Archive for the ‘Activities’ Category

GPS Tracking – Stanley, Falkland Islands

March 1st, 2010 at 8:17 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

It was a gloriously beautiful day in the Falkland Islands today – sunshine, a few fluffy clouds, and ample, blustery winds (a common feature of the area, as we understand it).

Around dawn we made our way from our safe harbor at Berkeley Sound to Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, and then spent the day exploring Stanley by foot. Not a huge amount to see, but we did visit a few shops, wandered through a number of residential areas, and visited both the Stanley Post Office and an excellent museum with ample historical information about Stanley.

Later in the afternoon we visited Stanley Growers, a hydroponics-based grower of wonderful produce, including a vast number of tomatoes, all of which we got to sample.

Tonight we’re en route to West Falkland Island, and more particularly, Carcass Island, where we will spend the morning checking out sheep, a ranch, and Magellanic penguins. And Rockhopper penguins await us in the afternoon.

Below is our GPS track though almost the present, since last night in Berkeley Sound – the northern part of the track is the latest part.

 

Port Lockroy, Southern-Most Post Office, Feb. 15,2010

February 23rd, 2010 at 11:53 am (AST) by Krystyana Richter

On this day, we met our first gentoos and saw krill, which is one of the most important food sources for the wildlife in Antarctica.

Regurgitated Krill

Regurgitated Krill

We arrived in Port Lockroy in the morning waiting for officials to board from the base only to find that they thought we were coming in the afternoon. The internet is very unreliable and so they did not get the email saying we were arriving early.

At the beginning of our journey, everyone wrote down their names on one of six pages indicating what group we would be in. This is because of a 100 person limit onshore; you could be on a zodiac or kayaking without breaking this limit because you are technically not on shore. In this case, groups 1 & 2 stayed on board, groups 3 & 4 went to Jougla (think French), and groups 5 & 6 went to Lockroy. The groups rotated places every hour and 15 minutes (mind you, this is not very precise, because people stay longer in some locations and lose track of time quite easily).

We had been waiting to see the penguins after watching a leopard seal chase some zodiacs. Almost the minute we set course for Jougla, my dad asked how you would pronounce the name, turns out there is tons of mispronunciations from other languages and Lockroy is actually a mangling of a French name by the English.

Penguin watching the strange blue penguins

Penguin watching the strange blue penguins

I stepped on shore and was amazed to find that the gentoo penguins were absolutely everywhere and if we were supposed keep 15 feet away from these penguins we would be in the water. The penguins walked along the same paths us humans were using and the penguins had right of way. If you were in the way the penguin would not even look at you and either brush right past your legs or just waddled off onto another path. The rocks that we stood on were slimy with penguin poop and so keeping one’s balance with penguins in every direction was a challenge.

The chicks were at a stage where they chase adults to feed them and humans seemed easier to catch, they would squawk until they lost their patience and then looked for their next victim. The penguins had the tendency to be right behind you, so we had to watch where we walked more so than we had to with the Adelie penguins.

gentoo penguin feeding chick

gentoo penguin feeding chick

Man cornered by two gentoo chicks

Man cornered by two gentoo chicks

Feed baby penguin!

Feed baby penguin!

Port Lockroy was once a place where Norwegian whalers would anchor and they did so from 1911-31. What is left from those days are whale skeletons above and below (David Cothran, the trip’s undersea specialist had been diving there and took video, which included the video of whales’ skeletons). These date from before the whalers learned how to get oil from the bones and so they just left the rest of the whale to drift or sink after they were done.

Someone, who had a lot of time on their hands, put together a makeshift whale skeleton (makeshift because the bones are mostly from different whales, like one is blue, sperm, or right whale and some are in the wrong position) from all the bones lying around. This skeleton had penguins wandering through the bones and one was even trying to use it a windbreaker.

Makeshift whale skeleton and the human comparison

Makeshift whale skeleton and the human comparison

Antarctic blue eyed shags were nesting nearby the gentoo colony and they did not seem bothered in the least by the other being present, unless they came too close to the other’s nest.

