Saturday, December 15, 2012

Bransfield Strait

15 Dec. 2012 
Jackie Jaeger/Michelle Baker 
7:00 am
Location: Bransfield Strait located in the South Shetland Islands
Latitude: 62 degrees 33.8 minutes south
Longitude: 59 degrees 28.6 minutes west
Sunrise: 2:54 AM Sunset will be at 22:51.
Question: What time is that in standard time? 
Air temperature this morning: +2 degrees Celsius
Question: What is the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit? 
Water temperature: +2 degrees Celsius 
Calm weather conditions all day.

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Today was our last day to participate in excursions. We visited Robert Point and Yankee Harbor; both were filled with a variety of wildlife. Walking along the rocky beach at Yankee Harbor we got very close to resting Elephant Seals. These were all females varying in age and were quite large (over 8 feet long).
Question: How large do full grown female southern elephant seals get? 
How large do male southern elephant seals get? 
Female elephant seals live in a group.
Question: What is this group called? 

We saw about 35 of the female elephant seals on the beach. They live right along with the penguins. The penguins and seals just ignore one another. Today we also saw more Gentoo and Chinstrap penguins. No matter how many of these little birds we see, they still are as cute as when we first spotted them. We really admire their perseverance as they walk up the steep, snowy hills to their nests up in the rocks.

As we walked along the, beach we saw broken eggs. These broken eggs were penguin eggs stolen by and eaten by the nearby nesting Skua birds. The Skua birds are the number one predators of penguin eggs and chicks. Today we had our own little version of the Titanic. One of our kayakers, while collecting ten-thousand-year-old glacier ice for the evening cocktails aboard ship, hit a small iceberg and capsized. As a result, he is the only member of our group who has actually taken a “polar plunge” in the waters of Antarctica. With the excellent rapid assistance of the kayak staff of One Oceans, he made it safely back aboard his kayak and the ship; Unfortunately the cocktail ice was lost at sea.

The weather again was beautiful with bright blue skies all day. The sea is slightly choppy but still not too bad at all. This evening as we reenter the Drakes Passage the seas are gently rolling as we head home to the tip of South America. In the dining room we toast the wonderful trip that we have had along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Gerlache Strait

14 December 2012     7:00 AM
Peg Rees

Gerlache Strait

64 degrees 33.8 minutes South
62 degrees 36.4 minutes West

Sailed 785 since leaving Ushuaia

Sunrise 2:48 AM Sunset 23:26 PM

Water/Air Temperature +1/+1 degree Centigrade

Wind Calm

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We were in Whalhemnia Bay today with our first shore stop in Orne Harbor, where numerous Chinstap Penguins nest on all snow-free rock outcrops both low on the hill and at the highest reaches with long “penguin highways” touching the sky. Fifteen people out in kayaks and the rest were on shore to view the penguins and climb to the high snow-covered areas to participate in the “Orene Harbor – First Annual One Ocean Human Tobogganing World Championship.” After several thrilling heats, the sledders proclaimed the event a grand success! Those not sledding spent time walking the snow-covered ground photographing and observing penguins and enjoying the peace and quite of this beautiful harbor.
Humpback breaching.
Humpback breaching
Photo: Nick Gales

In the afternoon as we cruised through Whalhemnia Bay, whales were sighted around the ship and displaying bubble feeding, diving, tail flapping and much much more. On the Bridge of the ship as well as on the top deck and sides, we were all excitedly photographing the phenomenal display of whale behavior. The Expedition Leader said, “Put in the zodiacs and kayaks.” That command lead to our most remarkable events yet experienced and recorded. One zodiac attracted the most attention and three whales played up close and personal with the occupants. For more than 45 minutes, the whales were within arms length, around and under the little rubber boat. The photos and videos could not express the feelings of the people in the small boats. The excitement they carried back to the ship they will also will carry for the rest of their lives.

Antarctic waters are like none other.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Paradise Bay

13 Dec. 2012 
Jackie Jaeger/Michelle Baker 
Note: Italicized questions are for schools that are following the blog.

Location: Paradise Bay
Latitude: 64 degrees 51.9 minutes south
Longitude: 62 degrees 49.7.3 minutes west
Sunrise: 2:50 AM
Sunset will be at 23:24.
Question: What is the equivalent in Pacific Standard Time?
Air temperature this morning: +1 degrees Celsius
Question: What is the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit?
Water temperature: +1 degrees Celsius
Calm weather conditions all day.

