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12/17/2009

Drake Passage

During the night Minerva came out of the shelter of the islands fringing the Antarctic Peninsula and into the open waters of the Drake Passage. After the strong winds of yesterday, it was a relief to find the sea was relatively calm and Minerva riding easily over the waves. The sun was shining to encourage us onto the decks to admire the synchronised flying of a large flock of cape petrels and others seabirds that were gliding alongside the ship.

We resumed the lecture schedule with Jim McClintock sharing his experiences in the study of drug discovery in the sea. He opened by painting the 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 compounds that could be developed into drugs to fight human diseases. His own drug discovery programme has focused on plants and animals that occur in shallow Antarctic seas. Over the past 15 years they have identified a number of toxic compounds that are new to science, and several have been proved active against human disease. The most exciting discovery to date is a compound isolated from a sea squirt that is abundant near Palmer Station has named palmerolide. It proves to be potent against several virulent strains of melanoma, a very dangerous form of skin cancer.

Later in the morning, husband and wife team Marco Favero and Patricia Silva took a look at the disastrous effect of longline fishing in "Albatross – We have a problem!" Longlining claims the deaths of thousands of albatrosses and smaller seabirds every year and some species will become extinct if the deaths are not checked. The birds seize the baited hooks and are drowned as the lines are dropped over the side of fishing vessels. There are ways of preventing this slaughter and the Save the Albatross programme is working to have them implemented.

Historian Bob Burton reminisced on "When I was a lad: Two Years in Antarctica". Bob had worked at the British Antarctic Survey station on Signy Island in the mid-1960s (the same station that Russ Manning commanded in the 1990s). Bob gave a light-hearted account of a very simple, rather idyllic life in a small, very isolated and (technically) primitive community of young men.

The last lecture was by marine biologist Charley Wheatley on "The Future of the Oceans". He introduced us to several concerns facing the world's oceans. These include marine pollution and overfishing. He also described how increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are making the oceans more acid. Charley concluded his talk by discussing a number of ways that Man’s impact on the oceans can be minimized.

During the day there had been opportunities to join the expedition naturalists on the pool deck and spot seabirds and whales. Antarctic petrel was a prize species seen flying close to the ship, while humpback whales were spotted on two occasions.
 

   

A reasonable Drake's Passage means pleasant hours spent watching and photographing seabirds

With no landings today, we have time for a quiet read in the library

Maitre'd Mohammed puts on a delicious midday salad buffet

Tammy catches up with her paperwork in the ship's boutique

All day we are escorted by lovely Cape Petrels and Southern Fulmars


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