Favourite Moments part 3

Here team members present their favourite moments from our 2018 Antarctic expedition. This is the third batch.

Kirsten: “Getting up close to penguins was a definite highlight of the trip for me, I’ve been obsessed with them ever since I was tiny and saw them at Edinburgh Zoo. Seeing them in their natural habitat has definitely made me have a newfound respect for these little guys – watching them climb up ice-covered slopes to reach their colonies blew my mind! “

Becks: “My favourite moment is the beach on Deception Island, where Clare and I decided to simply sit down next to a group of Antarctic fur seals. We spent nearly twenty minutes watching the seal on the left dream; it was remarkable seeing something so peaceful in a place that not very long ago was dominated by the whaling industry.”

Mikhail: “My favourite moment of the trip was when after 20 minutes of still waiting, camera in hand, the Weddell seal finally moved. To see how content the seal looked during this simple scratching motion, I knew: This is my spirit animal.”

Favourite moments – part 2

Here team members present their favourite moments from our 2018 Antarctic expedition. This is the second batch.

Diana: “ I had a lot of fun watching these curious fur seals check out our zodiac.”

Madlaina: “Watching the penguins stumble, belly-flop, face-plant and slide down hills was one of my favourite parts of the trip. The videos I took of them will forever provide me with a source of entertainment.”

Sonja: “Those of us who climbed the ridge above Neko Harbour had a truly Antarctic experience: an incredible icy landscape, blizzard conditions interspersed with sunshine, with our floating home visible just beyond the brash ice…”

Nathalie: “”Seeing Killer whales for the first time in my life immediately made me forget about having to leave Antarctica a day early.” (photo by Lisa Neyman)

Lucy: “The entire trip to Antarctica is my favorite moment, but if I’m being forced to choose one in particular to encapsulate my excitement, it would have to be the visit to Museo Acatushun. It was fascinating to see such a massive collection of skeletons from a variety of different species, especially one of only ten specimens of the Hector’s beaked whale skeletons. Being an anatomy enthusiast, I was more than happy to spend multiple hours perusing the museum and “bone house”. Bones are cool!”

Favourite Moments 2018 – part 1

Here team members present their favourite moments from our 2018 Antarctic expedition.

Rachel: “It was the first morning we woke up in Antarctica and went up to the bridge. For me, it was the WOW moment that I had imagined for so long :)”

Kirsty: “Penguins have always been my favourite animal for as long as I can remember, so finally getting to interact with them in their home on the Antarctic continent was everything I dreamed it could be, and so much more!”

Lisa: “Picking a favorite moment from our trip is difficult when we were surrounded by scenes like this one. This particular image captures three elements of the calendar-esque scenery: a pair of relaxing humpback whales, a massive piece of ice , and, if you look closely, a seal snoozing on that ice. Looks like a great napping place to me!”

Rowan: ”My favourite Antarctica moment was watching the young group of fur seals playing in the water on Deception Island because they were pretty much just a group of water puppies fighting. (photo by Mikhail Barabanov)

Sam: “”The light at the end of our final day in Antarctica was spectacular”. (photo by Mikhail Barabanov)

1st April and beyond – Back to work

We finally made it back to the home country, well somebody’s home country, via the magical land of Heathrow airport. There are mixed feelings playing out among us. While it feels great to have completed the bulk of the journey, people were clearly missing the southern hemisphere. I believe I caught a few tears welling up throughout the final hours of the trip.

Last picture of us at the hotel in Buenos Aires (photo: Lisa Neyman)

On the positive side, returning to the UK left some people feeling less anxious about the pile of work to come. Most people have several assignments due in the coming weeks, so it feels nice to be in a place of focused work instead of trying to fit in bits of work where possible during the trip.

In the Buenos Aires airport before security (photo: Lisa Neyman)

Our connection from Heathrow to Edinburgh was short and sweet as one might expect. It took about an hour which was just enough time for several people to sneak in a nap, including me. There was no food this time, unfortunately, but we all managed to survive. The look of happy anticipation on Lars’ and Sonja’s faces at the thought of a little free time away from of us students was evident, not that anyone could blame them. We were all loud and a few of us smelly, so I think it was justified. There was a whirl of hugs as the EMMS crowd headed back to Oban, leaving just the Senior’s honors and MMS students.

