4 Search Results for ""oceanwide expeditions""
- From: bberwyn
Sharing the Paulet Island beach with a solitary skua and a fur seal, three guides from the M/V Professor Molchanof stand ankle-deep in pink penguin guano. A pair of Zodiacs cruise through a maze of icebergs back to the ship, just visible in the distance. The Dutch guides had wanted to climb to the summit of the volcanic island, but Russian Captain Nikolai Parfenyuk was concerned about ice closing in, so he ordered the landing party back to the ship.
The Gentoo penguin colony was gone, but the pungent guano was a reminder of their recent presence. Still, the beach was alive with fur seals, blue-eyed shags (the only member of the Cormorant family to range into Antarctica), and even a few ice-loving Adelie penguins.
During the landing, we visited the remains of an old stone hut built by Swedish and Norwegian explorers in the early 1900s after their ship was crushed by ice. Twenty men from the Nordenskold expedition spent a long winter on the island eating penguins before being rescued by an Argentine boat the following summer. Only one man died during the winter. His grave, marked by a plain wooden cross and a mound of rocks, is still evident on the beach.
Our voyage to Antarctica through the Weddell Sea and around the Antarctic Peninsula aboard the Molchanov was in late February and early March 2009. The well-led trip featured landings and hikes every day, including a spectacular walk over a glacier and along the rim of the Deception Island caldera to visit a huge chinstrap penguin colony.
On the 52-passenger Molchanov, it was easy to get to know fellow passengers and the guides, as well as the friendly Russian crew. Leigh and I highly recommend ship. We organized our trip through Oceanwide Expeditions, online at ://www.oceanwide-expeditions.com/.
Several passengers on our trip were able to book last-minute passage aboard the Molchanov in Ushuaia, Argentina, just a few days in advance at a significant discount. Of course, there are no guarantees, but several tour operators in Ushuaia said that, late in the season, there often are last-minute berths available.
Read more about the trip at this Budget Travel journal: http://mybt.budgettravel.com/_Antarctic-adventure/blog/219657/21864.html.
- 5 years ago
- Views: 1498
- From: bberwyn
Sipping a Beagle beer at the Banana Bar in Ushuaia,Leigh and I contemplate the trip ahead. If everything we've heard about the Drake Passage is true, we figure this may be our last pint for quite a while.
We're about to board the M/V Professor Molchanov for a 10-day adventure cruise to Antarctica, and the formidable weather of the Southern Ocean is on our minds. Unimpeded by land, the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans all mingle in a circumpolar maelstrom of waves, current and wind. It can be rough — very rough, according to the guidebooks and blogs of previous Antarctic voyagers. Nearly everyone gets seasick during the crossing, we read. Alcohol may not be the best idea, but despite the warnings, we chug the last of our brews and head for the pier.
Our short stay in Ushuaia has been exceedingly pleasant. Ana, Marcello and the rest of the staff at the Posada del Fin del Mundo have made us feel completely at home. On the first day, we share the cozy breakfast nook with several researchers who just returned from Antarctica. We eagerly listen to their stories, hardly believing that soon we'll be floating among icebergs.
The gritty little harbor town puts on a clean frock for tourists, dressing up its main street with shiny souvenir stands, electronic shops and internet cafés. But what we enjoy the most is hanging out with the many well-behaved and friendly dogs that each patrol a section of sidewalk. Every morning, there's a parade of canines outside the posada, all wearing collars and purposefully trotting down the street toward some unknown destination or rendezvous. We befriend an especially cute mutt living just down the street for our lodge. He runs the length of his fenced-in yard each time we walk down Rivadavia to reach the waterfront.
Toothy crags decorated with ice form a dramatic backdrop. There's even a small ski area at the Martial Glacier, near the head of a heavily forested drainage just a few miles from downtown. Lupines, Shasta daisies and rose bushes are still blooming in the surprisingly warm maritime climate. Strolling the commercial district and residential neighborhoods, we find a pleasing hodgepodge of houses, from tiny wooden A-frames reminiscent of Icelandic huts, to new wood-framed homes built with brightly painted corrugated metal.
