Drake Passage, Barrientos Island and the South Shetlands

Feb 19, 2018 - National Geographic Orion


It was almost impossible to believe what we were seeing this morning on the Drake Passage.  What is commonly referred to as one of the roughest ocean channels in the world, one could clearly argue the contrary this morning as we navigated our way to the great white continent.  Not a breath of wind could be found anywhere and the ocean met the horizon as if it were a mirror reflecting the clouds above.  The unbelievably calm conditions made it easy for us to spot a number of fin whales feeding in the distance.  We headed over to get a closer look at the second largest animal to have ever existed, and we enjoyed some fantastic views of these majestic creatures that were once hunted to near-extinction in these waters.  As we made our way closer to land, porpoising chinstrap penguins could be seen along the ship, acting almost as escorts to a land so many of us have dreamed of visiting.  We passed a few icebergs as we spotted land in the distance. 

After lunch, we finally arrived at our destination at Barrientos Island.  The deck team dropped the Zodiacs and we eagerly bundled up to finally step foot on terra firma.  Upon arrival to the landing, we were greeted by throngs of Gentoo and chinstrap penguins, both adults and chicks.  As the majority of the guests stretched their legs and walked from one side of the island to the other, the dive team set out to explore the underwater world on a part of the island not far from where the ship retrieved us. 

We toasted our arrival, enjoyed some cocktails back onboard, and ate a fantastic dinner before heading out to our next destination.  Wanting to take advantage of the good weather, we opted to make a quick landing at Deception Island and explored some old remains of a whaling station inside the caldera of a still active volcano.

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About the Author

Robert Alexander

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

Robert Alexander has quenched his thirst for exploring the world’s flora and fauna by captaining, interpreting natural history, and conducting research aboard ships.  He particularly developed a passion for the marine life below the water’s surface while attending the University of Oregon and becoming involved with their diving program.  The rich waters of the Pacific Northwest led Robert to change career paths, and locales, as a SCUBA Instructor based primarily out of Maui.  Utilizing any means of floating vessel, from kayaks and catamarans to small passenger boats and Zodiacs, Robert became a captain as he explored the behavioral patterns of the captivating marine megafauna throughout the world.  In between being a captain and naturalist, he strives to conserve and preserve all forms of life- be it our very own species as a firefighter and EMT, assisting in shark-tagging projects for NOAA, or researching hawksbill turtle populations with the Hawaii Wildlife Fund.

About the Videographer

Mark Coger

Video Chronicler

Growing up in a military family, Mark Coger has been traveling most of his life.  While living in Japan, he developed his passion for videography.  He began his venture in the field of video production by filming numerous events for a local high school and the military community before moving to Southern California, where he obtained his degree in filmmaking at California State University Northridge.  From there, he went on to produce and direct his first major short film, An American Journalist which was screened at the Method Film Festival.

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