Saturday, March 28, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.7.09 (sorry about the formatting - I typed this in Word)

The Drake Passage – Day 1

The ship was rolling pretty strongly during the night. At one point, there was a series of little crashes, as everything that wasn’t battened down flew across the room. When I got up to go to the bathroom, I mistimed it and got up when the ship was rolling towards the bathroom, so I hurtled right past it and hit the cabin door. Luckily, I didn’t wake my roommate.

After breakfast, we had two mandatory lectures. The first was on the Antarctica Treaty1 and the second was about zodiac safety2. In the hour before lunch, I did some bird watching, took some pictures (I tried to take pictures that showed the rocking of the ship) and took a nap.

At lunch, I had a salad from the salad bar, wild rice soup, chef salad and pound cake drizzled with dulce de leche and a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. During the announcements, we were told that the photo class was starting at 1:45 and would last until 3. The next announcement was that the gift shop would be opening at 2 for an hour. There were lectures at 3 and 5, as well, so I was going to miss the shopping hour and I’d already found several items in the catalog that I wanted to buy. The photo class3 was over twice as large as we’d been told (“limited to 10”) and a lot of time was spent on individual instruction for people who didn’t know how their cameras worked. It took 20 minutes just to get through ISO, so, when the instructor, Ellen, started helping people figure out their flashes, I ran across the ship to the gift shop and picked up the fleece I’d noticed in the catalog.

Ellen was still working on flash, so I didn’t miss anything. I’m more than a little disappointed about how the class started. There are too many people (especially since I only signed up because it was going to be a 10-person class) and we covered only ¼ of the material she’d expected to teach in a 2-hour session. We’re also going to have to fight over who gets to sit in her zodiac during the excursions.

The 3pm lecture was about the birds of Antarctica4 and then we got fresh, hot peanut-butter cookies at Afternoon Tea. The 5 pm lecture was about Shackleton’s 1914 expedition, but I didn’t learn anything that I hadn’t already known. More bird-watching until Happy Hour, but, by the time I got there, the lounge and bar were full, so I did some prep work on my running shoes (we had to clean them thoroughly before stepping foot on Antarctica) and rested in my room.

Dinner started with salad bar and pumpkin soup, which was pretty good. I had the pork entrée and dessert was a total disappointment – rhubarb tart. The ship was really rocking and rolling and the portholes were getting splashed. I tried to get pictures and vide, but wasn’t very successful. Ellen saw me taking pictures and asked me what I thought of the class. So I told her. She asked me to sit down and tried to show me my camera’s settings in more detail, but the battery died at that moment (3rd time in 3 days!), so she showed me on my old Casio. Not that it did much good. After dinner I was going to hang out in the lounge, but it was really crowded and noisy, so, after a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit questions, I went to bed.

Pictures from these days are available here:

1 IAATO Presentation (Mandatory)
• Ioffe is Russian
• IAATO – International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators
• IAATO guidelines were adopted by the UN as the Antarctic Treaty
• Keep Antarctica pristine
• Antarctica is the largest wilderness on earth
• Do not drop or litter anything overboard
• Stow belongings securely to avoid being blown away
• Avoid freshwater lakes and streams to avoid polluting
• Avoid introducing new organisms to Antarctica
• Inspect and clean clothing and equipment before going ashore
• No food ashore
• Take photos, but nothing else
• Leave no evidence of visit (graffiti, etc.)
• Protect Antarctic wildlife
• All species are protected
• Antarctica wildlife shows no fear of people
• Do not disturb wildlife at sea
• Animals have right of way
• Do not feed, touch or handle wildlife
• Stay a minimum of 5 meters (15 feet) from Antarctic wildlife
• Avoid slopes, which may contain burrowed nests
• Avoid rookeries
• Birds will attack if you get too close
• The moulting period is dangerous for the birds; they are stressed
• Seals can be dangerous; show strong front
• Avoid walking on plants
• Protected areas
• Do not remove or damage historical remnants
• No smoking
• Do not enter buildings unless invited
• Respect scientific research
• Emergency refuges are only for emergencies
• Safety – severe and changeable weather
• Dress properly – water- and windproof clothing
• Glaciers and icefields can be crevassed and dangerous
• Hands-free when getting in and out of zodiacs
• Terrain is slippery and uneven
• Be sure to stop and reflect
• Buddy system – stay in sight of the group
• Heed advice of leaders
• We are ambassadors to the last great wilderness

