December 30, 2014

Antarctica: First zodiac cruise around Elephant Island!

Expedition leader update:
We arrived to Antarctica and what a day it was! We woke to more calm seas as we crossed into Antarctic waters. The morning began with a presentation by ornithologist Santiago Imberti on the many types of penguins, their behaviours and incredible adaptations to the harshest environment on the planet.
Next, students and staff were entranced by polar explorer, historian and former Antarctic Base Commander David Fletcher as he took us on a visual and story telling journey of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic expedition 100 years ago that resulted in 28 men stranded for four months on Antarctica’s Elephant Island. We all left the presentation inspired and in awe of Shackleton, and the island that we were quickly approaching.
Just after 2pm we sighted the glaciated cliffs of Elephant Island. Huge tabular icebergs dotted the seas. Penguins swam past in all directions. As we approached Point Wild the power and immensity of the landscape started to sink in. Perfect weather and sea conditions made it possible for our Zodiacs to access all the nooks and crannies of the shoreline, including the site were Shackleton’s men lived in their over-turned boats for 4 months. We saw thousands of Chinstrap penguins, 4 or 5 Leopard seals, a few Elephant seals. And one lonely Macaroni penguin! Our oceanographic team conducted some Plankton tows and CTD casts, and were able to capture some samples of the incredible marine life of the Antarctic including some Copepods, Pteropods (Sea Angels and Sea Butterflies), Amphipods, and Salps.
But Antarctica still had more in store for us on this our first day here. As we made our way along the north coast of Elephant Island, several Humpback whales were spotted in the distance. We approached slowly to find three Humpbacks feeding. For the next hour we silently drifted beside them and watched as these massive creatures lunged, rolled, and gorged themselves on masses of krill. We could hear them blowing as the surfaced over and over again. Hundreds of Cape Petrels danced on the water taking advantage of the delicious scraps left behind. What a privilege to spend time with these gentle leviathans.
Our day concluded with a great dinner, a recap and briefing filled with emotion, passion and joy, and an Antarctic sunset. It was a day we will not forget.
The students are already changing, thinking, reflecting and dreaming.
Onwards to the continent…
In the expedition spirit,
Housekeeping notes: Some new journals have been posted to the December 28th and December 29th pages. So check back if you’re following a expeditioner and think they might have sent in a journal entry later!
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“Hey all you Brooklyners! Sorry I know it’s been a while for any information I haven’t blogged – anything that you want to know you can check my journal when I get back. Anyway the last time I blogged I told you guys about the asado in Argentina but since then I’ve purchased souvenirs. I won’t tell you what they are I want it to be a surprise but you will love them. We’ve boarded the ship known as the Ushuaia. The first day I was a little sea sick but know I’m good. I just needed to get used to the rocking. I spent that day sleeping so I don’t know what we did that day. The next day we crossed the Antarctic convergence and are officially in Antarctica. We climbed into zodiacs boats and went to Elephant Island we really have been packing a lot into our days. As a result some of the days are starting to meld together. That’s it for now, this is Tayshawn signing off ’til next time.”
~Tayshawn Edmonds, Brooklyn, New York



“Today was an amazing day. That is only one phrase to describe what we experienced during this part of the expedition passing the Antarctic convergence at 2:00 am making it to Antarctica. We started with lectures about the penguins that we will be observing during the Antarctic portion of the expedition, then we were told a story about Shackleton’s Endurance expedition and the incredible perserverence that he and his crew went through on their way to cross the Antarctic continent. Unfortunately they did not make that crossing during the Endurance expedition but they had a bigger feat of survival as he and his crew was stranded on Elephant Island in the middle of the southern ocean. The story was a good introduction to what we as students saw next. Around 14:00 we started to approach Elephant Island on the horizon we could see mountain scapes and high peaks coated with snow. A cool breeze was making an appearance as we moved closer to the approaching island and I went inside to place gloves over my hand and a hat over my head. When I made it back to the bridge a sight that took the breath my away came over me. An overcast sky against dark grey mountains coated with white tops and blue tinted glaciers contrasting against the mountains was unreal. There is not enough words to describe the amazing feeling of seeing this island. We took to the zodiacs shortly after and began our first experience in Antarctica. We saw many kinds of penguins from chinstrap to Macaroni to Gentoo all different shapes and sizes some young and old. To our surprise we saw a Leopard seal scoping out the penguins but once the zodiacs came closer her attention was slowly distracted from hunting to curiosity; it was exciting to watch as she would pop her head out of the water to take a look at us curious visitors.”
~Kalyn LeBlanc, Brunswick, Maine
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“Today has been a wonderful day for wildlife sightings! We completed our first Zodiac cruise this afternoon. We cruised around Elephant Island and saw Chinstrap penguins, Macaroni penguins, Elephant seals, and Leopard seals! We also had whale sightings from the ship, and saw multiple humpback whales. Seeing all these majestic animals in real life, in their natural habit, has been a spectacular experience!”
~Kalin Yang, Guelph, Ontario
“We’ve just finished our first zodiac cruise! It’s such an exhilerating feeling to fly along the water with the mountains and glaciers of Elephant Island towering above. As our ship approached the island this morning I stood on deck and watched the landscape slowly appear ahead. The first piece of land seen in about 48 hours was a relief for many of us.
