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Killer Whales Come Up for Air

by Joan Larsen

Photo by 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. 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.

And so we were first to break open a lead that would allow supply ships to follow 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. They're looking around as they take in enough air to last them 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.



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