Pair of Antarctic blue eyed shags

Pair of Antarctic blue eyed shags

On a lonely little hill, there was an adult gentoo on a nest that contained a small chick and an egg. Many photos were taken but the likely hood that the chick would survive is very low, because it is too late in the season.

Adult gentoo, baby, and egg

Adult gentoo, baby, and egg

After taking many photos of a Jougla and its inhabitants, I found myself near the landing station without a clue where the rest of my family was. I guessed my mom and brother had gone off to Lockroy and that my dad was somewhere on Jougla and he would take his time getting to Lockroy. So, I headed off to the Lockroy base to see the very small museum.

The signs that indicate that you are in Port Lockroy

The signs that indicate that you are in Port Lockroy

I walked through the museum rapidly and bumped into my brother, who then brought me over to my mom. They had been sitting on the porch outside of the museum and were being entertained by the poop and vomit eating snowy sheathbills and their chicks that had a particular interest in the poop-laden bottoms of our muck boots.

Snowy sheathbill chick and bottom of muck boot

Snowy sheathbill chick and bottom of muck boot

People that arrived from a yacht had caught the interest of some gentoo chicks and the chicks started trying to tunnel, headfirst, between the legs of one of the men. My mom’s theory is these penguins like the color orange because the boots the man was wearing were bright orange.

Penguin chick tunneling between legs

Penguin chick tunneling between legs

At the end of our visit of Port Lockroy, we finally found my dad.

For more photos go to Flickr.

 

GPS Tracking – Godthul and Grytviken, South Georgia

February 23rd, 2010 at 5:50 am (AST) by Jake Richter

It turned out to be another very busy and snowy day yesterday, as we started in Godthul Bay with kayaking, hiking, and Zodiac cruises. Got to see our first King penguins up close and personal, as well as reindeer (imported by someone a while back – definitely not endemic) at a distance.

In the afternoon we went to Grytviken, an old whaling port, and now the government seat of the country, with a whopping 18 inhabitants, most of whom are part of the British Antarctic Service.

Grytviken is also the location of the grave site of Antarctic explorer, Ernest Shackleton.

Below is our GPS Track for yesterday as well as much of the rest of Sunday. Zoom in to see the location of various sites on land. There’s lots of detail there.

 

Hello, Macaroni Penguins at Cape Lookout

February 19th, 2010 at 2:15 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

Well, the day started with a landing at what would have been the preferred site for Shackleton and his men, Cape Lookout. They attempted to land at Cape Valentine, but the real place where they stayed and Shackleton sailed from to South Georgia, is Point Wild.

Cape Lookout is mostly rock and barely any beach, but the rock is very interesting due to the layers and layers that are each about an inch thick on average. We separated into groups and took a zodiac cruise, with a 15 minute stop on a small beach. The main penguin species were chinstrap but a few macaroni penguins were hopping among them.

chinstrap penguin

chinstrap penguin

two macaroni penguins

two macaroni penguins

The macaroni’s interesting features are an orange crest that connects in the middle, red eyes, and an orange beak. The macaroni penguin comes by its name from the nickname given to the hats with a feather on them, think of the song Yankee Doodle “he stuck a feather in his cap and called it macaroni” like the macaroni penguins’ crest.

Macaroni penguin shaking off water

Macaroni penguin shaking off water

macaroni penguin with rock in beak

macaroni penguin with rock in beak

This was the first day we saw elephant seals (by the way, that’s why the island is called Elephant Island, because that is what the discoverer of the island saw…elephant seals and incidentally, if you look at a map of the island, it sort of looks like the head of an elephant).

Elephant seal male pup winking

Elephant seal male pup winking

Pintado petrels were in the hundreds and the small Wilson’s storm petrels were hopping above the water in among the crowds of petrels as they flew from one section of ocean to another. To add to the excitement, a penguin had died (or was killed) and all the petrels were scrambling to get piece of it, as well as other species of petrel. The Pintado petrels were like piranhas and they were loud.

