Joan Larsen’s Travel: Killer Whales Come Up for Air

Posted on December 4, 2013


By Joan Larsen

Photo: Jason Roberts

Photo: Jason Roberts

It’s a rare moment to capture: whales taking a breather as they swim under polar ice.

ANTARCTICA – In the Ross Sea portion of Antarctica, the American McMurdo base has been clothed in darkness for six months. Those “wintering over” spend that time frozen in by the ice until the spring months of late November and December. Most of my trips were on the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov, the most powerful icebreaker in the Antarctic waters. It’s capable of breaking through ten feet of ice in a single forward thrust.  No other Antarctic icebreaker has that capacity.

And so we were first to be able to break open a lead that would allow supply ships to follow in our wake to the base. Spotting sea lions and penguins basking on the ice is not uncommon, but catching a close-knit group of killer whales “spyhopping,” as they are doing here, is a rare sighting.  We had broken through enough ice to allow eight to ten killer whales to take a breath at a single time  . . . and scan the horizon for basking sea lions which they consider “yummy”!!  They’re looking around as they take in enough air to last them up to one hour of swimming. The icebreaker had given them enough open water to come up for a breather all at once, giving the passengers a once in a lifetime picture of these beautiful creatures.



In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.

– Aristotle

JoanAvatarWriter Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth.  But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again.  She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”