Thursday, January 10, 2008

Goodbye to the "Little Red Ship!"

Friday, November 23, 2007 at 07:40 LT

With the rescue of all guests and crew now complete, the National Geographic Endeavour approaches the heavily listing Explorer. It is a very stunning and emotional moment as we watch the very first ship ever specifically designed for Antarctic expedition travel in her final death throws. She would manage to stay afloat for several more hours before finally succumbing to the sea.

It is really rather sad to watch (and film) the entire event. Of course many of the staff on board our ship had worked and known the Explorer throughout her almost 40 years in polar travel. Some thought that it was a fitting end to a ship that had carried so many people to the ends of the Earth; much better to die at sea (after safely delivering all her passengers for rescue) than to end up as scrap metal in a shipyard somewhere.

Our entire ship was silent as we slowly circled the dying Explorer. Captain Oliver Kruess of the National Geographic Endeavour gave a farewell set of blasts on our ship's horn in tribute to the "Little Red Ship."

A final view of the sinking Explorer with her passenger rescuer the Nordnorge behind. All passengers were safely transferred to a research base on King George Island and then flown to their various homes around the world, none the less for the wear, but with an amazing story to share!
For my part I got a glimpse of what it would be like to be a news reporter covering a world-wide breaking story. I sent images via satellite to one of my agencies in London, who quickly got them out on the BBC wire service. The images were immediately picked up and distributed worldwide to television stations and newspapers everywhere. My images were on CNN news, BBC news, several of their affiliates and even the AP. On Saturday November 24 my images graced the cover of the Saturday edition of the London Times, as well as being published in the New York Times and many other newspapers worldwide! Friends sent copies of papers with my images in them from as far away as New Zealand, Australia, Scotland, and Ireland. Literally hundreds of newspaper publications form this single event.
And now my fifteen minutes of fame have come and gone, captured in a few moments on a CF card at the bottom of the world. I can peacefully go back to doing what I do best, capturing moments of wildlife doing incredible things in amazing places. I guess it really isn't so different after all...

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The Rescue of 154 Explorer Guests and Crew

Friday, November 23, 2007

While the Chilean Navy helicopter continued to film the sinking of the Explorer, the rescue continued of all 154 guests and crew.

These images were taken from the bow of the National Geographic Endeavour as all guests were transferred to Zodiacs and then on to the Nordnorge.

Miraculously not a single person was injured or suffered from hypothermia during the roughly three and a half to four and a half hours that they were in the lifeboats and Zodiacs.

The rescue went smoothly and efficiently.

It was quite a traumatic event for all the guests and crew, but I cannot stress how lucky it was for everyone involved that the weather was calm and the seas relatively flat, not always the case in this part of Antarctica! In less than eight hours a raging gale would hit the area! A difference of a few hours could have spelled disaster for so many folks...

The ship had drifted clear of most ice floes, with only an occasional iceberg to be seen in the area.

All of the orange bags shown here are personal thermal protection devices that act similar to a sleeping bag that is slipped on over all outer clothing to maintain body heat.

As the lifeboats were emptied they were left to drift in the open seas. The Chilean navy would return later in the day to retrieve the empty lifeboats.

Quite a surreal scene to see the empty lifeboats floating among the ice near the still heavily listing Explorer.

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The Cruise vessel Explorer hits an Iceberg

Friday, November 23, 2007 06:30 Local Time

Here in Antarctica we were in for a huge surprise today. At roughly 01:30 local time (LT) the National Geographic Endeavour received a telex distress message from MV Explorer, call sign ELJD8, via Valparaiso Playa Ancha Radio. The nature of distress was “flooding." The ship had evidently hit an iceberg that had punctured the hull. The officers of the National Geographic Endeavour fixed the position of the Explorer at 62.24 S, 057.71 W, a distance of roughly 60 miles from our ship. The Endeavour immediately turned and started steaming at full power towards the stricken Explorer.

Just before 03:00 LT contact was again made with the Explorer, receiving a position update (62.23.5 S, 057. 15.1 W) and the message that the ship was without propulsion drifting towards the ice. The evacuation of all 154 people on board the ship was in progress. Fifteen crew members had initially stayed behind to try and manage the flooding, but by 04:50 LT all 154 guests and crew had abandoned ship.

Both the National Geographic Endeavour and the Norwegian cruise ship Nordnorge arrived on the scene at roughly 06:30 LT. People had been in lifeboats for roughly three and a half hours. As these photos show, the sea conditions were relatively calm and ice-free.

Immediately upon arriving the scene the crew from the Explorer began towing the passenger filled lifeboats towards the Nordnorge. I was on the bow of the National Geographic Endeavour filming the whole event. The Chilean Navy was also on the scene in a helicopter watching over (and filming) the entire rescue.

The rescue went smoothly and efficiently. Guests were transferred from the large and ungainly lifeboats into the Explorer Zodiacs and then taken on board the Nordnorge.

There was no panic and very little confusion as the transfers went smoothly and efficiently.

Guests on board the Nordnorge watched and filmed the whole event from the upper decks.