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The Antarctic campers returned safely early this morning after a once in a lifetime experience. Today, our first excursion was at 9:00 am to Neko Harbor. Some of the group did yoga on the beach. Ms. Jaeger being a yogi participated and notes that it is not very easy to do yoga with Gum boots on and lots of clothing layers. There will be a small group of people in the world that can say they did yoga on the beach in the Antarctic Peninsula. The rest of the group took a hike up a snowy mountain to visit a Gentoo penguin rookery.

Question: What color is penguin poop? (Hint, it’s not black & white.)

Also, at the top of the mountain there were nesting Skua birds.

Question: What part does the Skua bird play in the Antarctic food chain?

Wildlife viewing is the best during the Zodiac rides. Today we saw Crabeater and Weddel seals and many Gentoo penguins. A large group of penguins swimming together is called a raft of penguins. We saw several rafts of penguins.

After lunch we boarded the Zodiacs again and went to Danco Island. Light snow was falling and the island was very light low cloud. We landed on the beach, where some of the group stayed and observed the penguins. Others went to the top of the snowy mountain. A large iceberg close to beach in the Errera Channel weighing probably thousands of tons and containing ice thousands of years old cracked and began to rock back and forth in the water. We were lucky enough to see it, hear it, and record it digitally. The motion sent a wave onto the beach. One Zodiac that was unloading turned and took the people back out in the channel to ride the wave. Others of us scurried up the hill off the beach, and still others in the kayaks turned into the wave. When all was settled the wave was very small but the iceberg seemed to be set free and it started drifting rapidly with the current in the channel. All were well and the natural phenomenon was spectacular.

Following dinner Dr. Peg Rees presented “Doing Geology in Antarctica: A Short Story of Eight Field Seasons in the Transantarctic Mountains.”

We will close for tonight. It is around 11:00 pm and the sun is just setting: It is a spectacular site. Tomorrow we will be back on the Zodiacs early to explore more wonders of Antarctica.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Gerlache Strait

12 Dec. 2012
Jackie Jaeger/Michelle Baker
Note: Italicized questions are for schools that are following the blog.

7:00 am
Location: Gerlache Strait
Question: What is a strait?
Latitude: 64 degrees 50.6 minutes south
Longitude: 62 degrees 58.3 minutes west
Sunrise: 2:51 AM
Sunset will be at 23:22.
Question: What time is that in Pacific Standard Time?
Air temperature this morning: 0 degrees Celsius.
What is the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit?
Water temperature: 0 degrees Celsius

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Today we were invited to visit the Chilean Antarctic Gonzalez Videla Station in Paradise Harbor. It is a base maintained by the Chilean Air Force with just a few men staying all summer. They gather scientific data that is sent back to researchers in Chile, such as a count of the number and type of penguins nesting in the area, measurements and photographs of the glaciers in the area, and meteorological data.

We toured the research base and museum/gift shop with the officers and crew. There are 14 men stationed at the base, and they have many of the comforts of home with well-heated rooms, excellent kitchen, dining room, and large digital display for movies. The base is well maintained with beautiful polished wood floors and interior walls.

A Gentoo Penguin breeding colony surrounds the base. The Gentoos make their nests on rocks and have a habit of stealing other penguin’s rocks. Typically the penguins lay two eggs, and both the male and females sit on the eggs. A rare treat today was seeing two Leucistic Gentoo penguins. These penguins are not the usual black with white but rather a light tan and white. This coloration is the result of a recessive gene, but they are still able to breed with the other Gentoos. Although light in color these are not albino penguins.

Question: What is the difference between albino and Leucistic penguins? 

Our next stop was Almranite Brown Base also in Paradise Harbor but a few miles away from the Chilean Base. It is an Argentina summer-only station that is currently unoccupied. It is perched on a rock coast backed by dramatic icy slopes. Gentoos nest on the rocks around the few small buildings here and sometimes even make nests under the buildings. A modest hike up the snow-covered hill rewarded all with a spectacular view of the harbor and surrounding jagged mountains. After visiting the station, we took a long Zodiac cruise around the bay. Along the way we saw many dramatic icebergs, penguins swimming next to us, Antarctic Shag, Kelp Gulls, Skua, Antarctic terns, Snowy Sheathbill, Minke whale, Crabeater seals, and Weddell Seals.
Question: What do Crabeater Seals eat? (Hint: it is not crabs.) 

