Sharon Keating

Artist, Teacher and Native Culture Enthusiast

Sharon joined Polar Cruises in the summer of 2006. She has traveled the world and finds Antarctica to be one of her favorites. Sharon is a transplant from San Francisco, California and Chicago, Illinois. She collects art from different native tribes, has taught in US Schools for 5 years and was in the service industry before that, including work in the travel industry.

Sharons' First Antarctica Trip

My first Antarctic experience was as a client for Polar Cruises. I was teaching 4th grade in the San Francisco Bay area. When I told my class I would be going to Antarctica their interest sparked one of those rare teachable moments. We read about the different explorers and the incredibly harsh conditions they had to endure.

So I bought my layers as advised, and I prepared to brave the cold tree barren continent. To my surprise, our particular voyage had the most beautiful, sunny, mild weather (far warmer than New York or Chicago). We hit the continent round about winter solstice. It was Antarctica summer, where the sky didn’t darken, and the twilight colors reflecting off the ice and water were a watercolor wash of violets, purples, and pinks.

There were so many memorable moment to share with you it was difficult to choose from them.Sharon_aboutUsImage Two memories in particular stand out because of their contrasts. Dressed in layers for warmth on a zodiac, we headed for Wilhelmina Bay where the captain had sighted some humpback whales. Even to the surprise of seasoned Antarctic staff, we found a pod of around fifty whales bubble net feeding!

My fourth grade class was always assigned animal research reports. Students always chose whales and dolphins, so I knew what bubble-net feeding was. The whale swims round and round blowing bubbles. This traps and pushes the krill into a densely packed space. Next, the whale opens its mouth and swims through the net it created. The water is expelled through the baleen leaving the meal behind in its mouth.

The experience I had in Wilhelmina Bay, you can’t read about in books or watch on television. It just doesn’t translate. Kelp Gulls would sit calmly on the water. Suddenly the group would noisily soar into the air and land a short ways away. As if by magic, two enormous heads would rise through the flock of gulls, and smoothly glide back into the water. Then, came the collective ahh, as a massive tail fluke would appear. The gulls were our early warning system for spotting the next Kodak moment. We spent about three hours with the group, and it was with great reluctance we returned to the ship.

Contrasted to Wilhelmina Bay was Deception Island of infamous fame. This volcanic island witnessed mass slaughter of the Antarctic whale in its day. I’m told that the water ran red in Whaler’s Bay, and the whalers could literally walk across the backs of hundreds of carcasses.

This landing also brought with it a snow storm with winds blowing sideways, and snow flakes large and wet. The deteriorating buildings and small Russian graveyard were bleached white. Huddled against the roofline of one building were three Kelp Gull chicks waiting for their parents to come back with food. A pair of Chinstrap penguins courted each other among abandoned wooden boats and large whale backbones. Life finds a way. While I was warm ( even sweating) in my modern gear, the weather helped to carry me back to another time giving me a sense of what life must have been like for the seafarers of old. These experiences are part of the reason I am now working for Polar Cruises.