Pintada petrels eating penguin remains

Pintada petrels eating penguin remains

Wilson's storm petrel

Wilson's storm petrel

Pintada petrel taking off

Pintada petrel taking off

Wilson's storm petrel hopping on water

Wilson's storm petrel hopping on water

Pintada petrels taking off

Pintada petrels taking off

The hotel department provided hot chocolate on our zodiac cruise by sending out a zodiac with hot chocolate and alcoholic fixings. The zodiac they used had a flag waving above that said “Hot Choco” in red.

The Hot Choco Pirates

The Hot Choco Pirates

The funny thing today was that many of the penguins seemed to be very clumsy. First we saw a chinstrap slip and fall on a cliff face, another chinstrap kept on slipping into the ocean because of the waves, and a macaroni penguin slid off a steep rock face after desperately trying to stay up right, and splashed into the ocean. My mom was putting into the little virtual speech bubbles above their heads “I meant to do that”.

 

Deception Island, Feb. 17, 2010

February 19th, 2010 at 1:31 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

It was cold, rather dark, and windy…in the volcanic caldera of Deception Island. The caldera contains the remains of the Norwegian Hektor whaling station and the British base B (used for both military purposes during the 40s and scientific purposes during late 50s and well into the 60s). The people that had worked at the base and the base itself had suffered from small eruptions, mud slides, stormy weather, and the like. They finally gave up and abandoned the base in 1969.

Today, the roofs have sagged in or there are none at all, parts of the buildings have been buried by mud slides and the silos that once held whale oil now rust, and you can still make out some of the words on them.

Rusting Silo used for storing whale oil

Rusting Silo used for storing whale oil

Molting gentoo penguins were huddled near a cement base where a building once stood and all that remains now is a stove, some cupboards, and a few weathered planks.

Molting Gentoo penguin next to cement block base

Molting Gentoo penguin next to cement block base

There is a hanger further out and the wind tore at my face as I hiked to it. It used to contain an airplane (an American tourist decided to restore it but the British protested and commissioned a ship to go pick it up for a lot of money) but now all it holds is snow covered with ash.

this hanger is far out and a windy path to get there

this hanger is far out and a windy path to get there

Door to the hanger

Door to the hanger

Inside the hanger containing more snow covered in ash

Inside the hanger containing more snow covered in ash

On the other side of the beach, the skeletal remains of boats are abundant, with Skuas resting nearby.

Boat and skuas

Boat and skuas

Skua

Skua

I love taken pictures of old buildings and you can get some amazing shots if the lighting is just right.

Former room in a now collapsing building

Former room in a now collapsing building

Building on Deception Island

Building on Deception Island

The snow covered with ash looked a lot like dirt pie; Oreos crumbled on top of ice creamy stuff (my dad suggested that I was hungry).

snow covered by ash

snow covered by ash

The caldera is open to the ocean and the only way in and out via Ship is through Neptune’s Bellows, which may seem large but contains rocks in the middle of the opening, so our ship had to stick one of the sides of the opening.

My family and I, had all brought our bathing suites thinking of a natural hot tub, but….The heat from the volcano may have once heated the waters in the caldera but now it provides a slightly warmer (or not even that) polar plunge!

 

Visiting Pourquoi Pas Island in the Antarctic

February 19th, 2010 at 11:19 am (AST) by Jake Richter

Monday, February 15th – It was the second day on the Antarctic Peninsula so far, and we had an early start as Bud, our expedition leader, decided we should visit Pourquoi Pas Island as we headed back north.

In addition to both the regular shore visit and a Zodiac tour, we were also given the option of kayaking in the area, so that’s what we all did.

The National Geographic Explorer includes an easy to assemble kayaking platform which floats in the ocean

The National Geographic Explorer includes an easy to assemble kayaking platform which floats in the ocean

We were in the Group B kayak group, meaning we left the National Geographic Explorer at 9:15am by Zodiac, getting to a special floating kayak launch platform in the open seas, and then getting in two-person kayaks. Bas and I were in one kayak, and Linda and Krystyana in another.

Krystyana and Linda in a kayak at Pourquoi Pas island

Krystyana and Linda in a kayak at Pourquoi Pas island

We spent about an hour paddling around, looking at the floating chunks of ice, the glacier cliff, and various critters on bits of land (and a penguin on one of the ice floes too).

