Day 9 – Orne Island/Wilhelmina Bay

Another day of waking up to Allie’s ‘Good Morning Everyone, Good Morning’, only this morning there were Orcas alongside the boat, so we raced out to see and chase them.  Then coffee, breakfast, gear up and find out where the Plancius has parked us today. Once on the water, we found out why the Plancius had some much trouble – a ton of wind, slippery rocks, and much colder than other days.  They were so worried that the guides actually picked up Charlie and placed her onshore.  We were then set to explore Orne Island.

One of Amy’s wishes for this trip was to see as many Pengiun species as she could, but to this point we had only seen Gentoo. Of the eight Antarctic breeds of Penguins, some are only found on barrier islands, and some like the Emperors are only found further inland. Today, we found Gentoos, Chinstraps, and even one Adélie penguin. When we first got onto the island, like other landings we’ve made, the gentoos were out and roaming, making noise if they were in a rookery, otherwise running up and down a Penguin Highway.

Penguin Highways are all around Antarctica, and are the routes that Penguins take from shore to high ground, and we were told that was due to the slippery nature of the ice shelf. With so much ground, it was crazy that all of the penguins chose the same 2-3 routes, despite the fact they were slipping and falling in the highway slush. Either way, we were told to always give the Penguins the right of way, and to never use a highway to hike around.

Amongst all the hiking and penguin watching, Charlie insisted to still be Charlie. She made plenty of snow angels, and took a sidepath over to build a snowman. She ended up making friends with the next youngest person on the ship – a high school senior, but was happy to join along and build an Antarctic Olaf.

There was only one Adélie that we could see, so after chasing her around, checking out a couple of rookeries, we headed back to the Zodiacs and aboard the Plancius for lunch.

Allie had warned us about having to divert to a Plan B because of weather, and that’s what happened after lunch. We were presented with the option of relaxing on the boat, which Amy and Charlie did, or getting out on the Zodiacs and exploring, which Brandon, Erin, and I did. We ventured out into Wilhelmina Bay and initially saw the normal icebergs and penguins. But soon the Zodiacs circled up and stopped moving, as we happened on a group of whales playing around and feeding.

I feel like everything I learned on Voyage of the Mimi happened while we were out on the Zodiacs. We saw an adult female and her kid come up to breath, show their hump, then flick their tails as they moved back down. They seemed to do this over and over and over, and it never got old. After a bit, we saw a slurry of bubbles followed by a humpback mouth coming up to swallow all the plankton they had isolated. At one point, as they were moving around, one even floated right under our Zodiac. They are so big and gentle, yet if they had decided to come up at that moment we would have cold and wet and without a boat. They continued to play around and we continued to watch for some time. I was thinking that Amy and Charlie really missed out.

But the whales had other plans. As we were coming back, two of them followed us back to the Plancius. They did all of their tricks for everyone on board as they came out to watch, including Charlie and Amy in their pajamas. We all eventually got on board as the whales waved goodbye with their flippers.

Amy had gotten Brandon, Charlie, Erin, me and her matching penguin pajamas, and Christmas Eve seemed like a good time to put them on, take some pictures, and enjoy each others company in the middle of Antarctica.

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