Waiting for our flight to Heathrow airport

I can’t speak for the other taxi to St. Andrews, but ours was quiet. A few people tried to sleep, while others sang along to Rick Astley’s “Together Forever”. The other bus was likely very similar; there were some heavy eyelids entering that bus when we split. While we will all miss Antarctica, and especially the seals, I think we can all agree to being pretty excited about spending some time apart to reflect on all we saw and experienced together.

Acknowledgements

As the last blogger for this trip I believe it is my duty to express our collective gratitude towards Dr. Sonja Heinrich and Dr. Lars Boehme for making this trip not just possible, but smooth and incredibly gratifying. They had to tolerate a lot of challenges from us and the weather, but that did not seem to phase them. They were exceptional role models. I also have two personal thank you’s. The first one is to Sam Walmsley for reminding Sonja that we needed a blog entry for today and that I hadn’t done one yet. What a sweet guy…. Also, to my taxi driver who kindly dropped me off closer to my home after dropping off everyone else.

Arrivederci

written by Rowan Prown

(photo by Mikhail Barabanov)

31st March 2018 – Heading north again

Today we enjoyed our final Dulce de leche-laden breakfast at the hotel in Ushuaia. Several cases of “land-sickness” persisted, with some students still finding themselves confused that juice glasses and plates of food were not sliding rhythmically across the table. Afterwards, many set off into town to soak up as much of Patagonia as possible in our remaining few hours. Many also took the opportunity to buy last-minute souvenirs in Ushuaia’s many gift shops for those not-so-forgotten loved ones.

Ushuaia starting to look wintery… (photo: Sonja Heinrich)

At last, the group sleepily gathered in the hotel prior to setting off for our afternoon flight to Buenos Aires. Here we also said goodbye to our fantastic Ushuaia-based guides. Those who didn’t promptly fall asleep upon boarding the plane enjoyed some stunning last glimpses of the Andes. However, no marine mammals were spotted this time, raising further suspicions that Lars’ “dolphin sightings” on the flight into Ushuaia may have been a ploy to infuriate the marine mammal enthusiasts of our group.

Soon enough, we touched down in a pleasantly hot Buenos Aires in full holiday mode, it being the middle of the Easter long weekend. Many locals appeared to be taking advantage of the break by fishing the Río de la Plata from the boardwalk. After a much-needed shower or swim in the hotel pool, we headed to La Dorita for a last group meal. Here we were treated to a proper Argentinian feast, being plied with free drinks and copious amounts of food. Rowan, drawing inspiration from the great feats of past Antarctic explorers, set himself the task of consuming everyone’s leftovers. This can only be described as successful, some saying he achieved the legendary “meat sweats”.

Group dinner in Buenos Aires

Some of us continued the evening with a hunt for Pisco Sours and Caipirinhas in Palermo, also celebrating Ryan’s birthday, where I am told that much Fanta was spilled. Eventually, the last of us staggered back to the hotel, looking for a good night’s rest before the start of our long journey back to Scotland.

written by Sam Walmsley

30th March 2018 – Between the Woods and the Water: Tierra del Fuego National Park

I had been looking forward to visiting Tierra del Fuego National Park for some time, so I was really excited for today. I especially hoped we might see the elusive Andean condor, a bird I have been fascinated by for a while, ever since I was a wee kid reading South American folklore. We did see 3 circling by Staten Island while we were on the Plancius (an amazing day where we also saw killer whales, Peale’s dolphins and wandering albatrosses) but truth be told, they just looked like black dots floating about in the sky. I had a feeling we might have a better chance of seeing them properly today.

Stunning views await us (photo: Sonja Heinrich)

After a short drive, we arrived in the National Park. It was a gorgeous morning; the perfect day to go walking. Our first hike was overlooking the coast.

Our guides gave us a short geography lesson to get us orientated. (photo: Rekha Mohan)

The views were incredible and I was sad when we reached the end of the walk. I honestly did not think it could get any better. I was wrong.

From coast to mountains (photo: Rekha Mohan)

We drove to our second location and this hike was absurd. Glacial valleys, blue waters and the Andes surrounding us- it almost didn’t seem real. I kept taking pictures of my surroundings, trying to capture what I was experiencing but it was fruitless. I had to remind myself to just take it all in and enjoy the moment. It was at this point I was certain this would not be my last visit to Patagonia. I thought of Patrick Leigh Fermor and his walk through Europe, and how I would love to do similar a cross-border trek from Argentina to Chile through the National Park.

Autumn splendor in Tierra del Fuego (photo: Sonja Heinrich)

With more beautiful views, interesting wildlife, and Rachel slipping in the mud- the rest of the walk was what one would expect when hiking through the National Park. We stopped by a nearby campsite where we sat in the sun to have our lunch next to a lovely river.

