Sunday, March 29, 2009

Antarctica Journal 3.8.09

The Drake Passage – Day 2

It was a really rocky night. I was sliding in my bed from feet to head. Needless to say, not much sleep. I got up a little early and took some pictures from the deck. After a pancake breakfast, I did another bird check, then headed to the Presentation room for Thom’s lecture on the history of the Antarctica Marathon1. He ran over, hurrying through the end, and we had just enough time to get to the dining hall for the penguin lecture2.

After the penguin lecture, I had the second session of the camera class3. It was just as bad as the first. I want to complain, but am concerned about how the rest of my trip will go, if I do.

Lunch immediately followed. I skipped the broccoli soup and just had a small salad, followed by Guinness stew. Dessert was bread pudding, out of which I picked the raisins, but was otherwise pretty tasty. I should have taken a nap after lunch, but went shopping in the gift shop instead. I picked up postcards and a t-shirt for myself. It was the last excursion of the season, so the pickings were pretty slim.

I had just enough time to head up to the top deck to watch for birds before heading back down to the presentation room to learn about seals4. I hope we get to see some! Between lectures, I went to my room to grab some stuff I’d need later, then did some more bird watching (on deck and from the bridge), before going to the bar for Afternoon Tea (aka cookie-time) for yummy chocolate chunk cookies. Heather helped me stamp and organize my postcards, then it was time to go to the dining hall to learn about Scott’s and Amundson’s race for the South Pole. I don’t understand why people reviled Amundson for getting there safely and without any casualties when Scott, who was hailed a hero, made numerous, compounding mistakes that ultimately lost 8 men their lives, including Scott!

After some more birdwatching (I finally got a fairly decent shot of an albatross), I went to the lounge for happy hour. No snacks for me (they served chips and salsa). I sat with Kevin, who is filming Linda Quirk’s Run 7 on 7 Dream Big challenge (this is her last marathon of the challenge) and we chatted about this, that and the other. He said he’d send me some of his pictures after the trip and I gave him my flickr name so he could see my stuff, too.

The dinner announcement came at 7:30 and Kevin and I went in together. We sat with Mike and Connie*, who looks way too young to be a surgeon and the mother of a 20-year-old! I had a small bowl of navy bean soup and some salad for starters, then had chicken breast stuffed with herbed cheese, with rice pilaf and snap peas. Dessert was supposed to be chocolate chocolate cake, but the cake was vanilla with chocolate frosting.

At the end of dinner, we were told that we’d have an early start tomorrow, so I came upstairs to my room to write some postcards and do a little reading before going to sleep.

*I won’t be naming all of my meal companions, but I will say that I tried to find different people to sit with every time. It seemed to me that the type of people who would do something like this must be very interesting and I wanted to hear more of their stories. I learned what I’d suspected before I even signed up – I was way out of my league in this crowd. I heard stories of Kilimanjaro and Everest and the Great Wall of China and many other extreme events. Chuck was on his third time (accidentally) around the 50 states. Dale and Cathy were running this marathon as their first ever marathon! Cecile was running 7 marathons on 7 continents in 80 days. Many were gaining entry into the 7 Continents Club. I was an imposter, pretending I belonged in this group of illustrious runners. The winner trained in the mountains of Kenya to prepare. Patrick, who is from Tahiti, trained in a freezer at -18° with a fan on to simulate the wind. There are a lot more stories like this. If I hadn’t had Elizabeth’s training plan, I wouldn’t have been nearly as prepared as I was and it was only the worry of disappointing her that kept me on track! (You all know how lazy I am and that I’m not a fan of hard work!)

Pictures from these days are available here:

1 History of the Antarctica Marathon
• John did not interview Thom excessively for the book. The book does not include the underbelly of the event
• MT started in 1979
• 1991 Antarctica Treaty covers tourism
• August ’93 – article brings Antarctica to runners’ attention
• Arctowski (Polish base) – trial run too muddy, a lot of attacking Skuas
• King George Island – course okay, but 4 countries created a lot of politics
• Esperanza – Hope Bay – base commander happy about the race, but the Argentine Foreign Minister said no
• King George Island base commanders were very helpful
• Course change because of quicksand
• Implied that race on boat was his idea, though the book indicates that it was Winkler’s idea

