ANTARCTICA, THE WHITE CONTINENT

 

 

We made our journey to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions aboard the Ms Ocean Diamond; a cruise ship constructed especially for polar exploration.

We set sail from Ushuaia, Argentina on a 2 1/2 day crossing of the Drake Passage with 185 fellow passengers and 145 crew. This turned out to be a spectacular expedition; crew that had made this journey many times told us this was the best weather they had ever experienced.

 We were treated to bright sunny days with temperatures right at freezing.  Dressed for this environment  (except for the first day when we allowed our hands to get wet)  we were never cold.

Quark provided loaner boots which were insulated “wellies” that came up to mid calf. Two pairs of socks, long underwear, mid weight slacks or jeans covered by  mandatory water proof trousers kept us quite comfortable even while riding in zodiacs to the mainland or just cruising around the icebergs in search of wildlife and fantastic photo opportunities.  Top half warmed by thermal underwear and a layer or two of light sweater protected by the souvenir parka with a pop out liner and we were ready for just about any kind of weather.

Quark Expeditions takes their environmental responsibilities very seriously. Each time we went ashore we walked through a disinfectant solution to prevent disease germs from reaching the continent.

 The weather was nice enough to encourage silly shots and for 65 of our fellow passengers, a polar plunge, jumping from the ship into the icy waters of Antarctica. We opted not to do that noting that ship doctor was standing by with the defibrillator at ready.

 W e were not the only ships exploring this beautiful continent, were saw five other vessels in search of this beauty.

 

 Penguins are the stars of Antarctica and we enjoyed their antics. When swimming at high speed they actually jump from the water in what the naturalist called “Porpoising”.

Since they are out of the water almost as much as under, I guess that penguins can indeed fly! The young fellow below dove into the water with his slightly more developed pals and discovered that his down covering kept him afloat. He managed to paddle back to shore to try again another day. We saw 5 different varieties of Penguin.

Easy to see why he is called the chinstrap penguin!

We were instructed to not approach the penguins but to not be surprised if they approached us. They demonstrated much curiosity and no fear of us. They come ashore to hatch their young. Adults spend all their time fishing and feeding their chicks.

We also enjoyed a number of different seals.

This is the wool seal, below is the leopard seal, a vicious hunter of penguin and other seals.  Many of the seals we saw bore scars from encounters with these teeth.

 We went ashore at an Argentine base which was not occupied at the time. Many countries maintain bases here, only a few have full time staff. This photo was taken by a fellow passenger from a kayak, this humpback came right up in front of their boat. The pictures below show the sad history of whaling that flourished here and almost eliminated this species. These whale bones were estimated to have been lying at this spot since the early 1920’s. Antarctica was the seventh continent to be visited by most of the passengers aboard.  This was our seventh and we are truly glad we made this journey.