(photo: Rekha Mohan)

The views were great, and there are few things I am more proud of than my avocado and scrambled egg sandwich.

Rekha’s prized lunch… (photo: Rekha Mohan)

Some of the “locals” were also interested in our lunch though so we had to be on watch….

Cheeky Chimango caracara eyeing Ryan’s ham sandwich (photo: Rekha Mohan)

The final hike location was a deciduous forest. Stepping through it we were welcomed to an explosion of warm colours – orange and reds and greens. The guide commented it’s like walking through a fairytale forest and I can’t think of a better way to describe it. Words have always eluded me so I thought I’d let the pictures speak for themselves.

In the fairytale forest (photo: Sonja Heinrich)

Close to the end of our final hike, someone pointed to the sky. Condor. I took out my binoculars and peeped through them. I saw the familiar black dot moving about. It was really far away, and seeing that spot of that size in the sky meant that it must’ve been huge. I thought that when I strained my eyes enough I could just about make out its beak and wings, but quickly realised that at that point I was just deceiving myself.

Lapataia Bay – where condors were circling high overhead  (photo: Rekha Mohan)

We reached the end of the road, quite literally, and took the compulsory group picture at the sign confirming our special destination. For some other travellers who started in Alaska this is the end of the Panamerican Highway and their long journey across the Americas. For us, it’s the end of our Antarctic adventure.

End of the road group photo

On the way back, we stopped by a café with stunning views of Lago Roca and towards Chile.

Lago Roca (photo: Rekha Mohan)

It was a really lovely day and the best way to end our time in Ushuaia. And maybe I didn’t get to see the Andean condor up close, but I guess for now I will have to be content with 4 black dots in the sky.

Written by Rekha Mohan

 

29th March 2018 – Estancia Harberton and Museo Acatushún

Our day began with a scenic drives some 85km to the East to Estancia Harberton. While many of us slept right through the two-hour ride, we took a break to stop and marvel at the spectacular scenery along the Beagle Channel.

Tierra del Fuego scenery (photo by Lisa Neyman)

At Harberton, we stepped into the cosy tearoom and back in time. Our guide told how Thomas Bridges founded Estancia Harberton in the late 19th century as one of the first white people to settle along the Beagle Channel. Thomas had grown up as adopted child in a missionary family in England and had travelled to the Falkland Islands and Argentina. He later settled as missionary himself in what is now Ushuaia with his family. Thomas had learned the Yámana language and compiled the only grammar and dictionary in Yamana and English with more than 30,000 words. When he retired from the mission he was granted land to the East where he built the ranch Harberton and farmed cattle and sheep. The ranch produced wool until 1995 when a harsh winter killed off most of their sheep. However, by this time the ranch received enough tourism for them to rely on the many visitors for business.

Whale jaw at Estancia Harberton (Photo by Lisa Neyman)

After this short history lesson, we stepped outside to explore the many historic buildings and sites. We learned that the main buildings and many of the plants in the garden were brought over from Great Britain. Next, we walked through the buildings where the carpenters and sheep shearers worked and we saw the actual tools and machines they once used.

 For the final part of our tour, we took a short walk up the hill to the nature reserve. Here, we learned about native trees like lenga (beech) and canelo (Winter’s bark), which our guide explained sailors ate to avoid scurvy. This tree also has a peppery fruit which many of us were brave enough to try. 

Trying the fruit from the canelo tree. (photo by Lisa Neyman)

We also learned a little more about the native people and their fascinating habits to survive in this challenging climate. The Yámana women would dive in the channel for shellfish using only seal grease for insulation, which is impressive given the cold. We also saw replicas of Yámana huts. During the winter, the Yámana designed their huts so snow fell off the top, while during the summer they had a round top. All these historic insights had made us hungry and it was time for lunch in the restaurant. We were surprised to be given crayons and colouring in place mats. It didn’t take long before everyone was head down over the drawings getting creative with colour, but we also managed to enjoy our lunch.

Showing off our masterpieces.

After lunch, we headed down the road to explore the Museo Acatushún which houses a unique collection of marine mammal and bird skeletons. We toured the exhibit and the behind-the-scenes areas, comparing skulls of different seal species and getting fascinated by the complete skeletons of many rare whale species on display.

