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02/16/2009

Drake Passage

A kind Drake Passage dealt us only a gentle rocking during the night. Many of us had a bit of a “lie in”, before leisurely making our way up for breakfast and a stroll out on deck. Marine Mammalogist Garv Hoefler gave the first lecture of the day, “The history of sealing and whaling in Antarctica”. Garv took us through the beginnings of the marine mammal harvest in the Southern Ocean, fueled by demand for furs in the case of the Antarctic fur seals and oil in the case of elephant seals and the great whales. He presented current estimates of whale populations, and it was striking to learn that the hundreds of thousands of blue whales which at one time roamed the Southern Ocean have been reduced to less than a thousand. Garv spoke of the ongoing controversial take of whales by the Japanese, and a discussion followed where we had the opportunity to share our own sentiments on the issue.

Following the lecture, we grabbed parkas and warm beverages and joined the Expedition staff and their yellow jackets out on deck to see what wildlife was around the ship. A wandering albatross was gliding around behind us, and several white-chinned petrels buzzed the ship in an attempt to ascertain what exactly we were. After the crew and officers of the Minerva finished with their emergency drill, we joined Geologist Martin Berg in the Darwin Lounge for his lecture “If rocks could talk: The basics of geology”. With the assistance of an obliging volunteer sharing his outstretched arm, Martin instilled in us an understanding of the magnitude of geologic time. He covered the basics of plate tectonics and mid-ocean ridges, and it was fascinating to learn that Iceland is one of the few places on the planet where it is possible to stand with each foot firmly planted on a different continent! His synopsis of geological processes helped us to better understand the rocks and mountains we had encountered in Antarctica.

After lunch, we dozed off after a bit of reading in the library and a few laps on the outer deck. Historian David Wilson then presented a talk about the extraordinary life of his great uncle entitled “Edward Wilson of the Antarctic: A hero in the family”. David went through the amazing life of Edward Wilson, from his bout with tuberculosis to his discovery and contagious interest in the bizarre yet perfect breeding cycle of the emperor penguin. Edward Wilson’s expertise both as a scientist and as an illustrator was impressive, and we especially enjoyed the stories of his travels in the Antarctic now that we truly understand what this harsh yet fascinating place is really like.

This was followed by a final lecture by Photo Enrichment Coach Richard Harker, entitled “I’ve got the shot: Now what do I do?”. Richard provided suggestions for how to travel with the many images we now have of our trip to the Antarctic, how to archive them, and how to subtly adjust them after the fact. Richard’s patience and enthusiasm throughout the cruise have been greatly appreciated and, with his assistance, we have achieved a much better understanding of the workings of our cameras, and of the photographic challenges of shooting white snow and dark rock in the same frame.

In the evening, we gathered for Captain Giovanni Biasutti’s Farewell Cocktail Party, during which he thanked us for coming, and said goodbye to the members of the Expedition Staff who would be leaving the ship after this trip. He also spoke of his hope that we would return home as ambassadors for the Antarctic, and be actively involved in its precarious future. This was followed by a wonderful dinner served by the restaurant staff, who provided us with a very memorable evening. The Shackleton Bar was teaming after dinner, and as Pianist Ferenc Matrai sent beautiful music into the air, we celebrated the friends we have made and the experiences we have shared on this adventure to the south.
 

   

Deck time is important considering the good food we've been consuming!

A number of albatross and petrel species are identified in our wake, inspiring many of us to spend time on the after deck.

Our smooth crossing of the Drake Passage allows us all to enjoy deck time.

Geologist Martin Berg gives us a comprehensive and engrossing lecture on the formation of the Earth.

Our Communication / IT Officer keeps us in communication with the rest of the world.


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