Tonight some 30 passengers are camping in the snow atop a large island. They have been provided an excellent cold-weather sleeping bag and ground mats to keep the cold from coming up from the snow. They will insert these in to the provided waterproof sleeping sack to shelter them from wind and snow. A very modest outdoor open-air container will be provided so no trace of their adventure will be left behind. They will have dinner on the ship and then ride in Zodiacs over to the island and set up camp. This is a little different than normal camping because the sun will be shining all night. They are very lucky that the winds are calm, the clouds are high, and the sun is shining through. I am sure they will have a great time, but I will be sleeping soundly in my cabin on the ship.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Drake Passage

10 Dec. 2012
Jackie Jaeger/Michelle Baker/Peg Rees

Note: Italicized questions are for schools that are following the blog.

Location: Drake Passage
Latitude: 61 degrees 20 minutes south
Longitude: 64 degrees 15.1 minutes west
Sunrise: 3:34 AM (Sunset will be in approximately 21 hours.)
Air temperature this morning: +1 degrees Celsius
Question: What is the temperature in degrees Fahrenheit? 
Water temperature: +1.5 Celsius

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This morning after breakfast we all attended the required briefing on the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). This is the organization that controls and regulates all tour operators in the Antarctic waters and on land. They work in accordance with the Antarctic Treaty, which came into force in 1961, and the governing body therein specified. Important changes have been made over the years and now private expedition leaders, tour operators, and governments make an environmental impact statement to this body before commencing an Antarctic project. It must be reviewed and accepted before the events can occur. These types of regulations are important requiring conservation of Antarctic flora and fauna and include a Code of Conduct that applies to any and all Antarctic visitors. Thus, we as visitors were informed about this code and instructed to abide by it. Misconduct holds a variety of penalties, such as restricted to ship if in anyway one endangers wildlife. A fine may be issued as well and even prison terms.

Part of the good conduct is to make sure that potential invasive species are not brought to Antarctica or moved from penguin rookery to penguin rookery. We spend time vacuuming all of our clothes to assure no spores or seeds were carried. We also washed and disinfected all boots before we walked on Antarctica.

In the distance, we can see Smith Island of South Georgia as our first land sighting since leaving Ushuaia. We are on course to Damoy Point. We also have spotted our first iceberg and more are starting to show themselves. They are a beautiful unworldly turquoise blue.

Wildlife spotted today and yesterday:
  • Penguins (Gentoo, Chinstraps, and Magellanic) 
  • Albatross (5 different kinds) 
  • Petrels and Antarctic Terns (4 different kinds) 
  • Whales (Humpback, Minke, Orca, Fin)
  • South American Sea Lion 

During dinner, humpback whales were sighted off the starboard side of the ship. The ship turned in a very broad circle so we could view the whales and get great pictures and then we were off. Luckily we also saw 5 penguins (3 different species) on a small iceberg. So cute….

We have been extremely lucky this trip because our journey through the Drake’s Passage has been very smooth and calm. Hopefully, we will enjoy the same good luck on the way back. Right now we have beautiful blue seas and skies; Almost tee-shirt weather. The group is very excited to get out and explore tomorrow using the Zodiacs. Zodiacs are small inflatable boats used to ferry about 12 of us at a time from the ship to the shore.

Questions to answer: 

How many miles from Las Vegas to the Antarctic Peninsula? 
(Clue: We traveled from Las Vegas>Houston TX>Buenos Aires, Argentina>Ushuaia>Antarctica Peninsula) 

When it is 7:00 am in Antarctica Peninsula what time is it in Las Vegas? 

Our ship is called the Akademik Ioffe, which is Russian. The crew is not only Russian but from many different countries. The passengers are also from many places across the globe. Our group from UNLV has 35 people making up almost half the passengers on the ship. Onboard there is a penguin researcher, photography experts, geologists, a group of biology students from Montana, and a six-year-old kindergarten student. By the way, the tooth fairy traveled all the way to Antarctica to pick up the six-year-old's lost front tooth and left a gift behind.