Rob trying to match a leopard seal (Photo by Lisa Neyman)

Behind the scenes, our guide Ángeles explained to us how every skeleton is cleaned, stored and assembled. She then took us to the shed where we saw this work in action. This included several whales being cleaned in water, bones being removed from a flipper, and many skulls drying out. The bone house was something to get use to at first (especially the smell) but fascinating nevertheless.

Outside in fresh air again we explored the skeletons of the larger whales. It took several of us to match the length of just one sei whale skeleton.

 

 

The visit ended with a short stint under the rafters where more complete skeletons were laid out for us to explore. Today was a long and diverse day with much to take in. Each tour was special in its own way and we learned a lot of history and biology, and I’m grateful to have been here and seen all this.

 Written by Diana Pabon

(Photo by Lisa Neyman)

 

28th March 2018 – Back at World’s End

Today marked the end of what can only be described as the most incredible experience exploring the frozen continent of Antarctica on Oceanwide’s Plancius. We were woken by the final wake-up call from our Expedition Leader Andrew and got ready to disembark in Ushuaia.

Early morning arrival to Ushuaia (photo: Sonja Heinrich)

Luggage getting transferred to terra firma, team soon to follow (Photo: Sonja Heinrich)

The last ten days have taken us on an incredible journey from Ushuaia at the southern-most tip of Argentina (or the world!), across the dreaded Drake Passage to Antarctica, giving us a glimpse of life in this remarkable, remote and sometimes inhospitable place. Not only did we survive the Drake Shake, but we also experienced an abundance of wildlife on our travels, and we sailed 1744 nm or 3230 km!

We will all have different memories of our trip but whatever the memories, whether it was the many Gentoo penguins, the beauty of Staten Island, or stepping on the continent of Antarctica for the first time at Neko Harbour, they are memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

Antarctic 2018 student explorers! (photo: Lars Boehme)

After an emotional goodbye to our new friends and all of the crew, we headed back into Ushuaia where we will spend the next 3 days before leaving for Buenos Aires. Whilst some of the group dashed for the nearest WiFi signal and made the most of the hotel pool, the rest of explored the unique city of Ushuaia, absorbing the rich culture of the only establishments open at 8.30am: souvenir shops!! We spent most of our remaining pesos and dollars on penguins and postcards searching literally “to the end of the world” for stamps or post offices that were open (with no luck). The rest was spent on what we loved most; FOOD. Later in the day, we all reconvened to go through the data we collected on the ship. It was an amazing feeling to see all of our hard work in one place and really brought home the overwhelming number of incredible animals that we were lucky enough to see!

Penguins on the lose in Ushuaia

By 7pm, the majority of us were EXHAUSTED and made the most of the hotel kitchenettes, opting for a quiet night in cooking for ourselves. Some of us were even landsick – an odd feeling like the world is rocking (I think it’s a little wishful thinking that we were still on the boat and a gentle reminder that Antarctica wasn’t just a dream). The rest of us ventured out into the bustling nightlight of Ushuaia (much quieter being Easter weekend) to eat our body weight in Argentinian beef, with some of us visiting the most southern Hard Rock Café in the world!

Tomorrow we are headed 80 km out of the city to Estancia Harberton, the oldest estancia (ranch) in the Argentine sector of Tierra del Fuego, home to one of the world’s largest collection of marine mammal skeletons. To top it off, we will be treated to a traditional Argentinian lunch. I can’t wait!

Written by Rachel Lunt

 

 

 

27th March 2018 – Staten Island and KILLER WHALES!

It was with heavy hearts that we left the Antarctic Peninsula with the threat of an imminent storm and a rough Drake’s Passage in mind.  However, with some help from Dr Tanya’s magic seasick patches, and some careful avoidance of the worst of the storm, the Drakes Passage passed relatively uneventfully.

Our spirits rose with the news that the expedition crew had organised an impromptu-cruise around Staten Island with the promise of potential exciting wildlife sightings. Staten Island (Isla de los Estados) is an Argentine island found 29km from the eastern edge of Tierra del Fuego. The island is a national park and is part of the Andes mountain range. The famous lighthouse El Faro del Fin del Mundo (Lighthouse at the end of the world) is also found on the Islands east coast.

Replica lighthouse on Staten Island (photo by Sonja Heinrich)

This was an exciting destination for everyone onboard. It was the first visit for the Oceanwide crew and it proved to be an excellent alternative plan given the weather forecasted further south.

You know it’s a special sight when the Captain takes photos…. (by Sonja Heinrich)

The morning of our 8th day at sea began promisingly: early morning surveys were accompanied by a beautiful sunrise whilst the ship was circled by numerous royal and black-browed albatrosses.

