Day 6 |
Nov 19, 2008

At Sea (En Route To South Georgia)

By Chris Srigley

Noon Position: 5329’25”S 4206’09”W

This morning we awoke to calm seas, temperatures of 3C(37F) and overcast skies. The wind had died over night, which created fantastic conditions for cetacean watching, now all we had to do was get out on deck and find some.

As I made my way out on deck around 0730, there was already a good group on the decks with Dick Filby. It seemed our sketch from last night had done its job! At that very moment Dick called “KERGUELEN PETREL, KERGUELEN PETREL!” Although relatively common in some areas, it is a lucky sighting at our current position. Several guests came dashing onto the decks along with our ornithologist, Chris Harbard, in hopes of getting a glance. Throughout the morning our sightings began to increase as we picked up Black Bellied Storm Petrels, Blue Petrels, Giant Petrels, Prions, Cape Petrels, Black Browed Albatross, Wandering Albatross and Grey Headed Albatross. Antarctic Fur Seals were coming into view with greater numbers as the hours passed. Leaving the Falkland Islands, we had offered the prize of a nice bottle of bubbly to the guests who could come closest to guessing on which day and at which time we would see out first iceberg. Having crossed the polar front (Antarctic convergence) last night there was a very real chance it would be produced today, this was in the back of the minds of all on deck I am sure!

Coming up on 0945, the call was put out for everyone to join Rob Suisted in The Theatre for a talk entitled “Photography 101”. A professional nature photographer when not working around the world chasing whales and icebergs, Rob is the perfect person to show us a few tips on photography. During his talk he took us through the basics and then showed us some spectacular shots he has taken over the years. There were definitely a few of us out on deck practicing after this talk.

During Rob’s talk, at 1053, the bridge called out to inform us we had spotted our first iceberg lurking on the horizon, shrouded in mist. It was time to figure out which of our guests had come closest to guessing our sighting. During tonight’s recap, Expedition Leader, Robyn West would announce our winner. Shortly after we had spotted the iceberg, I was on the Bridge scanning for whales when I spotted Shag Rocks. Shag Rocks is a seamount located approximately 2/3 of the way from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia. Three rocks reaching some 150 – 200 ft out of the Southern Ocean, miles from anywhere and surrounded by seas some 2000 – 3000+ ft in depth. Here ocean currents create up-wellings of nutrient rich water drawn from the sea floor, which attracts sea birds and marine mammals alike to feed. It is perfect example of the rich Antarctic food chain. Taking the time to visit this area during our passage gives us a great chance of seeing many species of cetacean feeding. Unfortunately, today was not one of those days. However, our numbers of fur seals continued to increase dramatically on our approach and beyond, leaving us with anticipation of the days to come.

During our time in and around Shag Rocks, Chris Harbard gave his talk “Bird Life of Antarctica”. He gave a great introduction to the birds of Antarctica and South Georgia, prepared us to better identify them and explained many of their unique adaptations to life in inhospitable environments. With Shag Rocks being named due to its abundance of Blue Eyed Shags, Chris’s lecture could not have been timed better.

Having spent the morning on deck, it was time for a quick break for lunch before heading back out in search of our, to this point, elusive cetaceans. With the temperature dropping ever so slightly as the day progressed, many of the guests and staff alike took moments to gain warmth in the Observation Lounge before making their way back outdoors. Another lecture was the perfect tonic for a cold person.

Just around 1430, we all joined our historian Victoria Salem in The Theatre for her talk “Shackleton”. This was a talk not to be missed, especially with our ensuing visit to South Georgia and Grytviken whaling station. The most famous of polar explorers, Shackleton is best known for his Endurance expedition of 1914-17. On November 21st 1915, the Endurance sank in the Weddell Sea. Over the next couple of years, Shackleton and his men braved cold and hardship to escape the icy grip of Antarctica, creating the greatest story of human perseverance.

As Victoria’s lecture was ending, it was time for our bio security check for visiting South Georgia. Guests were asked to come down to the mudroom to clean all of their gear that they plan on taking to shore. We needed to check them for any plant material on boots, Velcro, tripods, etc., making sure if there was anything to be found it would not be taken to shore tomorrow. Afterwards, they needed to sign a document stating they had done everything they could to avoid introducing any foreign species to this fragile environment.

As the evening hour approached, we prepared for this evening’s recap and briefing for tomorrow. It was to be an early start and a long day. We would all need as much sleep as we could to get before our 0530 wake up. On that note, I bid you BON NUIT!