“The zodiac rides allowed us to get up close to the land and the wildlife. Hundreds of chinstrap penguins lined the cliffs and shorelines. We were lucky to see just one Macaroni penguin in this area as well as a Gentoo. Some baby elephant seals were spotted on the shore. We were fortunate to see a Leopard seal up close. It raised its head out of the water a few times to show off for us and then swam directly underneath the zodiac!
“Of course, the most fascinating thing was seeing Cape Wilde; the place where Shackleton’s crew spent months waiting for rescue on the rocks. We saw the very place where their boats were set up as a hut. It’s nearly impossible to imagine how anyone could survive on such a small ledge of rocks during an Antarctic winter, let alone an entire crew. After hearing the story so many times, it’s hard to believe we got to see the place first hand. there’s nothing better than a first hand experience and a tiny glimpse into the history of this spectacular continent.”
~Sarah Veber, St. Philip’s, Newfoundland
“We finally got to Elephant Island today and went on our first Zodiac trip! It was amazing beyond belief.
“Our boat went around a portion of the island. There were tidal glaciers flowing from deep within the moutain, breaking off into chunks of ice floating on the surface of the water. They tasted very nice with a salty tinge. This glacier is definitely larger than the one we hiked to in Ushuaia.
“And then of course there were the penguins. They were on all the rocks and portions of the mountain. There were two macaroni penguins among the swarms of chinstraps and a lonely gentoo floating in the water. For the most part when they were in the water they were porpoising, jumping in and out of the water. My guess would be that there were at least three thousand chinstraps squaking on the island. They actually didn’t smell too bad, but maybe that’s just because I’ve smelled my uncle’s chicken coop before. :P
“Towards the end of our excursion we even saw a leopard seal and it was massive! It was looking very curious and was bobbing in and out of the water. Maybe it was plotting a mass penguin murder plot or something, because it was swimming right next to the penguin rocks.
“Either way this excursion was amazing even if we didn’t get the chance to go on land. For now, I just hope that the trip gets even better!”
~Eva Wu, Toronto, Ontario
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“Oh my gosh! We’re in Antarctica!
“It was another day of smooth sailing, and we listened to lectures about penguins and Shackleton’s adventures. I cried and laughed at Shackleton’s story, because MAN did that guy have bad luck. He stuck through it though, and managed to save everyone, and keep up all his mens’ morale even when their ship had been wrecked, nobody knew where they were, and he had to sail in tiny little boats accross vast expanses of ocean, half starved and half frozen. A six month adventure turned into more than two years worth of basically striving to survive!
“There were more phantom calls of ‘whales!’ today, and I think its become a joke among most of us- that they just announce whale sightings in order to get us to all jump up and run into the freezing outdoor air and stare at the sea for a few minutes. In the end, we did see some whales! It was amazing, they were feeding on krill in front of the ship, making bubble nets and rolling over trying to catch them in their enormous jaws. It was so cool!
“We had lunch, and then suddenly we had arrived within view of Elephant Island! After just having heard about Shackleton’s men making camp there under upturned boats, we were all super interested to know where that went on, and try to envision it. Now that I’ve seen it, I’ve gotta say, they camped on a really pathetic piece of land. Elephant Island is pretty much sheer cliffs and glaciers rising up out of the sea, so it’s not like they were spoiled for choice. It’s really quite stark, but that’s what makes it so impressive and beautiful!
“I got to try out my pretty green Canada Goose vest! Green is a favourite colour of mine, I think, but all colour seems to stand out so much against the whites and blacks and blues! It’s very difficult to photograph. So anyway, we got to jump into the zodiac boats, and I was so enthusiastic and rugged up that I managed to get on the first one out.
“Penguins, penguins, penguins and their fishy fishy poop. I don’t think I’ve been a fan of penguins in the past, but it was actually extremely delightful to watch them porpoising in and out of the water, ejecting themselves awkwardly onto the rocks, and sliding down the cliffs or ice. They’re so hardy! Most of them were just standing around guarding nests, but the few that moved around were hilarious. Skua birds (basically the pirates of the Antarctic) sat around near the nests and stared their penguiny prey in the eye.”
“I’m going eat your baby, bro.”
“No you’re not.”
“Bro, Just you wait, bro.”
“Nah man.”
“And the penguin preens itself and ignores the predator sitting RIGHT THERE.
“We boated past the glacier, and the zodiac bumped through a floating congregation of ice. It blows my mind to think that this is SUMMER for this region! Its still so icy! My breath still forms little clouds! I swear I can hear the crackle as the top of the ocean scrapes on the boat! The penguins make it clear that it’s summery though, skipping and dipping around as if the water was pleasant and warm. Meanwhile I hide my camera in my pocket and grip my hand around it in order to avoid the battery becoming frozen and dead.
“Ah, my favourite thing from today though, was seeing seals. Only a handful, though, but one was really swimming around rather close to the boat. A leopard seal, patrolling the water between the rookery and the shoal of krill we boated through. He popped his nose out of the water quite a few times, regarding us, and slinking through the silky water. Another few were on the beach, but seeing seals in action was much more fun.”