 

During breakfast the long longed for announcement then got us all startled:  “Killer Whales, off port side at less than 100 metres”. A stampede of students and passengers filed out of the dining room and rushed on deck to view the pod alongside the ship. This was the first killer whale sighting for many of our group and is a serious contender for the highlight of the trip.

Killer Whales (photo by Lisa Neyman)

Later that morning, once the earlier killer whale excitement had almost subsided, our avid observers spotted the first of several Peale’s dolphins. They approached the Plancius closely and everyone on deck was treated to fantastic views as dolphins leaped and played in the bow-waves of the ship.

Peale’s Dolphins (photo by Mikhail Barabanov)

As the Staten Island circumnavigation neared its end we encountered the fourth penguin species of our trip, the rockhopper penguin. The rockhoppers appeared to be precariously balanced at the top of sea cliffs and left us all wondering how they could climb so high when penguins we saw further south were so clumsy on land. Further sightings from today included; South American fur seals, Imperial shags, Southern royal albatross and Wandering Albatross. There were also rumours of an elusive Dusky Dolphin.

On the lookout around Staten Island (photo by Sonja Heinrich)

Our last evening aboard the MV Plancius was celebrated in style, with complementary cocktails and a speech by the ship’s captain. Before our usual three-course dinner (which we have all become quite accustomed to) we were treated to a compilation of staff and passenger photographs which was a nice chance to reminisce on our days in the Southern Ocean.

written by Clare McCarty

 

 

26th March 2018 – We Might Just Make It Through

We awoke Monday morning to our third (and final!) day on the Drake Passage.  Lucy and I made our way up to the lounge for the necessary cup of coffee in preparation for our first bird survey of the day. Seven o’clock came and went, and we hadn’t seen any faces other than our own so Lars jumped on the opportunity to do his first bird survey (as observer) and joined us as we headed up to the bridge.

Counting birds (photo by Lisa Neyman)

The sea conditions weren’t as bad as we had feared, and by 10am we were joined by the first team of marine mammal observers. We had managed to outrun the worst of the storm, thanks to the Captain and crew’s decision to depart the Peninsula a day early, and I, for one, am grateful for that decision. We had heard news that the sister ship Ortelius, following behind us, had been caught in the bowels of the storm and had had to cancel dinner and restrict passengers to their cabins out of concern for their safety. Luckily for us, we had avoided such experience. Instead, we got to enjoy a rather salty day of observations. Just to be extra clear, by salty day, I mean we got splashed by waves all the way up on the bridge wings. That added a little extra spice to our already bouncy day on the Drake.

Brace for Impact! (photo by Lisa Neyman)

While the conditions allowed marine mammal observations, they only just made the cut off for being surveyable. We hadn’t seen much and to help pass the time between surveys, Lucy and I started serenading each other with some awkwardly loud singing on the starboard side of the ship. The Drake wanted none of that and silenced us in one fell swoop with a massive, hair-soaking wave to our faces. A couple of hours later I was back up on the top deck watching for any sign of a whale. I had been on deck for only a few minutes when the call “sighting!” came from the portside observer. Shortly after the call, we passed within 200 meters of our first, and only, sei whale sighting. That was quite possibly my best timing of the entire trip; it’s too bad I wasn’t quick enough with my camera to get a photo!

Someone had the camera ready for the sei whale (photo: Mikhail Barabanov)]

Throughout the day the team grabbed every free minute we could to compose our evening presentation about our science activities aboard the ship. We’d spent days with our fellow passengers watching birds, whales and waves, and we now had the chance to show them why we were here. Our four representatives (Rob, Mikhail, Kirsten, and Rowan) did a wonderful job explaining the data we collected, how we collected it, and what we are going to do with it. The presentation closed with a loud round of applause and numerous compliments from the other passengers. We’d spent so much time together and it was wonderful to share our purpose with them.

Team members prepping for evening presentation – a real team effort!

Speaking of wonderful things: Staten Island. We’d had our Peninsula experience cut short, but the Oceanwide Expeditions crew did NOT plan on letting that be the end of our trip. Sebastián, one of the expedition crew, pulled some strings, and called the Argentinian Navy to get us permission to do a ship’s cruise around the northern side of Staten Island on the following day. We all headed to dinner, and then to our bunks, looking forward to the inaugural Oceanwide visit to Staten Island.

Written by Lisa Neyman