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Crossing the South Atlantic

At 0700 this morning the sun was out and the seas were incredibly calm. Explorer II was passing through the LeMaire Strait in between the southeastern most tip of Tierra del Fuego and Isla de los Estados. A few sooty shearwaters coursed by flying toward land. A small number of these birds nest on rat-free islands around the southern end of the South American continent. There were scattered flocks of Magellanic penguins breaking the surface. Parkas were exchanged and Wellington boots issued mid-morning in the mudrooms to prepare us for cold climes and wet landings. Patricia Silva provided us with an excellent introduction to the birds we will be seeing in her lecture “Seabirds of the Southern Ocean”. She told us about the diversity, identification and ecology of the tubenosed seabirds, a fascinating group of birds very much at home in the Southern Ocean.

Lizzy Dimmlich, Tourism Development Coordinator from the Falkland Islands Tourist Board, presented an informative talk called “Life in the Falklands”. Discovered by John Davis in 1592 while aboard the Desire, the first landing did not take place for another 98 years. On April 2 1982, Argentina invaded the Falklands and thus began a conflict with the U.K. that lasted 72 days and cost many lives. Lizzy also spoke of the decline of agriculture and the dramatic rise of both fishing and tourism. Throughout the afternoon small groups of fin whales were spied here and there under excellent viewing conditions. We had a close look at one animal, which was swimming close to the surface and showed its trigger-shaped dorsal fin clearly.

Guests and naturalists alike gathered on the aft decks in the afternoon. We were treated to a fine show of seabirds following in our wake. There were the massive southern giant petrels gliding like stout aircraft and the gregarious and sometimes chattering cape petrels all alighting on the water now and then to check some potential morsels of food. The wandering albatross that slowly glided close to the ship was spectacular. The odd sooty shearwater shot by on fast silvery-underside wings and a white-chinned petrel coursed by as well. A white form (morph) of the southern giant petrel hove into view briefly and then was gone. Aaron spotted a very active group of ‘finners’ far behind us which appeared to be lunging at food and, as he said, “got carried away” by surging partway out of the water and crashing down with mighty splashes. This went on for quite some time and afforded us good looks. Patricia glassed a couple of whales close to the ship, with puffy blows and small triangular fins. These were one of the enigmatic beaked whale species.

Expedition Leader Suzana gave us an overview of the journey and a mandatory briefing on guidelines for making use of the zodiacs. She also told us of our plans for visiting the NW part of the Falklands in the morning. At 1900 we gathered in the main lounge for Captain Giovanni Biasutti’s Welcome Aboard Cocktail Party. The captain graciously welcomed us onboard and introduced us to his senior officers. He also told us some rather amusing tales. We made for the dining room and the Captain’s Welcome Dinner where we enjoyed meeting fellow travelers and swapping yarns. Our first full day on the expedition had been a very pleasant one.







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