Posts Tagged ‘Drake Passage’

Jake’s Take – Drake Passage – Day 2 – Part 1

February 13th, 2010 at 9:52 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

One of the things that is part of the routine on Lindblad’s expeditions is a nightly re-cap of things discovered and observed during the day, and as yesterday was the first real day of our expedition to Antarctica and beyond, we also had our first recap.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of that was the in-depth discussion of the tracking of killer whales (orcas) led by cetacean expert Stephanie Martin. Stephanie explained that while it has been assumed that all killer whales are all the same species, recent research is suggesting that perhaps there are three different sub-species of killer whales – the ones up in the northern waters (Canada, Norway, etc.), the ones here in the part of Antarctica we’re in, and another set in the area of the Ross Ice Shelf area of Antarctica. One of the things she’s doing to help further research into this area is using a crossbow with a 140-pound pull, along with very special quarrels (arrows for crossbows) which allow her to get tissue samples from killer whales at a distance far enough for the killer whales to not be scared off by the zodiacs, but close enough to be able to reach with the crossbow. These samples are then sent on (with all the appropriate permits) to a research facility in the U.S. which studies the tissue samples to get a better understanding of killer whales. Along with each sample is information on the individual whale the sample came from, generally provided via photographs. In particular, detailed photos of the dorsal fin can normally be used to distinguish individual killer whales from one another – much like a fingerprint..

After another pleasant dinner and perhaps our last real sunset for the next couple of weeks (because we will be so far south during summer in the southern hemisphere), Krystyana retired early because of queasiness, and Linda, Bas, and I went to the observation lounge atop the Explorer for tea, a Grand Marnier (for me), and a game of Five Crowns (I won, for a change). Just before 9pm we crossed 60 degrees south latitude, the geopolitical demarcation for the Antarctic. We had finally arrived!

Sleep was a bit restless due to less consumption of brain numbing seasickness medication than the night before and therefore we had a greater perception of creakiness in our cabin as we chugged through the seas, but we understand that we will probably be too filled with adrenaline rushes from the scenery and wildlife in the coming days to sleep much, and when we do, it will be the sleep of exhaustion that creaking sounds will not easily penetrate.

The first iceberg we have seen since entering Antarctic waters - side view

The first iceberg we have seen since entering Antarctic waters - side view

We woke around 8am to the announcement of the first “reasonable” iceberg sighting, that being the first iceberg spotted during a time when most passengers would be awake. The real first iceberg of the trip was spotted at 5am, however, and the one announced to us was in fact the second one. It wasn’t a huge iceberg, but large enough to stick out of the ocean a bit, as well has have a carved out section to reflect a gorgeous turquoise color to those few privileged enough to see it (like us!).

Another view of the iceberg after we passed it

Another view of the iceberg after we passed it

After breakfast we had our first whale sighting of the day – a small pod of southern bottlenose whales, according to Stephanie, our marine mammal expert. These are apparently very rare, and, alas, they were too far away to get any decent pictures. However we did happen to pass, at about the same time, a flock of chinstrap penguins as they were roaming the open ocean for food. The ones we saw leaping out of the water had full bellies, so hunting must be good.

A small group of chinstrap penguins in the open ocean, leaping out of the sea as we pass by

A small group of chinstrap penguins in the open ocean, leaping out of the sea as we pass by

A close-up of a leaping chinstrap penguin

A close-up of a leaping chinstrap penguin

The first presentation of the day was by Peter Carey, co-author of “The Antarctic Cruising Guide”, covering penguin species and penguin physiology. Among the interesting things we learned was the geographical range of penguins (most in the sub-Antarctic region, but ranging up to the equator – i.e., the Galapagos penguin and well down into the arctic – i.e. the Emperor penguin); that there is a dispute on the number of species of penguins (Peter believes it should be 18); and that in case you need to eat penguin to survive out in the wild (and if you have no other viable source of food, of course) you need to sit on them to kill them (via asphyxiation) as their neck muscles are too strong to allow for wringing like a chicken. The latter information was provided in a survival handbook for the Australian Antarctic Research Mission, which Peter had worked for a while back. Not information we are likely to need, hopefully, but interesting nonetheless.