Another gorgeously colored glacial ice berg

Another gorgeously colored glacial ice berg

The bits of ice in the water ranged in size from the size of a pack of cards to larger than our house. We were warned during our briefing to stay away from anything taller than us because they were dangerous and unstable.

One small iceberg had an Adelie (pronounced “Ah-Dell-Ee”) penguin on it, and on a nearby rock outcropping we found a group of fur seals.

Fur seals line the rock outcroppings at Pourquoi Pas Island

Fur seals line the rock outcroppings at Pourquoi Pas Island

I also took the opportunity to approach a smaller “berg bit” and break off a chunk of ice to taste it. I was surprised to find that it tasted pure – not a bit of salt. Apparently, with glacial ice, even floating in the water, the saline of ocean water does not penetrate beyond the surface of the ice.

After our kayak workout, we were taken to shore at nearby Bongrain Point, a landing on Pourquoi Pas Island, where we found numerous small groups of Adelie penguins on a broad expanse of rock rubble and a glacial moraine (deposits of rock left by receding glaciers).

Adelie penguins observing the National Geographic Explorer

Adelie penguins observing the National Geographic Explorer

Penguins prefer to enter the water in groups to reduce the risk of predation of any one particular penguin

Penguins prefer to enter the water in groups to reduce the risk of predation of any one particular penguin

Adelie penguins leaping into the water to go feed

Adelie penguins leaping into the water to go feed

A swimming Adelie penguin

A swimming Adelie penguin

We found many of the rocks on shore covered by lichen, a fungal spore “plant” which can be hundreds of years old and grows very slowly. Lichen are the most populous plant family found in Antarctica, as regular tall plants simply cannot survive the climate. There’s a rare specie of grass, two flower plants, and several mosses that grow in the Antarctic, but not much else that will grow on land.

Lichen grow surprisingly abundantly in the Antarctic

Lichen grow surprisingly abundantly in the Antarctic

Close-up of the same lichens seen previously

Close-up of the same lichens seen previously

A different set of lichens on a rock at Pourquoi Pas Island

A different set of lichens on a rock at Pourquoi Pas Island

Later in the day our progress was interrupted by a pod of over twenty killer whales, and we got to spend nearly an hour following them around.

Six orcas swim together in the frigid waters of Antarctica

Six orcas swim together in the frigid waters of Antarctica

We stumbled across some crabeater seals relaxing on an ice floe while watching the orcas nearby

We stumbled across some crabeater seals relaxing on an ice floe while watching the orcas nearby

Two orcas with a glacier in the distance

Two orcas with a glacier in the distance

Our cetacean mammal researcher, Stephanie Martin, went out on a Zodiac in order to use her special crossbow and quarrels to try an obtain a DNA sample from one of the orcas, but after a half hour was forced to return to the Explorer, unsuccessful in her efforts.

Our cetacean specialist Stephanie pursues a bull killer whale with a crossbow to get a DNA sample

Our cetacean specialist Stephanie pursues a bull killer whale with a crossbow to get a DNA sample

Our day ended with what is likely to be our only passage through an ice pack. The ice pack was loose, composed of countless chunks of varying size of ice. But what was thoroughly impressive was the loud grinding noise that accompanied our ten minute passage through the ice pack.

Linda and I watched the forward progress of the Explorer through the ice pack on the TV in our cabin, and the trailing progress from our balcony at the rear of the ship. Pretty amazing.

Each cabin on the National Geographic Explorer has a TV on which the view from a forward mounted camera can be seen - here we are in a loose ice pack

Each cabin on the National Geographic Explorer has a TV on which the view from a forward mounted camera can be seen - here we are in a loose ice pack

This is what the loose ice pack looks like - it was not cold enough to freeze solid while we were there

This is what the loose ice pack looks like - it was not cold enough to freeze solid while we were there

The National Geographic Explorer's wake through the ice pack it is breaking through

The National Geographic Explorer's wake through the ice pack it is breaking through