The local history museum tells the story of the early explorers who first traveled these waters in their quest to circumnavigate the globe: Sir Francis Drake, Captain James Cook and Ferdinand Magellan are all among the notables who sailed the maze of fjords and headlands of the archipelago at the tip of South America.
After sending a few postcards, we visit a waterfront fishmonger to buy portions of seafood salad studded with chunks of apple. It's made from king crabs. The spiny, long-legged denizens of deep southern ocean waters are starting to move south closer to Antarctic shorelines as currents and water temperatures shift under the influence of climate change. It’s a first taste, literally, of what we’re going to learn about how global warming is affecting Antarctica, and especially the Antarctic Peninsula, where temperatures have warmed five times faster than the rest of the planet during the past few decades.
Our first day at sea is mellow. We make good speed, heading almost due south and averaging 12 knots, with huge albatrosses and petrels swerving and swooping alongside to keep us company. Trying out a borrowed 300 millimeter lens keeps me busy for hours, as I try to steady myself, while keeping the horizon straight and focusing on the speeding birds at the same time. Finally, I manage to snap a half-way decent shot of a petrel skimming so close to the cobalt-blue water that it's wingtip touches the surface.
"Mr. Drake is sleeping," says Russian Captain Nikolay Parfenyuk. "He is not hungry today. Mrs. Drake is saying, hello to all of you," the captain jokes.
The Molchanov is a Finnish-built ice-hardened vessel previously used by Russia's polar research program. The ship is now leased to Oceanwide Expeditions for tourist expeditions on both ends of the Earth. In most conditions, the bridge is open to passengers, so we're able watch Parfenyuk and his crew of officers plot a course through the Southern Ocean and scan the radar screen for errant icebergs.
The swell increases during the second night, tossing a few chairs around our cabin. Evelin Lieback, the ship's doctor, hands out motion-sickness patches to several passengers, and a number of places remain empty in the dining room during the evening meal. Leigh and I don't succumb to the dizziness at all. Instead, we enjoy the rocking and rolling in our comfortable berth and take in the exhilarating spray of wind and sea foam as often as we can.
But by noon the next day, it's smooth sailing once again. Just as the kitchen crew starts serving desert, expedition leader Jan Belger says whales have been sighted. We all drop our forks and rush on deck, marveling as the gentle giants flash their dorsals and blow clouds of mist into the gold-tinted sunset. Fin whales are the second-largest cetaceans. Males in the southern hemisphere grow up to 88-feet long and weigh 70 to 80 tons.
For more information on the ecology of fin whales visit the IUCN Red List web site.
The Molchanov is full for the voyage, 52 passengers in all, with a large contingent of jolly Dutch. There are a few Germans, a couple of Israelis, a well-traveled couple from South Africa and some Brits. the passel of Americans includes eight from our own home state of Colorado as well as a few Midwesterners. One young traveler from California is making the most of the recent economic malaise, using his severance package to finance a world trip, including the jaunt to Antarctica, booked last-minute in Ushuaia at a significant discount.Two of the experienced guides are Dutch, the third is a French biologist, and our cooks are Malaysian, so the good ship is bit like a floating United Nations.
The big milestone for this part of the trip is the Antarctic Convergence, where cold water flowing northward from Antarctica mixes with warmer water from the adjacent oceans. The turbulent upwelling is zone of high biological productivity, where phytoplankton nurtures vast swarms of krill, which in turns is food for whales and seabirds. The convergence is part of a circumpolar current — the world's largest, carrying 130 million cubic meters of water per second, or 100 times the volume of all the world's rivers combined. The current delineates a discrete body of water and a unique ecologic region. In 2000, the International Hydrographic Organization designated the waters south of the current as the Southern Ocean.
It's still a productive life zone, but increased solar ultraviolet radiation through the Antarctic ozone hole in recent years has reduced phytoplankton productivity by as much as 15 percent and damaged the DNA of some fish. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing has depleted stocks of some species unique to the area, including Patagonian and Antarctic toothfish, sold commercially as Chilean sea bass.
