Drake Passage

Jan 15, 2018 - National Geographic Explorer


This morning we were surrounded by ocean out to every horizon, meeting the sky all around.  We were in the Drake Passage where the South Pacific and South Atlantic oceans meet between the Antarctic Peninsula and Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. The seas here can travel around the world without striking land, circling the globe, over and over and over again. We were south of the Antarctic Convergence, hence the temperature of the water was still in the mid-30s (°F).

At breakfast, it was cloudy but not dark.  There were bright, white altocumulus

clouds and patches of blue.  It was also a little windy and a little choppy over a moderate swell. Cape petrels and prions capered about the ship. It was not Drake ‘Lake’, but it was not a bad ride, which is more typical now than it was 20 years ago, a high probability of “not a bad ride”.  The world is changing.

Today was a day for tidying up, finishing up, packing up, and for those caught up, a time of reflection, as well as a time for more learning with several lectures.  But we were in for a surprise, as there was an announcement before lunch of a large, lone whale sighting, a blue whale heading north, more or less along our course!  There was not really much of a need to slow down, as blue whales are very fast. This whale appeared to be cruising and not feeding and we stayed with it for almost an hour. It would appear on one side of the ship, breathe a few times, disappear for a while, then show up on the other side and do it again. The staff and the captain were quite pleased as we rarely see blue whales here, although they were a common sight before commercial whaling decimated them.

And so it goes...  We crossed the Antarctic Convergence.  The water became warmer.  The birds came and the birds went.  No more blue whales but we were looking.  We ate, we laughed, we went to bed, still in the Drake Passage, still on the adventure.

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About the Author

Dennis Cornejo

Naturalist

Dennis began scuba diving during the mid-1970s as part of a research project. At the time he was a research associate at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson, Arizona, studying the population of winter hibernating sea turtles.  What began as a scientific study soon became a conservation project that expanded to three species of sea turtles along the entire Pacific coast of Mexico.  This project received major funding from the World Wildlife Fund and was eventually taken over directly by that agency with Kim Clifton and Dennis Cornejo as co-principal investigators.

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