At Sea and Approaching Antarctica

Dec 31, 2017 - National Geographic Orion

This was our second morning aboard the National Geographic Orion, and again we awoke feeling the very gentle swell of the Drake Passage. Calm winds have led to relatively calm waters, and the Drake is truly a lake just ruffled slightly with swells. If strong westerly winds do materialize during our return trip, the strengthened swells would give the Drake its well-known and storied characteristics.

The Drake Passage has been full of seabirds. Birds circling the Orion included the black-browed albatross, southern giant petrel, Wilson’s storm petrel, blue petrel, cape petrel, and southern fulmar.  By midafternoon, we were in sight of Antarctica. Our route from Ushuaia has been unusual in that our captain and expedition leader are heading directly to a more southerly part of the Peninsula where we should encounter good ice and reasonable weather. Thus, instead of sailing through the middle of the South Shetland Islands, we have kept them to port and passed through Dallmann Bay on our way to the Gerlache Strait.   

The highlight today was the excellent whale lecture by naturalist Stephanie Martin followed almost immediately and certainly miraculously by an exceptional display of a large pod of humpback whales.  Stephanie used the term “whale soup” to describe the high density of whales that cavorted around all sides of the ship. We watched these huge mammals for over an hour as they gave us spectacular displays of their large white flippers, tall blows, surface and lunge feeding, diving flukes, loud bellowing, and the bubble circles that whales make to concentrate krill.

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About the Author

David Nimick


After taking his first oceanography class during his first undergraduate semester, David dropped physics for geology. He discovered his love for the plains, mountains, and big sky of Montana while attending geology summer field camp and moved west, earning a M.S. in glacial geology from the University of Washington and working for a non-governmental organization promoting renewable energy in Montana during the 1970s.

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