There are also concerns about how climate change might affect the circumpolar current, which is known to be important to regulating the world's climate, but those potential impacts are poorly understood.
South of the convergence zone, the sea is still. The ship slows to maneuver between giant ice floes and we awaken to a magical world of icebergs tinged lipstick-pink and tangerine-orange by a spectacular Antarctic sunrise. Only a few passengers are awake and perched on the bow of the Molchanov to watch a group of penguins arch through the water like mini-dolphins. They're powerful swimmers, using their wings to propel themselves under water with flying motions.
"They're trying to fly," says expedition leader Jan Belgers. Even though the birds gave up the sky for the deep sea eons ago, they still have some genetic memory of what it must be like to soar through the air, Belgers explains.
Our first landing in Antarctica is on Paulet Island, a small circular chunk of volcanic rock that's home to a major adelie penguin colony during the Austral spring and early summer. In early March (late summer in the southern hemisphere) the penguins are mostly gone but the remains of their rookery, in the form of pungent pink guano, was still evident. The acrid smell wafts across the water as we approach the shore in Zodiacs and getting across the beach to the uplands involved a hike through the smelly turf.
A few straggling adelies remained, along with dozens of fur seals lounging on ice floes and along the beach, along with a group of blue-eyed shags, the only members of the cormorant family to venture to Antarctica proper.
We hiked to the remains of a stone hut that served as shelter for Captain Carl Anton Larsen and the crew of his ship, the Antarctic. Larsen, a whaler, was exploring the region in 1903 when his ship was trapped and crushed in the ice offshore, leading to one of the many epic stories of polar survival. Part of Larsen's party traveled over the ice by sledge seeking rescue. Eventually, all the men but one were rescued by an Argentine vessel. A simple wooden cross set back from the beach marks the grave of Ole Kristian Wennersgaard, a 22-year-old sailor who died on the island in pursuit of science and exploration.
Although more and more people are visiting Antarctica these days (up to 40,000 annually), it's still a remote tourism location compared to other hot spots on the global travel circuit. Our second stop is at Petrel Cove along the shore of Dundee Island. It's part of a group of islands known collectively as Graham Land, closer to South America than any other part of Antarctica. It was named by Scottish whalers in 1893 and served as the take-off point for American pilot Lincoln Ellsworth when he made the first trans-Antarctic flight in 1935.
When we got back to Summit County, I did some research on Petrel Cove to try and find out how many people have been there. A list maintained by a group that monitors environmental impacts shows that, during the past 15 years, only two commercial trips with a total of 107 visitors have landed at the remote site.
A few metal buildings, painted rust-red, are left over from an Argentinian settlement. Although it was supposedly a science station, our expedition leaders dismissively calls it a political site, established to help the South American country bolster territorial claims in Antarctica.
Under existing international law, the continent belongs to nobody and is managed for the purposes of scientific research through a consultative process. Still, several countries, including the United States, maintain that they have the right to exercise those claims in the future. With potential for vast reserves of precious resources, including offshore oil and gas, some observers think it's only a matter of time before some countries try to assert some level of sovereignty.
Hundreds of fur seals, along with a few Weddell seals, lounge on a broad beach covered with red seaweed. Clumps of miniature icebergs melt in the warm days of late summer. A large glacier on the island appears to be in retreat, crumbling at our feet. It feels like just a few days since the last ice age ended.
Setting foot on mainland Antarctica is a big step for some of the Molchanov's passengers, who are visiting their seventh, and final, continent. The brown basalt rocks are part of an unusual geologic formation called a Tuya, formed when a volcano erupts beneath a continental ice sheet. Whether it's our seventh continent or not, we all agree it's the most spectacular site so far. Ice floes fill the bay for as far as we can see, and the curved beach is densely populated by friendly gentoo penguins and ornery fur seals, who protect their turf by grunting and lunging awkwardly when a tourist wanders too close.
