Diego Ramirez Islands, Cape Horn, Ushuaia

Feb 06, 2014 - National Geographic Explorer

Diego Ramirez Islands, Cape Horn, Ushuaia
Panoramic view of sunrise over the Diego Ramirez Islands.

Early this morning the National Geographic Explorer cruised north in the Drake Passage towards the southernmost point of land in all of South America. While many folks may guess this point of land to be Cape Horn, as we are often taught in school, the true southernmost point of South America lies within the Diego Ramirez Archipelago; tiny Águila Islet. At 56°32’9” S this tiny islet is a full 60 nautical miles south and west of the much more famous Cape Horn!

First discovered in 1619 by the Garcia de Nodal expedition, this small group of islands was named after the expedition cosmographer Diego Ramírez de Arellano. At the time this archipelago was thought to be the southernmost land mass on the planet, a claim that held for 156 years until Captain James Cook discovered the island of South Georgia in 1775.

Remote offshore islands often act as magnets for wildlife, and the Diego Ramirez Islands didn’t disappoint in this regard. The islands are home to literally millions of breeding seabirds with recent estimates of blue petrels at 1.35 million pairs, diving petrels at 99,000 pairs, black-browed albatross are thought to number 55,000 pairs, and newly found sooty shearwaters breeding colonies at several thousand pairs. Peale’s Dolphins chose to bow-ride the ship and South American fur seals could be seen not only along the rocky beaches but high up on the ridgeline amongst the tussock grasses with rockhopper penguins! Life has found these small islands, and exploited every nook and cranny of it!

Late morning found the National Geographic Explorer closing in on Cape Horn itself. The history of the Cape is rife with stories of ships lost here in violent storms. Many sailors have been drowned in these waters, but today the Drake Passage lay quiet and accommodating as we continued on to the Beagle Channel and finally home to come alongside the dock in Ushuaia. The perfect end to what has truly been an amazing expedition to the White Continent and back again.

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About the Author

Michael Nolan

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Michael Nolan was born in Bitburg, Germany to an Air Force family stationed there. His first experience of the ocean came at age 12, when he learned to snorkel in the Italian Mediterranean. At age 17 he moved to Tucson, Arizona and became a PADI SCUBA instructor, before starting a SCUBA diving business that specialized in diving trips to the Sea of Cortez.

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