“The ice was here, the ice was there,
The ice was all around:
It crack’d and growl’d, and roar’d and howl’d,
Like noises in a swound!”
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
Our zodiac slowed to a crawl as we made our way around what seemed to be a never-ending waterway of bluish-white icebergs, each more magnificent than the last. The almost water-level views offered an impressive perspective of these enormous blocks of glacial ice, skyscraper-like and permanent-looking despite their obvious impermanence.
It was our third day of sunny mild weather in Antarctica, and our mid-morning tour took us to the waters around Torgersen Island, where scientists are conducting research on the impact of tourism on the Adélie penguin population. At 18-to-28-inches tall, the Adélies are the smallest penguin species. Their numbers have been falling dramatically in this part of Antarctica, with changes in climate impacting their nesting and food sources.
It was easy to spot the Adélies along the high icy ridges, their distinctive black heads and white-ringed eyes standing out against a snowy landscape. And we couldn’t help but notice that there were far fewer Adélies than the Gentoos and Chinstraps we had visited.
As our zodiac tour continued, expedition guide John Ford pointed out elephant seals, crabeater seals and giant petrels. He took us past Palmer Station, one of three U.S. research stations in Antarctica, and the scientists working on Torgersen Island.
We were on our way back to the ship when we happened upon a majestic iceberg that caught everyone’s eye. As John stopped the zodiac for us to get a better view, we heard a loud crack! A small piece began calving, and then suddenly the entire iceberg collapsed into the Antarctic waters. Herb and I were in the back of the zodiac, with an unobstructed view of the entire event. I was able to capture frame-by-frame still photos, and Herb filmed an unbelievable video, with our group’s screams sounding more like they were coming from an amusement park than Antarctica.
I had been standing up in the zodiac, glued to my camera and not at all thinking about the waves that would follow such an extraordinary collapse. John, of course, realized the potential danger and told us we would need to leave – quickly.
The falling iceberg was one of those moments that bonds people together. You couldn’t help mention it when you ran into someone from the group, even days later. The whole event was the talk of the ship for a while. Even experienced expeditioner John said he’d never seen anything like it in 40 years.
The truth was, though, it was all about timing. Our group of twelve simply happened to board that zodiac at that time…and John had stopped at that iceberg at that moment…and some of us even had cameras focused at that fleeting instant.
Of course, timing is really one of life’s great mysteries, isn’t it?