Ultimately, we were told we should expect to see about a half dozen penguin species on our three week voyage.

Our next lecture was by Jason Kelley entitled “Antarctic Geology & Plate Tectonics”, where Jason took us through planetary evolution and the science and history of plate tectonics. It turns out that nearly a billion years ago, the Antarctic land mass was in the position that Alaska is in now, and plate movements gradually have put it at the southern end of our globe, or at least as we measure south now. Magnetic poles have switched every 500,000 years or so, so calling something south or north appears to be a bit ephemeral in the grand long-term view of things. That feature of planetary magnetism also interrelates with the ability to date areas near the edges of the tectonic plates to determine movement rates, among other things. Jason also explained various aspect of plate subduction (one plate moving below another), earthquakes, and volcanoes, as these are all related as well. Quite a fascinating presentation!

I took Bas up to the bridge after that so he could work on one of the science projects he is working on for this trip, namely gathering regular recordings of meteorological information, including barometric pressure, wind speed and direction (and we learned about the Beaufort Scale for wind speed in the process), GPS location, and air and water temperature. One of the cool things about Lindblad Expedition’s ships is that they have a 24-hour a day “Open Bridge” policy, and in fact welcome visitors, and will explain the instruments, navigation, and whatever else one is interested in – or just hang out. In the case of the Explorer, the bridge is also where lots of people hang out trying to spot critters or icebergs (warmer than being outside to do that for hours on end).

During our time with the second officer, Yuri, on the bridge there was also a sighting of humpback whales at a distance. I only saw fluke signs (or fluke prints) – the flat circular patch of water that whales leave behind as their flukes power them into the depths, but Krystyana got a picture of them.

Krystyana caught this distant shot of the humpbacks of two humpback whales

Krystyana caught this distant shot of the humpbacks of two humpback whales

We also spotted a new bird for the trip – a light-mantled albatross (no photos, alas).

After lunch we stayed busy. First with a presentation on proper sea kayak use by underwater specialist David Cothran, and then a mandatory briefing by our expedition leader Bud Lenhausen on what to do and not to do when in Zodiacs and when on land, as governed by the IAATO – International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (which I mentioned briefly in my post yesterday).

IAATO is a self-governing organization founded in 1991 by seven Antarctic tourist charter companies, and now has more than 90 members. It’s policies line up with the Protocol on Environmental Protection added to the Antarctic Treaty, also in 1991.
1991 – Antarctic Treaty Parties – put together the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

In short, the rules all of us need to follow here in the Antarctic are intended to keep Antarctica as pristine as possible. Those rules include not throwing or dumping any litter or foreign matter overboard, preventing the introduction of non-native species including plants and animals, not bringing any food or smoking materials ashore, taking only photos, leaving with only memories, not rearranging flora or fauna or rocks to make a better picture, not harassing the wildlife (keep at least 15 feet away, but if it approaches you in a non-threatening manner, that’s okay), etc.

With respect to the 15 foot rule, we were also told that as many of the animals are moulting and thus grouchy, we might want to stay a little further back from animals like fur seals or suffer potentially nasty bites. Also, giant petrels can projectile vomit more than 15 feet, and it’s really foul stuff, so keeping our distance from those would be strongly advised.

In any event, we would also be stepping in a disinfecting bath before leaving the ship on Zodiacs, as well as when we return, to help remove anything harmful (and penguin poo, which is pretty foul too).

And for those of us with occasionally weak bladders, we were reminded that there are no restrooms in the Antarctic, and if we had a need to leave a deposit – liquid or solid, we should snag a Zodiac back to the boat, do our thing, and then catch another ride back to land.

One of the IAATO rules is also that a given vessel may have no more than 100 people on land at any one time. As there are about 140 of us, that means we will have a bit of a rotation, with time spent cruising the coast in Zodiacs and swapping in and out with others on land. Apparently it’s quite seamless, so we’ll see.

