Drake Passage, Beagle Channel

Dec 26, 2018 - National Geographic Orion

National Geographic Orion barreled her way through the Drake Passage as we slept the night away, with bellies full of an amazing Christmas holiday feast from the culinary team.  In the morning, we were given a last chance to see some of the most graceful flyers in the world, the wandering and black-browed albatross. A few other usual suspects, the pintado petrels and giant petrels joined them in our wake. Folks gathered on the back deck to watch the winged creatures soaring with ease and to say goodbye to the furious forties of the Drake Passage, as we sailed towards the calmer seas of the Beagle Channel. There were considerably fewer hats, gloves, and parkas out on deck, as the temperatures were noticeably warmer this morning. We have officially crossed back over the Antarctic Convergence and into more a temperate, hospitable climate.

After breakfast, Marylou Blakeslee gave a thought-provoking presentation about climate change in Antarctica and led a powerful conversation about ways to raise awareness and make mindful choices that honor the remarkable and majestic world that we live in.

Rafts of black-browed albatross, giant petrels, and imperial shags gave us a peek at a feeding frenzy. (It’s nice knowing we haven’t been the only ones enjoying a feeding frenzy!) And we watched as Peale’s dolphins twisted and turned effortlessly, playing along the bow as we made our way through the Beagle Channel. We also saw a number of Magellanic penguins, which was a treat to see a new penguin species at the very end of our journey.

As we revisited the seals of the Southern Ocean with a lecture from Maya Santangelo, the pilot boat joined us to usher National Geographic Orion intothe port of Ushuaia.  

There is a dynamic energy around the ship—one of contemplation, reflection, and awe as we begin to process all that we have experienced in our journey to the great white continent. The magical moments are too numerous to count.  The soft pastels of sunrise with humpback whales fluking along our bow, the elephant seal weaner greeting us at our landing site, and a row of dirty gentoos marching along their penguin highway toward the ocean are all memories that have left an indelible mark and I know, with utmost certainty, that I am not the only one.

With bellies, minds, and hearts full, may we all hold this place close to our hearts as we make our long journey home and think fondly about our amazing experience together to the 7th continent.

Bon Voyage!

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About the Author

Karen Velas


Karen Velas cares deeply about protecting the environment and its wildlife.  Over the last 15 years, she has been involved with numerous conservation projects, including working as the Lead Project Coordinator on the California Condor Project with The National Audubon Society, managing projects in the flooded rice fields of California’s Central Valley with The Nature Conservancy and surveying the distant cliffs of Iceland to aid in puffin recovery with the South Iceland Research Centre.

About the Photographer

Photos by Karen Velas and Adam Gunther

Photos by Karen Velas and Adam Gunther

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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