2 Penguins

• 17 species – wingless diver, brush-tailed, true diver, little true diver, little wedge
• Largest – Emperor Penguin - 1.1m, 40k
• Smallest – Little Penguin – 40cm, 1k
• 100°C birds – temperature range of climate
• feathered fish, spindle shape to ease transition between land and sea
• solid bones – helps overcome buoyancy
• all penguins have dark backs and white bellies for camouflage
• no teeth, raspy hooks that point backwards
• thin layer of fat, feathered survival suits, hooks on ends of feathers act as an insulator when penguins are in water
• penguin feathers are all the same size
• heat stress when warm in Antarctica
• warm-blooded egg layer, do not travel great distances, no flight
• breeding – males are “passive pawns” – female drives the breeding season, male nests – serially monogamous, female will not stay with an ineffective male
• fatter males are more desirable
• some females have affairs
• prostitution – females will offer copulation in exchange for good nesting stones
• males – will copulate very often w/female to ensure that they inseminated the female and will also try to be the last one
• nests made of stones – high enough to keep the nest about water
• some nests are thousands of years old
• 2 eggs from Gentoo and Adelie
• incubation lasts 31-39 days
• food chasers - chicks follow adult on a search for food ensuring that each chick gets fed
• creched for 23-30 days
• fledgling for 48-82 days
• high mortality rate up to 80%
• penguins moult once a year over 3-5 weeks
• birds fast during moult
• moult feather by feather – high stress period
• predators – leopard seals, seals peel penguins before eating them
• Gentoo – 76-81cm, 5.5kg, dives to 100m, brush-tail, white band across brow, 3rd tallest penguin, eat krill, nest on open beaches, good rock scramblers
• Chinstrap – 68-77cm, 5kg, dives to 70m, brush-tail, large colonies away from beach
• Adelie – 46-75cm, 5kg, dives to 175m, brush-tail, breeds farthest south of all birds, 2-day limit for last year’s partner to find the female
• Penguins as far north as the Galapagos
• Penguins do not migrate
• Emperor penguin stays on Antarctic mainland

Rules for penguin encounter
• Must stay at least 5m away
• Do not approach, but if they come close, don’t move
• If a group walks up and stares, you’re in their way and should step aside

3 Camera Class 2

• EV compensation – higher-lighter, lower equals darker
• Shutter speed – cannot adjust on Pentax
• Aperature priority – long lens = shallow depth of field, short lens = longer depth of field
• Waterproof case
• Flash fill?
• Composition – for landscapes, go with 2/3 for the more important subject and 1/3 for the rest
• Reflections are okay to have as a double

4 Marine Mammals – Seals
• Southern seals – 4 species – year-round Antarctic dwellers
• True seals – slow-moving
• Eared seals – can run on all four legs
• Fur seals (eared seals) – subAntarctic summer visitors– can’t cope with Antarctic cold – harem breeders, fearless and mean, nearly as fast as dogs, cannot eat while breeding, because of having to protect harem, lose up to 40% of their body weight
• Elephant seal – summer visitor – sexual dimorphism, female: 800-900 kg, bulls: 3 ½ to 4 tons, pup weaned at 12 days
• Antarctic seals have a catastrophic moult
• Ross seal – blubber for insulation, very rarely seen
• Weddell seal – lazy – nicknamed the “Antarctic Blubber Slug” – smiley-faced, no neck, nostrils block salt water from entering lungs (relaxed position is closed) spotted, teeth are sharp, breathing holes in ice, no land-based predators, Weddell seal can hold his breath for 180 minutes – counter-current heat exchange (venous blood is warmed as it goes back to the core and arterial blood is cooled via capillaries), feed on fish and squid, most efficient at digesting fat, live up to 40 years, Weddells take their babies hunting, breed in water, give birth on land
• Leopard seal – similar to Weddells, but bigger mouth, sleeker head, obvious neck, spotted, curious, long flippers, waist, hips, shoulders, single-pup births,
• Crabeater seal – golden body, longer nose, independent breeder, social animals, scarring (mostly caused by male-to-male combat), males turn silvery with age, do not eat crabs, eat krill
• Researching marine animals is difficult, cannot anesthetize until secured because of inability to breathe, not easy to count (10-70 million), attached satellite transmitters moult off in 12 months
• Only predator is orca whale
• Strong muscles
• Not sure about global warning
• Hearing and eyesight are the primary sense for hunting, at one meter distance, whiskers take over

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