Day 3 |
Mar 11, 2010

Drake Passage En Route To Antarctica

By Kara Weller, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 62° 37.2’S – 64° 38.4’W (Noon position)
Weather: foggy but calm winds
Air temperature: 3° C

A foggy day greeted up this morning in the Drake Passage. Seas were calm as they had been the day before, although walking around on deck in the morning provided very little to see as we peered through the thick fog wondering where the penguins and icebergs lay. Only a few storm-petrels flew about the ship and appeared and disappeared rapidly from sight.

The morning started off with a “vacuum cleaning party” also known as a biosecurity check. Before landing in Antarctica all visitors are required to have their clothing and bags inspected and cleaned to prevent the accidental introduction of seeds or disease organism into this unique ecosystem. Each and every guest was required to come down to the mudroom with all their gear where the staff vacuumed everything clean.

Next on the program was a lecture from Juan B about penguins. He talked about the various species found in Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falklands, and gave us details about their anatomy, adaptations to life in the cold seas, breeding cycle and behavior.

Shortly after lunch and just before my lecture started, our first iceberg was spotted. An announcement was made and many people ran out on the decks to see this large lump of white ice floating past us in the fog. There were not the best conditions for photography, nevertheless it was exciting to see as it indicated that we were getting closer and closer to the great white continent of Antarctica.

My talk on seals followed, in which I gave an overview of seals as a general group – their anatomy, diving adaptations and lifecycle, before launching into greater detail about each of the 6 species that can be found in the Antarctic.

In the middle of the afternoon whales were sighted. With strange and fast motions they seemed to be lunging after food close to the surface of the water sending plumes of white water spray out behind them. It was surprisingly difficult to tell what species they were as they were moving so fast. Our Captain had at first slowed down to get us a better look, but then rapidly put the ship into forward and even though we were cruising along at 12 knots the whales stayed in the far distance ahead of us. Most had only slightly curved and sharply pointed dorsal fins causing us to believe they were Sei whales. But a minke or two might have been among them as well. It was hard for all of us naturalists to say for sure whether they were all minke or sei.

Next on the program for the afternoon was Hans-Peter’s talk on “The Antarctic Connection – biogeography of the southern continent”. In this talk he showed us that Antarctica was once the heart of Gondwana, which contained lush vegetation and an extraordinarily high biodiversity. Today only 2 species of flowering plants survive on Antarctica.

The evening continued with a briefing from Robin in which he told us about our plans for the next day and the expedition staff gave a recap. This was followed by yet another excellent dinner.