We figured that at 3:30pm, that was pretty much the end of our excitement for the day.

Boy were we mistaken! More in Part 2 a bit later…

 

GPS Tracking – Drake Passage – Day 2

February 13th, 2010 at 9:38 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

Oh what an interesting day and half it’s been! And tonight we expect to cross the Antarctic Circle at 66.33 degrees south latitude. Woo hoo!

More later.

For now, here’s our GPS track for the last 27 or so hours – north to south.

 

Drake Passage, Feb 12, 2010

February 13th, 2010 at 9:16 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

I have not recently posted anything for the blog, but I thought had gotten some great shots of birds and killer whales and my dad is trying very hard not use many of my photos, so I might as well show them. This for the showing of some great photos but also for birds we actually saw, identified and got photos of on our first full day on the boat.

Southern Giant-Petrel

Southern Giant-Petrel

My mom, Bas, and I were sitting in the lounge of the National Geographic Explorer and listening to a lecture about the different species of sea birds we would be seeing as we head to Antarctica (not including penguins), which was given by Tom Ritchie. We got as far as the Cormorant, after hearing about the Petrels and the Albatross along with photos, when we heard the announcement over the speakers…”We have just spotted killer whales off the starboard bow” I immediately grabbed my bag and took my camera out. Bas and I headed to the bow of the ship with mom close behind. I heard yells and saw pointing fingers in the direction of the killer whales, and so, I immediately started snapping photos of the killer whales with my camera, zoomed in as far as it could go. The ship started turning into the direction of the killer whales to get closer to them.

Killer whale with mist from their spray hovering above

Killer whale with mist from their spray hovering above

Whoops…had to go for a few minutes. My mom and I just saw Humpback Whales off the back of the ship! Bas and my dad did not see it but I got a few photos of the whales. It’s actually Feb 13 as I write this.

So, continuing…When the killer whales were submerged, it gave me enough time to get some shots of birds. My mom had offered to get my parka and gloves so I could keep on shooting and so she had left to get it. By the time she came back with the warm clothing, my hands were stiff and cold, but I sure did appreciate the parka and gloves when they came. The killer whales were not really cooperating when my parka arrived and they kept appearing for pictures, so I kept on taking photos while my brother helped me put on my parka.

Wandering Albatross butt

Wandering Albatross butt

I managed to get photos of: Wandering albatross, Wilson’s storm petrel, Southern Giant-Petrel, Black browed albatross, and of course, the killer whales.

Black-browed Albatross

Black-browed Albatross

Wilson's storm-petrel

Wilson's storm-petrel

Of the killer whales, one of the adults had a mangled dorsal fin and 2/3 of its fin was bent over. There were two calves and two adults.

Three Killer Whales with One having a Mangled Dorsal fin

Three Killer Whales with One having a Mangled Dorsal fin

The lecture did not continue after the interruption and we were told that we new enough of the basic information.

Feb. 13
This morning, we saw Chinstrap penguins and Southern bottle-nosed whales (I did not actually see the whales). I did get some photos of the penguins as they were porpoising, or basically jumping in out of the water while heading towards wherever they are going and they were sort of zigzagging. And the Humpback whales…

Humpback Whales off the stern of the ship

Humpback Whales off the stern of the ship

Chinstrap penguins

Chinstrap penguins

Other pictures can be seen on Flickr at a later date when we actually have a strong internet to upload them.

 

Waves, Birds, and Orcas in the Drake Passage

February 12th, 2010 at 10:44 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

The waters in the Beagle Channel last night as we left Ushuaia were only mildly wavy, but as we entered the open ocean and passed the vicinity of Cape Horn, the southern most piece of land of South America, we encountered the much rougher waters of the Drake Passage.

The peak of roughness was around 3am, when anything not firmly fixed in place in our stateroom ended up sliding to the floor and our curtains opened from the tossing about. However, in terms of how rough the crossing can be, it wasn’t that bad, with swells estimated at only as high as 10 to 12 feet (3-4 meters). We were very happy to have loaded on up seasickness medicine however, and even so, staying in any vertical position for long (sitting up or standing) resulted in near instant queasiness. Fortunately, it was still night time, and being horizontal was a natural inclination for us (pardon the pun).

