Archive for December, 2008

Real Penguins Meet The Terrible Towel In Antarctica
December 13, 2008

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My apologies for not updating these more often. Part of my procrastination was my lack of patience with the spotty internet service that far south, and the difficulty posting photos—which are the point, after all. I admit, with some embarrassment, that my mild seasickness crossing the dreadful Drake Passage made sitting down and doing close work on a computer less than appetizing. The Drake is not really that dreadful–just some of the roughest 600 miles of ocean on the planet. Imagine crossing it in a rowboat, which Ernest Shackleton and some of his men had to do in his famous, failed Antarctic expedition, starting in 1914.  During our crossing down to the Peninsula, the swells and winds were only moderate! I got queasy, nothing more, and, as you can see  from the photo above, we finally  made the crossing (eminently worth it), and got up close and personal with several species of penguins on the Antarctic Peninsula. This is a gentoo penguin, a species that is growing in numbers, as the region warms, filling a niche previously dominated by another species, the Adelie penguins. More on that in a later blog. 

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And one of the scientific researchers, who is counting all these penguins, brought along our Trusted Towel. The Terrible One. Elise Larsen is working on her doctorate at the University of Maryland, and she is engaged to a Steelers season ticket holder from Pittsburgh. Of course, that makes her an automatic fan! Coincidentally (it is the coincidence that fueled their getting to know one another when they first met!), her parents have been living in Pittsburgh for several years , because her father is one of the deans at the University of Pittsburgh. She was doing research with John Carlson, who is  a wildlife biologist with the department of Fish and Wildlife in Montana. But both were on board the National Geographic Explorer as National Geographic-funded researchers for Oceanites, the non-profit education and science foundation. It’s major project here is the Antarctic Site Inventory. By the way, that is me in the orange hat. One of the other passengers gave it to me when mine blew off in some 90 knot wind gusts.

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I will be writing a series of blogs over the next week. There will be more on Oceanites, its connection with Lindblad ,  and the important information it provides about the impact of climate and people on Antarctica.  Then, there are the stories about how the  National Geographic Explorer deftly handled a violent storm the day after the Drake Passage. And more on seals, icebergs, and PENGUINS! You just can’t get enough of them.

A Trip To The Bottom Of the World
December 4, 2008

When you tell someone you are going to Antarctica, the person either says, “Why would you do that, “ or expresses amazement. It is considered by many as the last wild place on earth, a continent that belongs to no country, that has beckoned explorers, adventurers, sealers and whalers for centuries, and now has become an increasingly popular tourist destination. Not that popular. One of the guests on our ship said he read that for every million people on earth, only four have visited Antarctica. In annual numbers, it is between 30 and 35 thousand a year.  By the way, that little guy below is a chinstrap penguin–aptly named because of that little line of black feathers under his chin. He was one of four species of penguins we saw on our first landing in Antarctica. But back to the beginning of our trip. 

 

img_0884Why am I here? I fell in love with our polar bears at the Pittsburgh Zoo . Of course, there are no polar bears  in the southern polar region, and no penguins in the northern polar region . So that Christmas coke commercial with the bears and penguins being so chummy? Would never happen. Not that a carnivore would be friends with a penguin–and penguins and polar bears don’t drink coke. Enough! What does this have to do with the Antarctic? Last June, I visited the Arctic to see polar bears and walruses and found the region enchanting and wondrous. Another person on the Lindblad cruise aboard the National Geographic Endeavour suggested that my friend, Jaqi Conomikes, and I visit the other end of the world within 6 months. Since Jaqi’s husband had no desire to do it,  we decided to give it a go. From one end of the world to the other, in less than half a year. I should have my head examined. But how many times have I been told that!

 

img_0855It is spring here. And it takes a long time to get down to this part of the planet. We flew into Santiago, Chile,  took a bus tour around this city of over 6 million. Then the next day, we took a four hour flight to Ushuaia, Argentina–which is called the southern- most city in the world. While waiting to board our ship, we visited Tierra Del Feugo (Land of Fire) National Park in Lapataia Bay, and took a catamaran trip around the bay, seeing South American sea lions and numerous species of seabirds–like dolphin gulls, imperial shags, and Antarctic terns. It was just a taste of what was to come. 

 

img_0859Then, finally, we stepped aboard the National Geographic Explorer. On its maiden voyage in Antarctica, it is a completely re-built ship, having once been a ferry–stripped down to its hull– and then fashioned into a state-of- the -art expedition cruise ship. Lindblad and National Geographic now have  a partnership, and there are National Geographic photographers and writers on these cruises, not to mention a host of other fascinating naturalists and historians who are part of the Lindblad staff. The ship is in the smaller class of vessels that tour Antarctica, and I wouldn’t travel there any other way. Fewer passengers allowed us to off-load in Zodiacs and walk among the penguins–sometimes twice a day. More on that in the next posting.