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02/17/2008

At Sea

We awoke to a glorious morning with calm winds and blue sky in all directions. The entourage of white-chinned petrels in our wake, which usually hold their wings still as they glide on the incessant winds, actually had to flap today to get anywhere. It was a rare windless day in the Drake Passage, and one which made it difficult to drag ourselves indoors, even for a minute.

Historian David Wilson started out the lectures for the day with his talk entitled, “Blubber, blubber, oil and trouble”. He went through the relationship of humans to the Antarctic, starting with the first guess that a southern continent might exist, and taking us all the way up to the modern day workings of the Antarctic Treaty. Each chapter in history gave us an appreciation for the tremendous unknowns that explorers faced, and David’s rundown of the derivations of many of the place names in the Antarctic really made tangible for us the incredible human history in this stark and unforgiving part of the world.

We spent as much time out on deck as we could on this gorgeous day. Rewards came in the form of rafts of chinstrap penguins on the water (for some of us, our first penguin sightings ever!), and later as a gathering of feeding humpback whales. There were as many as 25 whales in the area, with as many as eight around the ship at one time. Their enormous pectoral flippers, 5 meters long and one third of their body length, were clearly visible below the water’s surface. Occasionally, they would lift the flippers out of the water and slap them down on the surface. It’s thought that this is a means of communication with one another. A glance at the depth finder on the bridge gave us an answer as to the reason for so many whales in one place: 25 to 50 meters down was a massive krill swarm, and these whales were taking full advantage of the abundance of food. It was an amazing sighting, and it reminded us of how productive these Southern Ocean waters really are.

After leaving the whales to carry on without us, we gathered in the main lounge with Expedition Leader JD, who gave us a mandatory briefing about the IAATO (International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) guidelines. The rules are in place so that our impacts as visitors are minimized. She also told us everything we need to know about using the inflatable landing craft, the zodiac.

During afternoon tea, we had the opportunity to tour the galley and see where all of this fantastic food is actually prepared. Then, with full stomachs, we joined Ornithologist Rich Pagen for a lecture called, “Penguins: Black and White and Guano All Over”. We learned all about the penguins that inhabit this part of the Southern Ocean, and left the lecture hall overwhelmed with anticipation of our first landing at a penguin colony tomorrow.

Before dinner, we gathered for the first of our Recaps, where the staff went over some of the highlights of the day and briefed us on what we hope to do tomorrow. After a relaxing dinner, many of us bundled up and headed outside one last time to watch the sun go down over Smith Island, our first sighting of land in the South Shetland Islands. A very old and very white wandering albatross careened behind the ship as we lined the railing to take it all in.

   

Our Beauty Salon offers many treatments

Men are welcomed to the Beauty Salon

An anniversary inspires celebratory song and cake

We spend 40 minutes with a group of cooperative Humpback Whales

The Explorer 2 galley opens for guest inspection at teatime this afternoon


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