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01/17/2010

Lemaire Channel, Pleaneau Island

Under misty morning light, the Minerva approached the northern entrance to the legendary Lemaire Channel, often aptly referred to as “Kodak Alley” for its spectacular scenery. This 7-mile-long and one-mile-wide channel separates Booth Island from the Antarctic continent with dramatic, towering snow-covered mountains lining the route on both sides. The Captain expertly maneuvered the ship through the narrow ice-filled channel, and the Lemaire certainly lived up to its reputation.

Waiting for us on the other side was Pleneau Island and the dense collection of grounded icebergs appropriately named “Iceberg Alley”. We boarded the zodiacs and meandered in and out of the maze of ice, where every imaginable shape of iceberg could be found. Windy conditions dominated the scene, with white caps and spray providing us with an appreciation for how harsh the conditions can be in the Antarctic, even in the height of the summer. We hid behind large icebergs for some shelter from the wind, spending some time with crabeater seals that were snoozing away the stormy conditions on ice floes.

The wind gusts began to top out over 50 knots, so the naturalists sped us back to the safety of the ship, where we dried off and warmed up. Captain John Moulds took the ship back north through the Lemaire Channel, most of us watching from inside the ship, as the wind was funneling right through the channel making the outside deck a rather undesirable place to be. Executive Chef Bill Anderson moved the barbeque lunch indoors due to the weather, and Bar Manager Chris Rose set up a table in the Wheeler Bar where he mixed us Bloody Mary’s.

During the early afternoon, it became clear that the windy conditions were not going to allow us off of the ship. The Captain took the ship north through the Gerlache Strait, and some of us bundled up to brave the rain and snow out on deck. At one point, Expedition Leader Marco Favero announced that some humpback whales up ahead “were fluking and flopping” which, as we soon saw, was a perfect description of the behavior of these very surface active animals. Soon we left the whales and Antarctica behind, and the ship made its way north towards the Drake Passage.

Meanwhile, Marine Mammalogist Chris Cutler gathered us in the Darwin Lounge for a talk about marine mammal conservation issues. Chris introduced us to impact that whaling has and continues to have on cetaceans. He also spoke of other challenges faced by cetaceans in the 21st century, including entanglement in fishing gear, and noise pollution like sonar that can cause whales to strand on beaches. It was a fascinating lecture that showed us how much there is to do to safeguard the world’s cetacean populations.

We then joined the Expedition Team for what would prove to be a very lively Recap. Naturalist Rich Pagen facilitated a discussion of some of our favorite memories of Antarctica; Historian John Dudeney highlighted the life and travels of the French explorer Charcot, who traveled through the same area we were in today; and Naturalist J.J. Apestegui put icebergs in perspective with his “pints of beer” comparison. After having dinner in good company, we went to bed thinking of the albatrosses and petrels that would most certainly be joining us tomorrow as we steamed back north across the Drake Passage.
 

   

Early this morning the Minerva cruised through the Lemaire Channel which was congested with a lot of pack ice.

A crabeater seal was seen on an ice floe in the Lemaire Channel.

Passengers braved the wind and cold during a zodiac tour near Pleneau Island where many icebergs become stranded.

A magnificent arched iceberg was a testament to nature's sculpting abilities!

As the Minerva departed Antarctica, we paused to watch a few humpback whales near the ship.


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