We were fortunate yesterday with a very calm crossing of the Drake. Our good luck continued this morning: on our approach to the South Shetland Islands, still in tranquil seas, there was a sighting from the bridge. Whale blows!

The Captain turned the ship around, and our expedition leader Dan made an announcement to alert everyone to get out on deck.

These were fin whales, the second largest animal on our planet (only the blue whale is larger). The captain slowed the ship down to just four knots, giving the whales the choice – whether to stay nearby, or to leave us. They chose to stay, allowing all on board an extended opportunity to view these giant creatures!

Finally, we resumed our course, and continued on to Deception Island.

Our plan had been to visit Whaler’s Bay, but gusty cold winds and low fog made landing and hiking there unappealing. Our experienced crew and staff put their heads together and came up with a Plan B: a Zodiac cruise near the huge chinstrap penguin colony along the calmer, lee side of the island. It was cool and blustery on the water, our first encounter with the elements. This was also our first chance to experience the abundant wildlife of Antarctica, with thousands of penguins on shore, and hundreds more swimming around us.

As a finale, in the evening we sailed in between the cliffs lining the narrow passage known as Neptune’s Bellows, to Whaler’s Bay. Our bridge crew nudged National Geographic Resolution’s bow in to almost touch the beach, giving us a unique and sweeping overview of this former whaling station and the surrounding volcanic terrain. All in all, an excellent first taste of Antarctica.