Drake Passage

Jan 18, 2019 - National Geographic Explorer

We are finally at sea! We made it and are on our way to the White Continent! The journey to Ushuaia was an interesting one. After a brief run in with an Argentine airline strike in Buenos Aires we made to ‘el fin del mundo’, the end of the world as they say in Ushuaia. I never knew what to say to that, as I would look across the Beagle Channel to Chile and ponder the fact that we are heading south to Antarctica… I guess they mean the end of the civilized world. The southernmost city. I have to admit there is nothing urban or civilized about Antarctica.

The wind was howling down the Beagle and we were told we were headed into a “moderate” Drake Crossing. There was a bit of movement over the night but nothing extraordinary. So far it has been a relatively benign crossing. Which is always a good thing here.

Today after breakfast we had our first lecture: Introduction to Expedition Photography, by our photo instructor Andrew Peacock. This was followed by breakout sessions where guests were separated into groups based on camera type and received some hands-on instruction with their cameras. We then had a lecture on Seabirds of the Southern Ocean by Bud Lehnhausen, and then Ken Garett, our National Geographic photographer gave us a presentation about what it’s like to be on assignment for National Geographic.

For this particular trip we are very lucky to be traveling with Cetacean biologists, Holly Fearnbach and Leigh Hickmott, who specialize in killer whales. They gave a fascinating lecture on the work they have been doing in Antarctica and Pacific Northwest using drones to assess the health of cetaceans. It’s a method that allows them to study the whales in a very non-invasive manner. We learned about the different types of Antarctic killer whales and what prey they eat. Killer whales are truly amazing predators. We all can’t wait to get to the peninsula to see them.

The night was capped off with an amazing dinner crafted by our head chef Sara Henstam and followed with a showing of Antarctica: A Year on the Ice. This documentary was made by New Zealand filmmaker Anthony B. Powell. It is about a year spent living on Ross Island in the Ross Sea. It is a testament to just how unforgiving and isolating this place we are about to explore can be.  It all starts tomorrow as we will have our first icebergs by morning and our first landing in the afternoon!
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About the Author

Jessica Farrer


Jessica graduated with a degree in evolutionary biology from Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. Since graduation she has worked in fisheries management on commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea, counted Steller sea lions from cliffs in the Aleutian Islands, tagged sea lions in the Galápagos and monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and for four austral springs she lived in a retrofitted refrigerator container on the Antarctic sea ice near McMurdo Station. In Antarctica she worked on a long-term population study of Weddell seals and hopes to continue working in this ecosystem on predator-prey dynamics of the Ross Sea. 

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