Finding the right words...

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February 17th 2014
Published: February 19th 2014
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Sunrise SparkleSunrise SparkleSunrise Sparkle

The power of Antarctica can only be captured by one´s heart. A photo is a mere glimpse of what that would look like, but not felt.
Finding the right words to describe what I have seen and experienced in the Antarctic will be difficult with our limited spoken language from our left brain. Perhaps, the best way would be to beam over to you, a vision from my heart what it really means and feels like, to be with the Albatross as its gargantuous wings sail over the waves of the Drake Passage, what it means to see my first mountain adorned by glaciers, feeding their ice tongues into the sea, what it means to be in a place of such extreme, rugged, prestine, natural and untouched beauty.

As soon as the first mountain met my gaze, as the ship moved closer and closer to our first destination of exploration, my spirit said, ¨You have arrived now. It is okay to open your heart to it¨. And it felt like a mountain had moved within my heart. Like the Earth moved inside me. Like an earthquake shifted my focus from my life before this moment, to this one moment of awe. The power of this place cannot be really written about, but only felt. So, again, I must reiterate, there are no words that could possibly
Chinstrap PenguinsChinstrap PenguinsChinstrap Penguins

Half Moon Island, in the South Shetland Islands
come close, but I will give it my best shot...

The photos I will post will be indeed beautiful and I do hope you enjoy them. In addition, they will serve as a trigger for my own heart-felt visions of enormity and scarcity of this very special place...

I may just attempt to summarize my entire 10 days into this one blog entry. The photos will be plentiful so they will spill onto a few blogs, I reckon. But they will be full of mini stories and comments...

The Drake Passage

This wide open expansive part of the Southern Ocean is legendary. One of the roughest parts of the planet to traverse in a ship. As we wobbled across it in the Sea Spirit (with swells upto 8 metres high at times), with our beautiful meals and our warm comfy beds, I could not help but realize that the first explorers of Antarctica crossed the Drake in sailing ships much smaller, and it took them weeks. Their journeys often ended up with tragic stories of malnutrition and deaths by the time they reached land in the Antarctic. Some explorers became historical heros (such as the charismatic public figures of Shakleton, Amundson and Scott). Some were not so well recognized for their discoveries as they should have been. (Yes, we had a wonderful historian on board, named Victoria who lectured about many of the explorers).

For us, it took only 2 days. We rocked back and forth in our beds, we grabbed onto rails in the corridors whilst scrambling to the lounge or dinning room, spilling the odd cup of tea, or watching an entire trayfull of clean glasses in the lounge slide off of the counter and go crash!

Granted half the passengers were in their rooms with sea sickness and sleeping off the side effects of their medicines (not including myself or Dave- we probably were both sailors in another life), they all were still happy to experience such a special place, once we arrived (and once we were in calmer waters).

The Landings

The Quark Staff (with Dave included) and the Ship´s Crew had a very organized system to get us kitted up and ready for disembarking the ship onto zodiacs, so we could step onto some of the worlds´ most preserved wildlife areas and landscapes. Thanks to the Antarctic
Juvenille Chinstrap PenguinJuvenille Chinstrap PenguinJuvenille Chinstrap Penguin

Molting its fuzzy down, it awaits its adult feathers
Treaty which was only updated a few decades ago to protect the environment and ecosystems - the real thanks goes to the NGO´s who do most of the background work for proposals to the Treaty.

We had limited trails to use so that we would not disturb the ¨Penguin Highways¨ or step into a crevass or fall off of an ice shelf, to never be seen again. We had environmentally friendly detergent to clean our boots, so as to not contaminate any land mass that we walked on, with the dirt, seeds or guano (bird poop) from another land mass or island. We kept a healthy distance from all wildlife so that we did not scare or stress them. During the molting process for birds, they cannot feed until their feathers are fully replaced (which takes upto 6 weeks for some and their energy reserves are quite low). So we really took care around molting birds.

We watched penguins interact with each other in their roosts. We watched them emerge from the water from feeding in the sea, and walk back to their nests to feed their chicks. Sometimes this trek back to the nest was a long
The late Phil the KrillThe late Phil the KrillThe late Phil the Krill

Penguins eating Krill will have a lovely red colour to their guano. Krill, normally a translucent colour, when stressed, create a red pigment. Hence the red poo.
distance for their short little legs as they waddled their way up the Penguin Highways.

