At Sea and the South Shetlands

Jan 02, 2020 - National Geographic Orion


Continuing our crossing into the Southern Ocean, National Geographic Orion awoke to calm seas and wonderfully misty surroundings. Well south of the 60 degrees latitude and the Antarctic Polar Front, the fading foggy horizon beckoned us towards our first landing at the South Shetland Islands. After a presentation about penguins by naturalist Rich Kirchner, we donned our best boots and waterproof gear to head ashore at Barrientos Island and meet our first Antarctic locals. Wandering among nesting chinstrap and gentoo penguins, we enjoyed views of young chicks, predatory flying birds and penguins waddling to and from the cold waters.

Cruising past dramatic geology, glaciers and landscapes, the skies parted here and there to reveal beautiful pockets of light on the water as we sailed towards the Antarctic Peninsula. Naturalist Andreas Madsen shared stories of the geological history of Antarctica and National Geographic photographer Phil Schermeister presented about expert photography tips, while we cruised past our first large ice bergs. To round out our first day in Antarctica, we were treated to absolutely spectacular views of a young humpback whale breaching continuously near the ship. The bow and outer decks packed out as quickly as everyone could put on at least a minimal layer for warmth to enjoy the show. Considering that this species was driven to near extinction barely 100 years ago, and has now recovered to pre-whaling numbers, this sighting today was a great testament to the ability for life to thrive if we give it a chance.

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About the Author

Maya Santangelo

Naturalist/Expedition Diver

Maya was born and raised in Southern California, where her curiosity for the natural world was encouraged from an early age. Relocating to Sydney, Australia with her family at 11 years old, she learned to scuba dive, eventually becoming a PADI Instructor. Her fascination for the underwater world undoubtedly fueled her interest to study marine biology at James Cook University. Working as a professional guide in some of the world’s top dive destinations, including Palau and Mexico’s Guadalupe Island and Revillagigedo Archipelago, Maya realized a passion for sharing her love for the ocean with others, and the value of citizen science in the dive industry.

About the Photographer

Jamie Coleman

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Jamie is from England. He grew up in Oxford, about as far from the sea as you can get in the UK, yet somehow decided he would work in marine biology and conservation. Ever since he reached his teens, he has dedicated time to this passion, working and volunteering in various roles on nature reserves and in aquariums. It was no surprise that in 2007, he left home to study marine biology at the University of Newcastle.

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