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Reflections from an Antarctic Expedition Specialist

Amanda Hagar

Reflections from an Antarctic Expedition Specialist

Amanda Hagar

Though we haven’t yet begun manned missions to Mars, it is now easier than ever to visit another world . . . The Great White Continent of Antarctica. 

Traveling by way of small ship cruises to the bottom of the Earth, you will discover a mesmerizing landscape of epic proportions. Gigantic icebergs of a million shades of blue and green, thousands of penguins waiting to greet you as you step ashore, and curious seals and whales frolicking in the pristine glass-like waters.

Antarctica is a destination that will take your breath away, captivate, and forever change you. But the thing that makes an adventure to Antarctica go from ‘great’ to ‘phenomenal’ is the expert guides and naturalists who accompany you. The crew of the MS Expedition is a star example of top experts with the experience, passion, and expertise to ensure your Antarctic adventure is the trip of a lifetime.

The expedition team of the MS Expedition is comprised of earth scientists, wildlife experts, and research pioneers – all known leaders in their fields. With their breadth of knowledge and expertise, Expedition Leader Susan Adie describes the team as being “all of one mind when it comes to wildness and the earth.” One thing that truly sets them apart, she explains, is that they truly operate as a family rather than a team of individuals, and guests of the MS Expedition get to become a part of that.

Leading expeditions to Antarctica since 1989, Susan holds a degree in Environmental Science & Education from Cornell, has worked for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Department of Parks & Recreation, and has led over 200 trips to remote destinations around the world. She’s a recognized leader, honored by the National Geographic Society and the National Audubon Society (among others) for excellence in her field. When Susan Adie is on board, you know you’re in good hands. 

Despite traveling to Antarctica every year since 1995, spending between 1 to 4 months on the White Continent each time, Susan’s enthusiasm for and fascination with this otherworldly destination remains unflagging. She shares that the thing that keeps her coming back to Antarctica is . . . Antarctica! The scenery, the ice, and of course, the amazing wildlife. As an Expedition Leader, she has seen plenty of Antarctic wildlife, but the animals’ curiosity in people continues to afford fascinating and magical encounters, which create “moments that stay with you forever!” Chatting with Susan recently she described a couple of her most memorable meetings.

A humpback whale mother and calf were resting in a quiet protected bay; Mum seemed sleepy, unlike the calf, but the mother did not want her baby to leave her side. The calf was curious of us in our Zodiac and kept trying to leave to investigate. We were drifting in our boat and getting closer and closer. . . As we approached the mother kept raising her pectoral flipper and touching the calf, who would then return to her side. Eventually Mum gave up and sank beneath the surface with the calf. We thought they had gone but moments later the mother surfaced again, but this time only 20 feet away! Then suddenly the calf surfaced within 4 - 5 feet of us, almost within arms-reach. The mother kept a watchful eye but was ok that her calf was so close. We all sat mesmerized by this incredibly close encounter with nature. I still get goose bumps thinking about it! After a time the calf swam back to her mother and they continued on their way.

In another encounter, this time with a leopard seal, the curious creature raised its head (a formidable cranium longer than the distance from your elbow to your fingertips) onto the pontoon of the Zodiac. “He just watched the group for a minute or so, and then slipped beneath the waves again.” It was one of those fleeting instances of beautiful curiosity and mutual fascination that life occasionally presents. 

These unforgettable moments are wonderful and surprisingly common in Antarctica where the wildlife is not afraid of humans. Susan describes how travelers change from the first day aboard the Expedition to the last day when they disembark:

Antarctica opens peoples’ minds and hearts to something they never dreamed was really there. We can see pictures, films, etc., but when you feel it, smell it, taste it, it seeps inside your being and becomes a part of you. They become bigger people. Their hearts and minds have expanded. They now know what true wildness is.

The pictures and stories of Antarctica are breathtaking and beautiful but, as Susan says, they will never do it justice. When asked who should go there, she says that anyone who has “an open heart and mind, and the chance to really feel it and take it all in” should visit Antarctica. “Maybe that is everyone,” she says. The only way to begin to know this amazing place is to go, because “it is bigger than any of us will ever truly understand.”


To learn more about Antarctica or to plan your trip aboard the MS Expedition, please contact ExpeditionTrips.

Susan Adie is an Expedition Leader aboard the MS Expedition.  She’s led over 200 expeditions to exotic locations around the world, such as Antarctica.