The waters had calmed a bit by the time our wake-up call came in (that would be Bas, who was ready for breakfast). I tried to eat a piece of bacon, but was too queasy to continue. The rest of The Traveling Richters had no such major issues. Bas, Linda, and I all went back to our cabins afterward to sleep until lunchtime – that felt wonderful and we were all doing pretty well after our nap and a nice lunch.

A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land

A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land

A southern giant petrel almost touches the water with its wing as it flies behind our ship

A southern giant petrel almost touches the water with its wing as it flies behind our ship

It was interesting to see that even a couple of hundred miles out to see, we still had various birds trailing the ship, including giant petrels, wandering albatross, and others.

During an afternoon presentation by Tom Ritchie on the various types of flying birds we would find during three weeks of adventure, the Captain came across the announcement system to tell us there was a small pod – two adults and two juveniles – of killer whales, also known as orcas. Tom’s presentation, with an apology by the Captain, was cut a bit short and everyone rushed to get their cameras and parkas and head to the bow of the boat. We spent about a half hour circling the area following the orca pod and attempting to get lots of pictures.

An orca with a black browed albatross in its wake

An orca with a black browed albatross in its wake

A closer shot of one of the killer whales in the pod we were following

A closer shot of one of the killer whales in the pod we were following

The mist from the blow of the orca is just barely visible between the albatross and the killer whale

The mist from the blow of the orca is just barely visible between the albatross and the killer whale

Three of the four members of the killer whale pod surface at the same time - blowing - and note the middle one has a missing chunk of dorsal fin

Three of the four members of the killer whale pod surface at the same time - blowing - and note the middle one has a missing chunk of dorsal fin

We were cold but elated by the sighting, and I know Krystyana got some excellent photos of both the orcas and the sea birds in the area. She said she’s planning a post of her own here with some of her shots shortly.

Krystyana and others on the bow of the National Geographic Explorer, waiting for orcas to surface

Krystyana and others on the bow of the National Geographic Explorer, waiting for orcas to surface

Linda, Bas, and Krystyana in the bow of the National Geographic Explorer during our watch for orcas surfacing

Linda, Bas, and Krystyana in the bow of the National Geographic Explorer during our watch for orcas surfacing

If you look at the GPS track in the prior post you can see a flag marking where we saw the orca pod and if you zoom in you can see the circular route we took while following them.

After we resumed on course, we were treated to a presentation on the “Winds, Currents, and Productivity of the Southern Ocean” by Steve MacLean in the large central lounge of the National Geographic Explorer. Steve explained weather systems, the Coriolis effect on currents, and climate and season issues affecting weather and ice in the Antarctic. Quite fascinating. And here we are at only our first day aboard ship, and a day at sea at that. I can’t fully imagine what it will be like when we start doing landings on the Antarctic peninsula in the next couple of days.

A few more photos from the day are here on Flickr.  A map of where those photos were taken can be found here.

<img src=”http://www.thetravelingrichters.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/20100212-001-A-wandering-albatross-hundreds-of-miles-from-land.jpg” alt=”A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land” title=”A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land” width=”400″ height=”198″ class=”size-full wp-image-661″ />

A wandering albatross, hundreds of miles from land

 

GPS Tracking – From Tierra del Fuego & Ushuaia into the Drake Passage

February 12th, 2010 at 6:26 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

We had some moderately rough seas as we exited out of the Beagle Channel and passed Cape Horn on the National Geographic Explorer around 3am this morning (10-12 foot swells according to the crew). Things have calmed noticeably in the few hours (since mid-afternoon). We have another day or so left before we get near land.

GPS track for our voyage so far is below. We’ve traveled from the top of the map to the bottom, and continue in a southward direction. The last spot sampled (southern-most point) is from around 4:30pm local time (GMT-3).