Animal collective: where to cruise for wildlife
As anyone lucky enough to have been to the Galapagos Islands will tell you: the wildlife somewhat steals the show. The archipelago is home to a vast number of endemic species, which are both plentiful and, for the most part, unafraid of humans, giving passengers the chance to get up close and personal. It’s one of many regions cruise ships visit where the wildlife proves a considerable lure.
It’s the reason why wildlife enthusiasts make up a large contingent on most expedition and adventure cruises; indeed, there are entire itineraries geared towards animal spotting. And, what’s increasingly common, is the inclusion of experts on board, meaning guests aren’t just seeing the animals for the first time, they’re learning about them, too. Celebrity Cruises, for example, had Brent Nixon, the esteemed naturalist, sailing on some Celebrity Solstice cruises to Alaska last year. In the case of the Galapagos, it’s something that’s crucial. As one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, there’s an enormous amount to learn.
Unsurprisingly, passengers are keen to capture these magnificent sights, too, and you’ll find plenty of budding photographers on board. Lindblad and Silversea Expeditions even have cruises geared around wildlife photography, promising on board lectures and workshops led by experts, with a professional photographer joining passengers on photo walks.
So, here are some of the wild beasts your customers can aim their cameras at.
Svalbard (polar); Alaska (brown, black, grizzly)
Home to 98 percent of the US bear population, Alaska as much about wildlife, as it is about dramatic scenery. Chichagof Island has the highest concentration of bears per square mile anywhere on earth and is near Icy Strait Point, where the likes of Celebrity Cruises and Princess Cruises dock. Given grizzlies can weigh up to 364 kilograms and can reach three metres tall when stood on their hind legs, they’re best observed from afar. In Svalbard, the Norwegian archipelago, passengers also have the chance to see the polar bear, that most elusive and majestic of beasts, during the summer months when the melted ice means cruise ships can approach.
The Galapagos giant tortoise is the world’s largest, with some exceeding 1.5 metres in length and weighing 250 kilograms. They also live an awfully long time with an average age of 100 and the oldest ever hitting 152 years. Considered an endangered species, today, only about 15,000 remain, from hundreds of thousands a few centuries ago. Isabela Island, the largest in the Galapagos archipelago, has more giant tortoises than the rest of the islands put together.
Antarctica and surrounding islands
There are 17 different species of penguin on the continent of Antarctica, making them a crucial part of any expedition cruise to the region. While emperor penguins, whose 70-mile trek to their breeding ground was famously captured in March of the Penguins, live most southerly (and thus are out of the reach of most ships), chinstrap and gentoo penguins breed on the Antarctica Peninsular, where cruises visit. King penguins – the second largest in height after emperors (and almost identical in plumage) – are found on the islands of South Georgia and Falklands, where longer cruises stop.
Marine iguanas, unique to Galapagos Islands, have never won any beauty contests – even Charles Darwin was withering, describing them as the “most disgusting, clumsy lizards”. They’re undeniably gross – they sneeze saltwater out of their nose, which sits on their head like a white wig – but are utterly fascinating: they are the world’s only ocean-going lizard and some bear striking, almost neon colours.
Peruvian and Amazonian rainforest
The tree-dwelling three-toed sloth, found in the forests of Central and South America, is one of many peculiar beasts passengers are likely to catch a glimpse of during a trip to down the Amazon river. The slowest moving mammal on earth (hence the name), sloths often remain in the same tree for years, moving so languidly that algae begins to form on their fur. But guests – particularly the closer to Peru the cruise goes – are spoilt for choice when it comes to wildlife: there are tamarins and squirrel monkeys in the trees, dolphins, catfish and piranhas in the water and blue macaws in the air.
Wildlife photography: ‘Will my iPhone camera do?’
There are plenty of resources available online that you can direct budding photographers to, including the BBC’s excellent discoverwildlife.com. Those hoping to get in-focus wildlife shots should consider buying a DSLR camera, giving them the ability to control shutter speed. Tortoises may take a leisurely approach to life, but iguanas can move fast (up to 20 miles an hour!) – so guests will need a camera that can keep up. Most travel photographers recommend a wide-angle lens for landscapes and a zoom lens for catching critters from a distance.