travel to Antarctica is governed and regulated by the International Association Antarctica Tour Operators, IAATO. What was started by 7 private tour operators in 1991, the IAATO now has more than 100 members. It is stipulated that no more than 100 people from each visiting vessel can step foot on the continent at one time. This is why the travelers on the big, huge cruise ships will only cruise by and not be able to make land fall.
On my trip to the Antarctica in January 2013, I was on a ship with 183 other travelers and 92 crew members. Each day, my fellow travelers and I would be separated into 2 groups. One group would step onto the continent while the other goes zodiac cruising. After a designated amount of time, we would switch adventures.
Zodiacs are small, inflatable, rubber motorized craft that are both maneuverable and stable. Each seats about 10 passengers plus the driver and they allow for wet and dry landings.
On January 11, 2013 after my hike around Petermann Island, we went on our most exciting zodiac cruise yet. The drivers of each zodiac communicate via walkie-talkies and notify the others if wildlife is spotted. Other information is also shared, of course. On this afternoon, our driver, Sarah was notified of a pod of humpback whales swimming together not too far away from our location.
All the other zodiacs changed directions and we were all hot on pursuit of this pod of whales. We kept the distance from the pod as required by all the governing bodies to protect and to respect the wildlife. At times, it felt like the whales were swimming around us and we were treated to quite the show. I enjoyed witnessing the fountain of mist when the whales blow water through their blow holes.
As we arrived at the location, all the cameras were ready to capture the ‘money shot’. For whale enthusiasts, it’s the moment when the underside of the whale’s fluke is in full view. Scientists use the ‘money shot’ to keep track of the whales, as each fluke is unique just like our finger prints. Every time that moment occurred, all the DSLR cameras that were set to burst mode would sound like a machine gun.
[Please pardon the quality of my video. It was recordedon a point & shoot camera and our zodiac encountered a bit of waves.]
On this trip, we encountered whales many times. We even cruised alongside dolphins and Orcas. Personally, I did not have the pleasure of a whale swim underneath our zodiac, as experienced by some of my fellow travelers on the ship. However, the time I shared with the humpback whales will forever remain with me.
Now this – this is my reason no.2 for visiting Antarctica.