2 Zodiac Safety Presentation

• 7 compartments of air, difficult to puncture, a punction in any of the 7 compartments won’t cause it to sink
• 10-12 passengers, max is 15 passengers
• Waterproof clothing is helpful for landings
• Rubber boots only in zodiacs
• Hands-free embarking and disembarking
• Mandatory life-jacket on zodiac, but not on land
• Gangway is most dangerous part of excursions
• Step onto pontoon, then enter zodiac, sit down right away. Stay seated
• Man overboard – all remaining passengers turn to kneel on floor and try to locate the person
• Zodiac driver is captain and must be obeyed
• Limit drinking and eating prior to going ashore (no port-a-potties on shore)
• No intoxicated person is allowed in the zodiac
• Horn blasts from ship signal time to depart
• Landings last about 3 hours and occur twice a day
• Someone will be at the zodiac, if we want to leave early, need the bathroom, forgot something
• Boots – choose now and place in a particular place in the mud room – no boots in rooms
• Line for zodiacs is along starboard decks on the 3rd floor
• Bring Yak Trax in case you want to walk on ice

3 Camera Class 1

• Basic camera functions
• People are vertical
• Always fill frame
• ISO – light sensitivity of the camera – ASA is same – higher ISO number for darker scenes, lower for lighter
• Flash
• White balance – for photos in bright light
• Camera settings – turn digital zoom off
• Composition – penguin on iceberg, focus on penguin, press button halfway, recomposes photo and complete the shutter
• Macro

4 Birds of the Southern Ocean

• enclosed nostrils on bill, poor eyesight, good sense of smell
• weigh 20g to 10kg, oceanic, single/double tube, surface feeders
• monogamous, late sexual maturity, single egg each season, shared parenting
• chicks are semi-precocial (already prepared to survive at hatching)
• long incubation and brooding, rich stomach oil
• projectile vomiting to protect themselves and nests, live in colonies of 100-10,000 birds
• natal philopatry – adult birds return to their birthplace to breed
• navigation – birds migrate to places with a lot of food, built-in salt factory

• 21 species – 19 threatened – 4 seriously endangered
• can live 50-60 years
• scavenge food from surface
• two tubes
• can circumnavigate the globe without landing – can glide for days
• one was tracked at 30,000 km in 9 days without setting down
• dynamic soaring – on lower wind currents
• slope soaring – upwind, low soaring
• rarely flap wings – not designed for flapping
• wingspan of the Wandering Albatross is 3 1/2m - the longest of any bird
• energy efficient – peach spot behing eye, get whiter with age, 28,000 pairs worldwide
• elaborate breeding rituals
• longest incubation – care for chicks for over a year, breed in alternate years
• Black-browed Albatross – 2.4m wingspan
• Gray-headed Albatross – gray head and orange-banded bill
• Light-mantled Sooty Albatross (Michael’s favorite) – 2.1m wing span

Petrils and Prions
• diverse group, scavengers and predators, less graceful than albatross – 2.1m wingspan
• Northern Giant Petril – tip of bill is pinkish
• Southern Fulmar – 1.2m wingspan, bull-necked, silvery gray top
• White-chinned petrels – 1.5m wingspan, brownish-black plumage, yellow bill, wings flap
• Cape Petrel – 90cm wingspan, distinctive checkerboard plumage
• Snow petrel – at Peninsula, pure white, 85 cm wingspan, not gliders, Furious Fifties
• Antarctic Prion – wingspan contains a broad dark M (like McDonald’s), black spot on tail
• Blue Petrel – similar M marking – white tail
• Wilson’s Storm Petrel – sooty with white butt, can walk on water, 42cm wingspan
• Terns – Antarctic tern, black cap, red bill
• Skuas – large and gull-like, females larger than males, pale color, scavengers, predators, kleptoparasitism (steal food from other birds)
• Kelp gull – white body, yellow bill w/red spot, black wings
• Snow Sheathbill – pigeon-like, no webs on feet, rarely fly, scavengers, kleptoparasites
• Antarctic Shag (cormorant) – black-head, blue eyes, orange bulb on bill, can dive to 100m, wettable plumage

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