We hope to report back tomorrow, but the blog is moving at glacier speed with all the exciting things we are doing.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Drakes Passage

Peg Rees/Sharon Schafer
9 December 2012

Drakes Passage

Last night we headed away from Ushuaia moving slowly down the Beagle Channel with the assistance of a “Captain” to oversee and guide the ship to open water: the Drakes Passage. The channel was calm, and we viewed the steep mountains bounding the waterway and the settlements along the way. We had a ship's welcome and a toast to the journey. The Expedition Leader (Chad) introduced staff and briefed us on how to prepare for an emergency. Before we departed the Beagle Channel an emergency drill would occur while the Channel Pilot was still on the ship to oversee the process. We were also informed of anticipated high winds around 30 knots or more that would produce rough water as we entered the Drakes Passage.

We were given time to get settled in our cabins and find all the gear that had been provided including locating our life jackets that were in each room. The drill alarm went off, and we all preformed excellently including climbing into our 66-passenger fully enclosed emergency craft.

After dinner on the Beagle Channel, we were out on deck anticipating the "crossing."

"The Drake" -- That's a simple word that can strike of bit of fear in one. The Drake or more correctly the Drake's Passage is the little body of water from South America's Cape Horn to the South Shetland Islands of the Antarctic Peninsula. It was named after Sir Francis Drake although he had enough brains to avoid it altogether and "went around the horn" via the Straights of Magellan.

The good news is that the 500-mile crossing is the shortest distance between South America and Antarctica. The bad news is that it is considered the roughest water in the world. There is no significant land anywhere in the world at that latitude. The circumpolar current can really race around with no land to block it. It lies between about 56 and 60 degrees south latitude. It's not uncommon to have 40-foot seas and hurricane force winds there. Sailors feared this area and said, "below 40 degrees there is no law, below 50 degrees there is no God." Sailors also dubbed this area the "furious fifties" and the "shrieking sixties."

Well, we are hoping for the best but preparing for heavy seas as warned by the Expedition Leader. We have secured our materials, drawers, and doors in our rooms and we are in our bunks wishing for to a good night's sleep.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ushuaia, Argentina

Sharon K. Schafer
7 Dec 2012

Ushuaia, Argentina

Look at a map of South America and you will find Ushuaia on the very tip of Cape Horn -- just about as far south as one can get in the world. In fact, Ushuaia touts itself as the southernmost city in the world. It’s a modern tourist town of 60,000 people that has become the major jumping off spot for Antarctic expeditions.

Ushuaia is the capital of the Argentine province of Tierra Del Fuego. Spectacular to fly into, the town is on the southern edge of the island and is wedged between the Martial Mountains on the north and the Beagle Channel on the south.

The town was originally settled by the British back in 1873 as a site for a penal colony. The place was remote and wild and escape impossible. These “forced colonists” built many of the town’s original old buildings.

Absolutely spectacular to fly into, the area is a rugged landscape of jagged snow covered peaks that drop abruptly to the Beagle channel. The plane is forced to do a gradual descending spiral over the Beagle channel then lands neatly on the runway next to the water. Looking up to the mountains you see dense dark green of the Megellanic subpolar forests where you can find endemic trees of the area: Winter's bark and hard log mayten and several species of Nothofagus.

We are staying staying at Hotel Altos – Ushuaia a nice clean hotel up on the mountain, with an amazing view of the Ushuaia,Ushuaia Bay, and the Beagle Channel. The place was welcome respite from hustle of the main tourist area.

Gradually our trip participants are arriving. Most look more than a bit haggard from their long flight and eventful transfers. Many had to contend with the severe weather and flight delays in Buenos Aires. Each travelers had their own version of frightening stories of streets so flooded that busses and taxis stopped running, cancelled flights, closed airports, tornados, severe thunderstorms, evacuations, and even toxic explosions forcing red alerts at the hospitals.

Jackie was in the middle of it and will tell you more about her adventures later (once she has a good nights sleep)

The bad news is 18 people got caught in the Buenos Aries mess. The unbelievable, remarkable, amazing, good news is that by the night of 7 Dec. On the scheduled day, everyone was safe and sound and in Ushuaia with their luggage and possessed an excited, optimistic attitude. They were all ready and willing to board our ship, the Akademik Ioffe, tomorrow, 8 Dec at 4pm to really begin their Antarctic adventure.

All the ducks have arrived. I will sleep well tonight.