Day 5 |
Dec 26, 2011

At sea, Drake Passage

By Uli Kunz – Oceanographer and Zodiac-Driver

Position: 59°01’ S, 58°09’ W
Air temperature: 5 °C, 41.0 °F
Water temperature: 6 °C, 42.8 °F
Air pressure: 1003 hPa
Wind speed: 50 km/h

After breakfast, marine biologist Kara Weller presented a lecture about the whales of the Southern Ocean, their evolution and behaviour and their distinguishing marks. So far, we have seen a few Commerson Dolphins in the harbour of Port Stanley on the Falkland Islands, but we are crossing a vast part of the ocean now on our way to Antarctica, so there is a good chance to see more species, for example Humpback, Fin and Minke Whales.

Before lunch, I joined the rest of the Expedition Team for the mandatory IAATO Briefing, given by expedition leader Robin West. IAATO is the International Association for Antarctic Tour Operators and is a non-governmental organisation that controls tourism in Antarctica. Once we are on the Peninsula, we have to follow certain guidelines that help to keep the last wilderness on earth pristine and unspoiled.

In order to go ashore in Antarctica, we had to conduct Bio Security Checks on every passenger before our arrival. So in the afternoon, our guests were kindly asked to bring all their outer layer clothing and gear to the reception area of the Silver Explorer, where they were checked for the first time. In case we found some seeds or plant material, the guests proceeded to the mudroom, where my colleagues from the expedition team had vacuum cleaners for a proper cleaning of bags, pockets and Velcro.

At the same time, the movie “Extreme Ice” was screened in The Theatre twice, to give everybody the chance to watch it. The film shows incredible footage of calving glaciers, retreating ice caps and the work of glaciologists investigating the mechanisms and processes taking place in these huge masses of ice.

Later in the afternoon, we invited all our guests into The Theatre for another Recap & Briefing. Liz Bradfield talked about a project to free whales that become entangled in lines or fishing gear. A specialized and trained team approaches the whales and tries to cut them free with certain cutting tools that do not harm the animal. Peter Damisch presented several poems and the rhyme of the ancient mariner, and I explained the official boundary into Antarctica, the so-called Polar Front. On a fairly short distance of only about 50 to 100 miles, the water temperature on our way will drop 3 to 5° Celsius, marking our entrance into the Southern Ocean.

The first-timers cocktail party was not well attended as some of our guests did not feel very well due to the swell in the Drake Passage. But there is hope! Within the next day, we will get some shelter behind the South Shetland Islands and the first landing on the Antarctic Continent is near!