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01/17/2009

At sea, Drake Passage

During the night we experienced our first taste of what the Drake Passage can offer up. The Minerva rolled moderately with the wind blowing at southwest 35 knots and waves up to 25 feet. We awoke to blowing spray and whitecaps and it took a little practice learning how to move around, keeping one hand for yourself and one for the ship.

Sean Todd presented the first lecture of the morning with ‘Marine Mammals of Antarctica’. He explained the classification and differences between the baleen whales and the toothed whales. He also told us of the differences between the eared seals and true seals and which ones we were likely to see in Antarctica.

In between lectures, some of us went out and joined the expedition naturalists on the pool deck to watch the petrels and albatross follow the ship. It was a perfect day to observe them performing dynamic soaring. This is where the seabirds, especially the albatross, will soar very close to the water’s surface to catch updrafts created by the wave fronts. In this way the birds are able to fly for days on end without having to flap their wings. In fact, they can even make their way into the direction of the wind while expending very little effort. The giant petrels seemed to view Minerva as a big wave and rode the air currents created by the wind over the ship’s structure, sometimes appearing to hang motionless in the air at eye level from the pool deck while the wind whistled past.

Before lunch Patricia gave her talk entitled ‘Birds in Tuxedos- Why do they look so different’ in which she introduced us to all of the penguin species in the world. She told us about their natural history, population numbers and in particular to the antarctic penguins, their adaptations to a cold, harsh environment. She also gave us useful identifying features for the penguins we are likely to see on our voyage.

This afternoon the wind and sea conditions began to diminish and Minerva rode the waves easier. With the improved visibility, a few of us were very fortunate to see a school of Peal’s dolphins and a minke whale swim by.

After lunch, Bob Burton presented his talk called ‘Exploring the Peninsula’ in which he told us of those brave men and expeditions who put the Antarctic Peninsula on the map.

During the last lecture of the day, Richard told us of photography problems particular to Antarctica in his talk entitled ‘Dials and Knobs- getting the most from your camera’. This lecture generated a lot of interest and questions from both camera enthusiasts and neophytes alike.

Since the ship was rolling only gently now, recap was a lively affair where information on whale vocalizations, black browed albatross and ship’s navigation was shared and some interesting questions asked. We had a lovely dinner with the sun setting over the Drake Passage.
 

   

The morning found the Minerva sorting a gale that had become stronger in the early hours.

For some, the best option was to lay low, although this guest preferred the fresh air of the pool deck.

By noon, the weather having ameliorated, many guests went for lunch at the main restaurant.

Outside, the seabirds kept on enjoying the high winds.

At the end fo the day, with the seas much calmer, nature gifted us with a beautiful sunset.


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