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.

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