More than two years ago I learned that my friend Ted Cheeseman was planning to bring a team of mammal researchers led by Ari Friedlander down to Antarctica very late in the season to enable the team to study feeding behavior using advanced technology D-tags and drones. I had been to Ice continentÂ before seven years ago and, like many, had been intoxicated with the striking landscapes and unique wildlife. I had vowed to return and this was my chance to go back while supporting a worthwhile research effort in the process. I immediately signed up. For this expedition I hooked up with veteran traveler and good friend Brendan Doherty who had an itch to get to the ice continent having pretty much spent time on every other remote corner of the planet.
The research team's main objective was to identify humpbacks and apply D-tags to animals to study their feeding behavior over a period of hours to a as long as a day. Through the use of a drone the team was able to estimate size and get images of whales from above. It was wonderful to observe them in the field and listen to daily debriefs of the field work. Many of us spent time photographing flukes to help add to the catalog of individual know whales that visit Antarctica. At this writing the expedition had confirmed the identification of more than 80 individuals â€“ the vast majority of which had never been seen before by researchers. Ari and team were also able to get biopsy samples for DNA analysis from over 40 animals using a specially designed crossbow for the purpose. It was an awesome sight to see the weapon deployed! Of course all research was conducted under a host of special permits that were granted for the expedition. (See details at the bottom of this post at Note#1).
We made well south of the Antarctic Circle deep into the areas that even as we arrived were beginning the process of freezing over the long winter. It was indeed a thrill to cross the imaginary line at 66° 33' 39" S which is the start of the South Frigid Zone boundary. And yes we saw humpback whales - lots and lots of them. Some just logging or resting at the surface and others going through the steady grind of feeding on the abundant population of krill in the bays we visited. But we saw so much more as you can see below. We were also joined by a group of dedicated professional landscape photographers who had a field day shooting ice in the most amazing light. Hard to choose my favorite images but well...I think you will get the idea and understand why so many veteran expedition travelers are hooked on Antarctica and return to the region over and over. It is a place like no other on the planet. Part of the ancient continent of Gondwanaland, Antarctica is truly, in our age, the End of the Earth.
Note #1 - These photographs depict research conducted under the following permits granted to Dr. Ari Friedlaender: NMFS 14809 and ACA 2016-024 and/or permits granted to Dr Fredrik Christiansen and Prof. Lars Bejder (Murdoch University), under permits from the Department of the Environment, Australia, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) (Cetacean Permit: 2016-0001), Australia, and under an animal ethics permit from Murdoch University (O2810/16), Australia.