Approaching South America

Feb 14, 2019 - National Geographic Orion

What a day! The full sea experience of the Southern Ocean started somewhere around 1:00 a.m. as conditions in the Drake Passage grew increasingly more turbulent. By mid-morning, there were gusty winds up of up to 50 knots. This did not keep us from getting out on the bridge to find nearby wildlife. We were rewarded with the occasional black-browed albatross and sooty shearwater, but the abundance of seabirds was noticeably low at this time. Our first break came around 9:00 a.m. when we spotted a pod of hourglass dolphins riding the port-side waves coming off the vessel. These were a treat to see, and there was still quite a way to go before entering the Beagle Channel!

Ian Bullock gave a fantastic presentation on maritime conditions of the Southern Ocean, which was certainly fitting, given the boisterous conditions we were then experiencing. Afterward, Conor Ryan gave us an underwater perspective into the acoustics and soundscapes of marine mammals. The ship was lively and both talks were well attended, even though there was a lot of rocking and rolling on the ship!

We heard from Gabriela Roldan about the Natives of Tierra del Fuego just as we could see land in the far distance. And with that, relief pervaded our group upon learning that calmer waters awaited. We closed out our activities aboard National Geographic Orion with a few rounds of pub trivia about Antarctica and all that we had learned over the course of our expedition. Competition between teams was palpable. However, the Drake Lakers was the team who ended up taking victory this day.

With photos taken at regular intervals, a series of the Drake Passage illustrates how truly dynamic the Drake Passage experience has been! Despite the rolling seas and slight discomfort, I think I can speak for everyone in saying that it is difficult to say goodbye to good company and travel experiences in such a remarkable setting.

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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.

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