Encounter with José Sarica: expedition leader with Ponant

The unbridled passion of an expedition leader

He may very well have explored all the oceans and know fauna like the back of his hand, but José Sarica is still an eternal child facing the magic of nature. This leading expert and lover of cetaceans goes over his career path and tells us what motivates him on a daily basis. An encounter.


This passion… how did it come about?

It’s what I dreamed about as a child. At 10 years old, I saw the film Orca, which was released in 1977. My career has been guided by my passion for whales. A passion can take you a very long way: I went all the way to a doctorate. I then became a naturalist, a speaker about whales, then an expedition leader.

What motivates you on a daily basis?

Above all, sharing my passion. There is nothing more incredible than seeing people infected by the passion that has motivated you since childhood. It’s the most wonderful thanks that you receive as an expedition leader. My passion is whales and killer whales: when I’m near them them I feel like I’m holding hands with the child I was at 10 years old. I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time.

Your ideal expedition would be…

Starting in Bali and ending up in Ushuaia. It would take more than 2 months! I would go via Vanuatu, where the volcanoes, and above all, the communities are infinitely rich, incredibly beautiful and strikingly authentic. Next, I would go to New Zealand to make for the Falklands. Then South Georgia, that, for me, is the Serengeti of the Southern Ocean, with its millions of King penguins, baby fur seals and elephant seals… When the animals look you right in the eye, you wonder who is watching whom. Then, I would head towards the Antarctic Peninsula, because after that, it’s the Moon. Finally, I would finish in Ushuaia.

What is the greatest animal encounter you have ever had?

The famous Komodo dragon, which I saw on the island of Komodo in Indonesia. They’re very impressive prehistoric creatures. They’re much older than we are, and they’re still here.

Komodo Dragon Ponant

Which explorer do you admire the career of?

Jean-Baptiste Charcot because he was a doctor but above all very human, with enormous respect for animals and his crew. Before he was shipwrecked in Reykjavik, he had adopted an injured seagull which he called Rita. One survivor told the story of how, during the shipwreck, Charcot opened the cage and freed the seagull. He prayed for all his sailors. He had all the human qualities, the qualities of an explorer and the qualities of a navigator: he was called “the gentleman of the poles”.

What is your favourite moment during a cruise?

At four o’clock in the morning, if there are whales feeding around the boat, I like to wake up the passengers and invite them onto the outdoor decks to share this magical moment with them. Seeing these mammals socialising in their natural habitat, seeing a whale jump and having a guide explain why to you, enhances the experience even more. Seeing a whale is one thing, but hearing it breathe, that can move anybody.

whale Antarctica

3 things to know about the job of a Ponant expedition leader

• In consultation with the Captain, he defines the itinerary and can sometimes change it according to the weather forecast.

• He manages the team of naturalists who pilot the Zodiacs and give commentaries on the outings to the passengers.

• He is responsible for passenger safety as soon as they leave the ship and ensures that the conditions are optimal for carrying out the proposed activity.

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