We learned about the snow algae. Pink and Green. Not to be confused with the pink poo or green poo from the pengies, depending on their diet at the time.

We learned about the landscape, the rocks, the moss, the lichen, and some vascular plant life (2 types of flowering plants) that can survive in Antarctica.

We learned about the marine life (and saw many whales! yay!). From the plankton to the krill to the fish, penguins, seals, and the whales.

We learned about the birds from our bird expert. We learned about the salt glands of the Albatross and Petrels to expel the sea salt from the sea creatures they fed on.

The highly qualified Quark Staff covered many subjects so that we could understand every aspect of the Antarctic. Everything from the history of exploration, the treaty, the politics, to the ecosystems and the wildlife. We were emersed in the lingo of the Antarctic for 10 wonderful days.

Enjoy the photos and the stories that go with them! There are more photos to come! Stay tuned!
This is a late PenguinThis is a late PenguinThis is a late Penguin

It seems by the other penguin carcasses, the feet are always left untouched. As cute as pengies are, they serve as a food source to other birds like the skuas and petrels.


“A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd

¨Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.¨--Carl Sandburg

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” --Albert Einstein

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Snowy SheathbillsSnowy Sheathbills
Snowy Sheathbills

Due to the nature of the Sheathbills´diet, i.e. Penguin poo, they are also commonly and lovingly known as ¨shit¨bills.
Morning tea on Deck 5 AftMorning tea on Deck 5 Aft
Morning tea on Deck 5 Aft

Dave and I often were up early to have the decks to ourselves, and to watch the birds and whales. And to take in the view.
I´m sleepingI´m sleeping
I´m sleeping

This Chinstrap Penguin is catching a nap, altho he or she did sneak a peek to watch me take the photo with my zoom.
Chinstrap PenguinsChinstrap Penguins
Chinstrap Penguins

Half Moon Island. A few of my colleagues with their Quark parkas, serve as a nice contrast of colour and perspective.
After filling their bellies with krillAfter filling their bellies with krill
After filling their bellies with krill

These Chinstraps start the ascent back to their nests to feed their chicks with yummy krill oil, after a good swim in the sea.
A late penguin with some friendsA late penguin with some friends
A late penguin with some friends

These skuas pick at the remains of our late friend.
Half Moon IslandHalf Moon Island
Half Moon Island

...and the vast expanse of breathtaking landscape surrounding it.
Weddell SealWeddell Seal
Weddell Seal

Happy smiley seal sunning itself or digesting a good meal. Powerful swimmers, these seals have very large eyes to see in the depths of upto 600 metres, holding their breath for upto 45 minutes!
Fur SealFur Seal
Fur Seal

On Deception Island, South Shetland Islands
Whaler´s BayWhaler´s Bay
Whaler´s Bay

Deception Island is an active Volcanic Caldera, known to have steamy bits along the shore as it cools down. Also an important historical site for a Whaling Station in the early 1900´s.
Emperor PenguinEmperor Penguin
Emperor Penguin

This penguin is far from its colony of Emperor Penguins. Dave spotted him on Deception Island. The staff were excited to see this rare bird in these parts.
Juvenille Kelp GullJuvenille Kelp Gull
Juvenille Kelp Gull

Nesting amongst the ruins of the whaling station on Deception Island.
Skuas having a bathSkuas having a bath
Skuas having a bath

These guys were fun to watch, as they squawked and beat their wings, splashing around the fresh water pool from the ice run-off.
Humback WhalesHumback Whales
Humback Whales

At 5:30am we received a morning wake up call by our Team leader, Shane, who got word from the Captain, of some humback whales feeding in the bay.
The tail shotThe tail shot
The tail shot

Humback Whale with some kelp gulls and cape petrels.

20th February 2014

very special moment!
Pretty magical to be all the way down there! Thanks for sharing your experience! did the crew talk about the effects of global warming on Antarctica?
20th February 2014

Climate Change
Yes, Jeremy, there was a talk on Climate Change. There are so many unknowns. But one of the concerns will be, that if Antarctica warms (while other places on the planet cool-that is why it is called climate change and not just global warming), the penguin chicks´ down fluff is not water proof, as are their new feathers. If rain becomes an issue, many chicks will perish, and this will affect the penguins greatly. Krill, the basic food of the entire eco-system, need the ocean floor temp to be less than 4 C, for the eggs to develop and hatch. So, yes, there are lots of concerns.

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