One of the most memorable experiences on the Antarctica trip was one for which I have hardly any photos. Or, I should say, hardly any photos that really capture just how amazing the experience was.

We had visited Port Charcot and Danco Island that day and were supposed to be cruising toward Deception Island, our next day’s stop, when we encountered a pod of humpback whales. Earlier in the trip—actually at our very first briefing on the Le Boreál—the expedition director, Klemenz Pütz, had said, “If we encounter whales that seem playful, we may reduce our speed and stay with them awhile.” And that’s exactly what happened.

I have no idea how many whales we saw that evening. I originally thought it was maybe five to seven, while others put the estimate in the hundreds—so I’m probably not the one to ask. (In my defense, I just figured we were seeing the same five to seven over and over again.) Certainly “dozens” would be a safe estimate. Whatever the case, even the crew said they had never seen anything like it.

The passengers all crowded onto the deck at the bow of the ship and watched in amazement as these enormous, graceful creatures glided in the water, blowing, occasionally rolling over and exposing a fin, and—most fun of all—lifting their tails, which would then create a curtain-like spray of seawater before sliding slowly back underneath the surface. And they were doing all of this right next to the ship.

The show went on for a good two hours, with passengers running back and forth to the sides of the ship and back to the bow, cheering each new whale action as if we were watching a great football game. A 12-year-old who was on the trip with her dad, and who blogged from the trip, wrote a post declaring it “The Most Amazing Day EVER!!!”

“I will never see anything like this again in my lifetime,” she wrote. “Things this amazing only happen once. It was pure magic.”

I took close to 600 photos that evening, and about 590 of them were decidedly not keepers. Below are a few that I’m happy with. But believe me when I tell you that being there was even cooler.

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