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12/19/2007

At Sea, Scotia Sea

Explorer II has been ploughing her way across the calm waters of what is sometimes called "The Drake Lake". One result of the lack of wind is that there are very few seabirds following the ship but sometimes an albatross passes by.

The days' programme started with marine biologist Stephanie Martin's talk on the 'Whales of the Southern Ocean'. She described the two main groups of cetaceans, the toothed whales and the baleen whales and showed many slides of the various species it is possible to see in Antarctic waters. Hardly had she finished when Captain Moulds announced the sighting of a Sei whale. In fact, there were four and we had the most marvellous hour observing and photographing these whales at close quarters. They showed no sign of being bothered by our presence and were feeding not far below the surface. Occasionally it was possible to see one underwater as a pale shape because it was swimming upside down to reveal its white belly.

After lunch, Jim McClintock shared his experiences in the study of drug discovery in the sea. He opened his lecture by painting a historical backdrop of the many uses of land plants and animals in drug development. He then pointed out that the world’s oceans represent a potential cornucopia of plants and animals that may contain novel compounds that could be developed into drugs to fight human diseases and he gave some specific details of some that are already being developed.

During the afternoon, Explorer II entered the sheltered waters of the Beagle Channel and towards evening Ushuaia came in sight. So ended our cruise aboard Explorer II. We will leave tomorrow to go our separate ways – perhaps to meet again aboard one day.

We have pictures, videos, journals and most importantly vivid memories of a land almost too magical and captivating to describe. Now that we have experienced 'the Ice', we shall never forget it. Shackleton once wrote: 'Indeed the stark polar lands grip the hearts of the men who have lived on them in a manner that can hardly be understood by the people who have never got outside the pale of civi¬lization.'

   

Just at the end of the whale lecturer, Captain John Moulds announced that Sei whales had been spotted.

We spent close to an hour watching these baleen whales feeding and racing at the surface.


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