Tag Archive | Albatross

Imperial Shag, Southern Sea Lion & an Albatross Too!

The Imperial Shag (this odd name sounds like a rude comment about the British Monarchy, but thankfully it’s not) is a species of cormorant native to the Sub-Antarctic Islands and Southern South America. They look much like penguins, but they can fly, both in the air and under water. Here you can see them sunning with Southern Sea Lions, AKA South American Sea lions on an island off the coast of Ushuaia. I much confess that I am puzzled by the Southern Sea Lions. They look nothing like the sea lions I am familiar with in California, but apparently are closely related. These Southern Sea Lions are fatter, furrier and look more like a Weddell seal. They probably need the extra fat and fur to survive in the arctic waters. They are quite handsome I think! (Click to enlarge.)

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In this photo, an Albatross is flying overhead.

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Here is a better shot of the handsome sea lions.

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El Fin del Mundo! Ushuauia & The Beagle Channel!

We are now in the southern-most city in the world, referred to as ‘The End of The world,’ and a very different part of Patagonia. We are staying on the glorious Beagle Channel near the entrance to Tierra Del Fuego National Park (Land of Fire.) Darwin named this area Tierra Del Fuego because as he sailed up the channel, he was amazed by the sight of the hundreds of fires the indigenous people had lit for warmth and survival in this harsh, but beautiful place. As of today the Tierra Del Fuegans are essentially wiped out due to their contact with explorers and settlers.
Ushuaia is a place we had been before, for a day, before crossing The Drake Passage into Antarctica. We always planned to return and spend more time and so we are. Take a peek at this stunning place & animal inhabitants :

Taken from out our hotel bedroom window!

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Adelie, Chinstrap & some King Penguins!

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The stunning Albatross. They spend the first few years of their life at sea and return to land when they are ready to breed. These are massive birds, with huge wingspans and they are incredible gliders!

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Antarctica Journals!

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My husband, Jim, handed me a travelogue he kept of our Antarctica trip in 2008. I had forgotten that we both had written trip journals and it is interesting to see a lot of the details I had forgotten. The following include excerpts of these travel journals that weren’t included in my prior post.

Day 1-2: Jim’s notes state that we cross the 400 mile Drake Passage with Beaufort force 3 winds. The Beaufort Scale winds range from force 1-12, and relate wind speed to observable effects on land and sea. Force 3 winds are gentle breezes that create wavelets that begin to break, causing whitecaps, i.e., easy-peasy seas.

We pass the Antarctic Convergence in the afternoon. This is a continuously circling body of water where cold Antarctic waters converge with warmer subantarctic waters, causing the colder water to sink, leading to upwelling where marine life is intensely prevalent, including pelagic birds such as several types of Albatross, and Skuas.* The Antarctic convergence is the largest biological barrier on earth. Crossing the convergence marks entry into the Southern Ocean which has it’s own currents. We are entering the world’s largest wilderness, with the highest concentrations of wildlife on the planet. It is also the coldest, highest, windiest, iciest and least visited of all the continents i.e. PARADISE!

Map of Antarctica Convergence:
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Day 3- Reach Elephant Island part of the South Shetland Isands, that is named after resident elephant seals. Along with the seals there are several species of penguins. Air & water temperature mid-day, 1 degree. Floating icebergs becoming impressive. Our naturalist explains that most of the bergs we are seeing now come from The Wedell Sea, via The Antarctic Sound. When we leave this area, we will be sailing on seas that will be covered in sea ice all winter.
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Day 4- Cross the Antarctic Sound enroute to the Esperanza Research Station run by Argentina. Winds are force 8, which is gale force, wind knots 34-40, waves 18-25 feet. Cannot attempt Esperanza due to conditions. By mid-afternoon, weather improves dramatically, captain sets course towards to Admiralty Bay on King George Island. We reach the Chilean and Polish Research Stations and visit with the Polish Scientists, who after many attempts board our ship for dinner. By now penguins are everywhere in the millions, Gentoo, Macaroni, Chinstrap and Adele. Later we will see Kings. The weather is excellent and the scenery magnificent. Sun sets at 1 am rises at 4 am.
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Day 5- Captain sets course south through The Branfields Strait. Continue southerly course. Navigate through the incredible Gerlach Strait. Force 3 winds, air temp 1 degree mid-day. Ice surrounds us everywhere. The ship, navigated by the ice pilot, seems to sail through ice not water. It is daunting. Growlers slam against the hull. We hold our breath when the ship approaches the larger ones, they bang along the hull making constant noise.

Day 6- We head to the Neymayer Channel with incredible scenery, glaciers calving into the ocean, craggy cliffs, ice precipes and peaks, boundless untouched snow and ice, sea mammals, birds and penguins everywhere. They are friendly and approach. We see Wedell, Crabeater and Leopard Seals, Orca, Humpback and Minke whales.

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Day 7- Course to Deception Island, a collapsed volcanic caldera. Deception Bay is stunning and the island is full of very smelly, very friendly penguins. The waters are warmed by volcanic process which also makes the island the most ice-free that we saw. You can take a dip if you choose. The water is a mixture of very hot and cold currents, moving in little riverlets around you. Weather this day was gray, foggy, and overcast.

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Day 8- Course north back through The Drake Passage. As we cross the convergence, the temperature rises to 7 degrees, the warmest in a week! Again we have smooth seas and the albatross are our friends. Enroute to the stunning Beagle Channel and Strait of Magellan.

Towards the end, we get our roughest weather yet, force 9 winds, 41-47 knots, waves 23-32 feet. Strong gale. Wow! It was spectacular and unforgiving. And then we are in the blissful Beagle Channel, through the straight of Magellan to Chile.

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We are going back in 2013, to Patagonia & The Beagle Channel. Less than 30,000 people are visiting Antarctica annually now.

* Note: we saw a similar fascinating upwelling phenomena crossing out of the Sargasso Sea which is essentially a large gyro, an ocean bounded and defined by currents. We sailed through the Canary Current where the upwelling attracted scores of Blue Whales, Pilot Whales, Orcas and other marine life, everywhere in incredible quantity! The Sargasso Sea itself seems desert like. Crossing it for eight days, we saw no animals, birds, or ships. Will write about this trip, that we did this year, in another post.