In very short order all 154 people were safely transferred to the Nordnorge. By 07:30 LT all guests and crew were safely aboard the Nordnorge. These images were taken from the bow of the National Geographic Endeavour. The Explorer continued listing and taking on water, finally sinking later that day.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Goodbye to the Hayden Wolf Pack

October 26, 2007
The last photo I took on this day, of one of the pups with the backbone from the elk kill. Only four days later the pack would suffer the deaths of both alpha male and female wolves and near total destruction of the rest of the pack at the fangs of the Mollies...

The last shot I have of alpha female 540F and alpha male 541M working the elk carcass side by side. We are all reminded now and then that life can be a dog-eat-dog event, it's not how many breaths you take, but how many moments take your breath away. Better get going!

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Wolves and Ravens

October 26, 2007
Some 8 or 10 years ago I attended an inspirational wolf lecture by photographer Jim Brandenburg who had filmed wolves on Ellesmere Island in northern Canada. I came away with an incredible respect for what it took to be near wolves, but one of Jim's statements given then has stayed with me even now; this was the idea that ravens would lead wolves to prey in the harshness of winter. The ravens were the far-reaching eyes for the predator and the reward of course was a shared prey.

Yellowstone wolves, particularly the Hayden Pack, don't seem to have the same appreciation for ravens as the Canadian wolves Jim had studied and filmed. Time and again I would see a member of the pack break loose and chase ravens off of the carcass, evidently not willing to share just yet.

The first image in this series is of alpha male 541M chasing ravens off his elk leg bone and here is the alpha female 540F seemingly unhappy with the ravens on this elk carcass. She not only chased, but barked and howled as the birds lifted off the carcass as she approached.

Often a great deal of energy seems to be spent on the "defense" of the carcass!

Here one of the pups chases ravens off... When the wolves had finally gorged and left the ravens swooped in and began feeding for themselves...

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Goodbye Grizzly Bear!

October 26, 2007 at 07:24:14

What a time to have to change CF cards! I missed the push around the carcass to move the grizzly off, but just managed to get the final photos of the bear being chased into the woods!

Now maybe this bear was full, or just tired of defending this carcass against attacking wolves. In any event, off he scampers into the forest!

The last sighting of this bear before he is chased off. Time is 07:24:14, just 4 minutes and 14 seconds from when he showed up on the carcass. Not much time to enjoy a hearty breakfast!

And this ends one of the most amazing encounters of any wildlife I have ever been privileged to witness. These images have gone out to several of the wolf researchers in Yellowstone, but they are available to any others who might find them useful. So many of you fine folks who study and watch wolves have given so much to CT and I in our three years in the park that it is a pleasure to finally be able to give a little back. I will post a few more of the fun images of the pack feeding on this carcass and chasing ravens soon, I promise!
Of course these images are all the more poignant in that both the Hayden Pack alpha male and female, as well as several of their pups, were killed on October 30, 2007 by the Molly pack. This is certainly one of the last feeding events in the lives of these incredible wolves, only days before their deaths. I was in Antarctica when CT e-mailed me with the news of their deaths, and I can honestly say that the news affected me profoundly. What a moment in time...
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Haydens Regroup with Alpha Male 541M!

October 26, 2007 at 07:22:48

Time to regroup! Four pups surround alpha male 541M, who has not been involved at all up to this point in the bear defense. He has been busy with this elk leg...

Seemingly still uninterested he busily gnaws the bone...

But the alpha female 540F gathers the whole pack together...

Here there are eight members of the Hayden pack, including alpha male 541M...

And 540F leads the pack back in against the bear. This image is taken at 07:23:38.
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Hayden Alpha Female 540F Harasses Grizzly Bear

October 26, 2007 at 07:21:18AM

So what is to be done with this darn bear? The Hayden Pack still wants to feed, but this grizzly is really putting a damper on their efforts.

The alpha female 540F takes it upon herself to circle the bear and try to force it off the carcass.

She is yelping and trying to gain the attention of the bear...

She continues coming in to draw attention from the bear...

But this is a BIG bear and she doesn't seem to be able to force it to leave...

The rest of the pack has just about given up but she has better ideas. Time is 07:22:11.

Hayden Wolf Pack and Grizzly Bear!

October 26, 2007 at 07:19:47AM

Earlier this morning CT and I were in Hayden Valley along the Yellowstone River looking for wolves when Bob Landis came racing by in his car motioning for us to follow him. He had gotten a call from road workers that wolves were on a carcass just west of the Tower Junction road. And here they are! Seven members of the Hayden Pack (the alpha male 541M is off feeding on an elk leg by himself) trying to dig up a buried elk carcass. Time is 07:19:47.

Are you watching CLOSELY? The first sign of trouble comes at exactly 07:19:58 as the ravens around the carcass lift into the air. What seems to be the trouble?

The answer comes into the frame at 07:20:00 in the form of a grizzly bear charging the wolf pack on the carcass! I am absolutely fascinated to watch the pack's reaction to the charging bear.

The pack scatters at the onslaught, but notice that the alpha female 540F is one of the last ones to run from the charging bear.

Due to the magic of my Canon motor drive the entire series of images from when the bear entered the frame to the last shot take less than 2 seconds...

Normally I wouldn't post so many "similar" images, but I thought you might enjoy studying the actions of individual members of the pack to this onslaught just as I did so I will let the camera roll...

Ending photo is at 07:20:02. Now what shall the pack do with this bear? Keep reading for the answer!
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