Among the Icebergs and Whales

Wolfram Eikemeier

It’s a dream moment for anyone who loves the wonders of nature: encountering a humpback whale. The five-person expedition team had floated up to the twelve-meter-long marine mammal in a rubber boat, coming to a stop beside it. The occupants of the boat freeze in awe; only their fingers twitch on the shutter buttons of their cameras…and suddenly, the beast dives below the surface.

“Where did it go?” someone whispers.

An Indian nature photographer is part of the group; he is using a drone to observe the scene ‘live’ from a bird’s-eye point of view. And then he says, very quietly: “It’s right underneath us.”


Tasiilaq Grönland

The expedition started in Tasiilaq, the capital of East Greenland with a population of around 2,000.

Tasiilaq Grönland

No, this picture hasn’t been retouched in Photoshop. The landscapes in Greenland really are this brilliantly colorful.


If the whale surfaces now, all the boat’s occupants will be plunged straight into the water. It’s a horrifying thought, despite the crew’s protective gear, and despite the satellite telephone lying ready for them to make an immediate call for help – because we’re on the Johan Petersen Fjord in East Greenland, 2,600 kilometers from the North Pole. The water here is no warmer than three degrees Celsius.

However, no one on board panics or looks afraid. The members of the expedition simply realize “that this is a bit riskier than a resort vacation,” as Alexandra Stengel puts it. She works in seat development at the Rüsselsheim Engineering Center; her partner Wolfram Eikemeier works in vehicle safety. Both of them are in the boat as part of a ‘Northern Explorers’ tour.

 

Grönland

Tell me where the whales are: The little expedition heads out in search of photo motifs.

Alexandra Stengel

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“It’s a bit riskier than a resort vacation.”

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Johan-Petersen-Fjord

No electricity, running water, or phone reception: The tiny village on the Johan Petersen Fjord is at the edge of the world, surrounded by unspoiled natural beauty.


“Riskier than a resort vacation” might be the biggest understatement in this whole article. As part of the expedition, the two Opel development engineers had the opportunity to test out a new ice camp in East Greenland; the dive center set it up recently and hopes to make it available to paying customers starting next year. Even Greenlanders describe the eastern part of their country using the word ‘Tunu,’ which means something like ‘back side.’ The group will spend a week in the tiny village of Pupik, with no running water or electricity, let alone smartphones or Internet reception.

 

Instead, they can enjoy pure, unspoiled nature: rugged and surprisingly flowery landscapes, icebergs, the Northern Lights – and humpback whales. For a trip like this, the organizer has to select special participants – ones who know how to appreciate and assess an exceptional excursion like this one. Wolfram Eikemeier was in Belarus last year, where he shot beluga whales with his underwater camera, so he already had a reputation as an agreeable customer.


Tauchen unter Eisbergen

Iceberg ahead: Up to 90 percent of the mass of these floating giants is always underwater.


After all, diving is Wolfram’s greatest passion. It was Alexandra who first prompted the child safety seat expert to start diving 14 years ago. “Even when I was a child, I used to watch Jacques Cousteau films, and I always talked about going diving myself. Alex encouraged me: You should just do it!” He took his first diving trip to one of the traditional tropical locations, but then he became fascinated with cold-water diving.

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Wolfram Eikemeier and Alexandra Stengel love to travel to unspoiled corners of the earth, where civilization has left little to no mark.

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Alexandra Stengel, on the other hand, has a passion for nature and landscape photography – she has such an eye for her subjects and such impressive technical skill that it’s impossible to tell her pictures apart from those taken by professional photographers. She also loves to travel to unspoiled corners of the earth, where civilization has left little to no mark.

 


Buckelwal Grönland

Often at home in coastal areas: A humpback whale briefly peeks out of the water.

 

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So how did their encounter with the humpback whale end? “It was OK! He just floated along under our boat, totally at ease.”

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Buckelwal Grönland

Lives in all the oceans: The humpback whale heads to the polar oceans in summer; tropical and subtropical waters are its winter residence.

Buckelwal Grönland

Summer habitat: Humpback whales like to spend the warmer months in the northern hemisphere off the coast of Greenland.


Naturally, the two of them always pick vacation destinations that would never occur to anyone else. For example, next year, the couple are traveling to Chile, to the European La Silla Observatory. The tour is only being offered to three hundred visitors – and Alexandra Stengel managed to snag two tickets.

 

So, how did their encounter with the humpback whale end? “It was OK! He just floated along under our boat, totally at ease,” they explain. On the other hand: “Our week in East Greenland was so incredible that even being plunged into the icy water couldn’t have ruined it for us!” •


Photo gallery: Fascinating ice formations


‘Relaxation pool:’ Chilling out in calm waters after a dive.


October 2018

Text: Eric Scherer, Photos: Alexandra Stengel, Wolfram Eikemeier, Dhritiman Mukherjee, Sven Gust