The next day we visit Deception Island, anchoring in a small cove near the crumbling ruins of a whaling station. The bay is almost completely encircled by glacier-draped ridges, with only a half-mile wide opening to the sea. It's one of the few places in the world where an ocean-going vessel can sail into the water-filled hollow of a caldera, the collapsed center of a volcano. The ice on the slopes is colored black with the ash and soot of the most recent eruption which was just a few decades ago. Geologists keep a close watch on the island to monitor for potential eruptions in the future.
The rotting sheds and rusted metal tanks that once stored whale oil are grim reminders of a not-so-distant past, when men slaughtered tens of thousands of the giant mammals at sea, then dragged them to the stations to be rendered for oil, flayed for meat and carved up for their by-products, including baleen to make combs and corsets. Thankfully, Antarctic waters have been designated as a refuge for whales. Several species that were hunted to near extinction are making a comeback.
We hike up to the rim of the caldera and across the ash-covered glacier to reach a chinstrap penguin colony at Bailey Head. On moss-covered ground, improbably distant from the sea, thousands of the birds are molting. In some places, the feathers have piled so deep it reminds us of drifts of snow back in our hometown of Frisco, Colorado. We're amazed that the waddling birds can climb this far up a steep mountainside. At first glance, they look like precariously balanced bowling pins, but on closer observation, we see that they're sure-footed and steady walkers.
Our last day in Antarctic waters is spent around the South Shetland Islands. In the morning it's drizzly and cold when we stop at Half Moon Island, where fur seals rule the beach. A chinstrap penguin rookery thrives in on the rocky crags above the beach.
Penguins are the iconic species of the frozen continent, but the simple and prolific food chain in the Antarctic region is under the gun from global warming. In the last half century, winter temperatures on the Antarctic Peninsula — the skinny spit of land sticking up toward South America — have climbed five times faster than the global average. Polar conditions have given way to a moist maritime climate, with huge impacts for the birds and mammals of the region, all of which depend on krill for sustenance.
Krill, a Norwegian word for "small fry," refers to tiny shrimp-like crustaceans found in great abundance in Antarctic waters. The krill feeds on tiny free-floating plants called phytoplankton. In turn, the krill is eaten in mass quantities by whales, sea birds, seals and penguins.
But changing wind patterns linked to global warming are altering the system. Researchers in the area are documenting changes in the distribution and density of phytoplankton in the ocean around the Antarctic Peninsula. In the March 13 edition of the journal Science, Rutgers University biologists reported that those changes may help explain declines of some penguin species in the area. Some of their research is documented in a paper, available online at www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/323/5920/1470.
Adelie penguin populations, adapted to a colder climate, are declining. Warmer-weather chinstrap penguins have become more numerous and displaced adelies in some parts of the peninsula and on surrounding islands. The research is based on satellite images showing changes in ocean color, temperature, sea ice distribution and wind. It's supported by data collected at surface by University of Hawaii researchers who are currently working in the seas around the peninsula and maintaining a blog of their voyage at http://uhmanoa-antarctic-research.blogspot.com/.
A final landing on Aitcho Island gives us a glimpse of an elephant seal and a close-up look at hundreds of bleached whale bones littering the beach. A giant petrel is feeding chicks in a nest, and fur seals frolic on mossy ground. Our time in Antarctica is nearly done. Climbing the ladder from the Zodiac on to the Molchanov one last time, we stow our gear and prepare for the voyage home.
Check out the Posada del Fin del Mundo at www.posadafindelmundo.com.ar/.
Information on Antarctic voyages with Oceanwide Expeditions is at www.oceanwide-expeditions.com/.
- Blog post
- 5 years ago
- Views: 6113
- From: bberwyn
Several passengers aboard the M/V Professor Molchanov study a chart of the South Shetland Islands, just north of the Antarctic Peninsula, during a late-March voyage through the region. The 10-day trip, run by Oceanwide Expeditions, including hiking excursions to visit old whaling stations, penguin rookeries and seal colonies.
- 5 years ago
- Views: 1992
- Not yet rated