December 28, 2012 – At Sea, En Route to Antarctica
Posted on December 30th, 2012
Temperature: 33° F
Wind speed: 12-18 knots
Cloud cover: 100%
We awoke to grey skies and calm seas as ‘Le Boreal’ steamed towards the Antarctic Peninsula. A line of ice was visible on the port side, the sea ice edge that was well north of its usual location for this time of year. In fact, during the early morning hours, Captain Etienne Garcia had to take the ship slightly north to get around a massive tongue of sea ice that was situated directly in our path.
After breakfast, marine biologist Charley Wheatley gathered us into the Theater for a talk entitled, “Cold, Green and Deep: The dynamics of the Southern Ocean.” Charley summarized the reason this part of the world is so chock full of life: plankton. The great abundance of nutrients and many hours of daylight here result in tremendous plankton blooms, which form the base of the Antarctic food chain.
Midmorning, Captain Etienne Garcia brought the young explorers up to the bridge to show them some of the important equipment he uses to safely navigate the Southern Ocean and the waters beyond.
After some time out on deck watching the cape petrels swirl around the ship, we joined ornithologist Patricia Silva for her talk, “Penguins: An Introduction to Their Life History.” Patricia began with a discussion of penguin evolution, pointing out that the closest living relatives of the penguins are petrels and albatross. She also went into penguin physiology, including the fact that penguins are very well equipped to fast for long periods.
Over lunch, fog came and went, and many of us spent the early afternoon scanning among the ice on port side for wildlife. Meanwhile, naturalist Russ Manning taught the young explorers about the importance of knot-tying in being a good seaman.
Later in the afternoon, we were back in the Theater for historian Bob Burton’s lecture entitled, “My Favorite Heroes of Antarctic Exploration,” when a call came from the bridge that a group of a dozen fin whales had been spotted.
The Theater emptied quickly mid-lecture, and we headed out on deck to watch the show. At times, the whales swam right along with us, the white on the right side of their lower jaw (which distinguishes fin whales from the other great whales) glowing a greenish color just below the surface as they rose to come up for exhalation.
After the whale sighting, we headed back down for Bob’s lecture, during which he told some amazing stories from the Heroic Age of Exploration in Antarctica. From Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s quote of thinking of “death as a friend” to the unthinkable dinner ration of 1.5 mugs of penguin and seal hooch, a biscuit and thin cocoa, Bob provided us with some insight into the mindset of the men who went out into some of the harshest physical conditions on the planet with the goal of discovery.
We then joined the Expedition Team for recap before dinner, which culminated in the Expedition Team singing a rousing version of “Frankie-Wild-O” with piano accompaniment. After dinner, most of us went off to bed early in preparation for our arrival in Antarctica tomorrow.
– Rich Pagen, Naturalist