Jan 06, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer
Even though it is “just” a day at sea during our return to Ushuaia and the South American continent, the last full day of our expedition has been completely full of interesting sights and activities. Neptune has been kind to us during our transit of the Drake Passage and we made very good time across the calm seas. Our proximity to the southernmost islands of South America was presaged by an abundance of seabirds, including the kings and queens of the Southern Ocean and southern sky, the royal and wandering albatrosses with their wings spreading almost four meters from tip to tip.
The rocky headlands of Isla Hornos, the furthest south island of the group which comprises Cape Horn, came into view during breakfast, and we were treated to a slow pass near the southernmost lighthouse in the world, and from a distance could view the monument erected to honor the sailors and ships lost in these often treacherous waters. Rafts of black-browed albatrosses and sooty shearwaters covered the seas around the monument, giant petrels and Chilean skuas prowled the air, and Magellanic penguins flew through the seas.
Presentations throughout the day taught us about ice caves in the Patagonian Ice Field, the heroic travails withstood by Ernest Shackleton and his men before their final rescue, the intrigue and intricacies of protecting the marine environment under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and a glimpse into the diverse science projects undertaken by the U.S. Antarctic Program.
As we passed into the Beagle Channel we were greeted by sei whales and Peale’s dolphins. Windows of sunlight highlighted the green grasslands and Southern Beech forests that cover the hillsides, and reminded us of just how far we have come from the white ice, the dark mountains, and the blue-grey, sometime dangerous waters of the Antarctic Peninsula. For us now it is a place of memories that will not quickly fade, and will continually give us hope for ourselves, as we hope there is always a chance that “Kevin” the crabeater seal will manage to survive another day.
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