~Jemma Sweeney, Mount Waverley, Australia
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“We got off the ship for the first time in what seemed like several millenia for me! After presentations about penguins, Shackleton, Antarctic visitor guidelines, and Zodiac safety, we all slowly–but surely–morphed into little onion beings. It is, after all, a good idea to layer in this cold weather. Getting into the Zodiacs and zooming across the water was breathtaking. There were more penguins that I ever could’ve imagined on such a tiny island. Penguins, ice, birds, seals, ICE–the entire scene was spectacular, and it was like none I had ever seen before. It was incredibly humbling to trace lines through the water and around the rocky shoreline, see icebergs and glaciers towering above us, observe penguins thriving in this landscape that I consider harsh and unforgiving, and realize that a resilient, unbelievable group of men survived here nearly a century ago. While I stepped back onto a heated, furnished, more-than-adequately stocked ship, many past visitors to the island did not receive the same opportunity. I am grateful for the privilege to experience the bottom of the world, and all of the support I have received before and during this journey. We’ve just received an announcement that whales could show up any time in the next hour! It looks like I should tern into my room to grab my camera, and petrol the deck for the sole porpoise of getting some good photos. Too much? Oh whale.”
~Tiffany Quon, Vancouver, British Columbia
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“Day 6: Today’s wake-up was another wonderful 8:00 am. After grabbing a quick breakfast, we gathered and discussed the time of which we passed the Antarctic Convergence (2:00 am). At 9:30 am, we attended a presentation on penguins of the Antarctic. Following was another presentation over Shackleton and his remarkable journey. Afterwards, we were given the instructions on IAATO protocols and zodiac safety procedures. We all hurried to grab a very quick lunch, so that we could start our excursions on the zodiacs as quickly as possible. After dressing in 5 top layers, we boarded our zodiacs and explored around Elephant Island. Elephant Island was surprisingly HUGE even though it was a tiny spec on the world map.The view was spectacular! All of the staff were saying this was the best weather in history of their voyages. The mountains and glaciers were absolutely breath-taking. It was just too beautiful to put into words. Nothing could describe even a small portion of the beauty it held. This zodiac ride included thousands of chinstrap penguins, leopard seals, krill, several bird species, and a rare sighting of a single macaroni penguin. What a day! After arriving back to the ship, I undressed out of my layers and headed to the deck. Here we spotted so many humpback whales and penguins which was also a rare sight to see so many. We then headed to dinner for a wonderful meal. Afterwards, we heard a story from Scobie and the first video of our spectacular journey. Today was exhausting, yet so magnificent. I will never think about Antarctica in the same way again.”
~Suzanne Zeid, Longview, Texas
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“An extraordinary day in all respects. By morning we were clearly in antarctic waters and eagerly awaited our first sight of the continent ahead..Sightings of some whales and seals greeted us along the way. Finally, the large hulking mass of Elephant Island came into view and I think it safe to say that we were all awed. A mixture of dark rock cliffs and large glaciers, the sight was awe inspiring. Of course, earlier in the morning we had been regaled with tales of the Endurance Expedition of Ernest Shackleton and all of us were amazed at the thought that Shackleton’s men survived for months alone on this rocky outcrop awaiting his return and rescue. Indeed, Shackleton did return successfully for his men, but the thought of anyone surviving on these rocks in such a formidable environment was hard to imagine. We loaded into our zodiacs for a closer look. We motored through chunks of ice of various sizes. There was a constant cracking and slurping sounds as we slowly motored through the ice. At one point a large piece of ice became entangled in our motor and our driver finally set us free using the spare oar as a lever. We then visited the penguin rookery there and saw seals hunting in the surf. I think all were amazed at how high the little penguins could climb to their resting spots. A giant glacier spread out before us and we observed the many colors of the ice and the huge cracks and crevices that eventually fall off and calving small icebergs and the ice that floated around us. It was an exceptional day, but the dinner bell now calls out to all of us….More later…”
~Beth Ann Smith, Augusta, Georgia
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“What a day so far! We made it to Elephant Island and took zodiac cruises to explore. We saw many penguins, lots of sea birds, and even an elephant seal! We also saw glaciers and mountains and holy cow, I’ve never seen such a harsh and inhospitable landscape. On our zodiac, we took salinity, depth, and temperature measurements in the water that we will be mapping later, We also collected water samples and sifted through to find sea butterflies and pteropods! Now we are back on the boat and sailing around Elephant Island in prime whale-watching territory. We have already seen a few humpback whales feeding! Tonight we will hear more lectures and continue to complete remote sensing work. They haven’t briefed us yet, but I believe tomorrow will be our first official landing on Antarctica! Can’t wait to see what another day has in store!”
~Olivia Sayer, Littleton, Colorado
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“Yesterday, we had a very insightful day regarding the history of Antarctica. We had a total of five lectures, and knowing me, I asked a TON of questions. I can’t wait to get home to tell you all. (Even today I was jokingly put on a question limit). We learned about currents in the ocean, sonar technology, fishery, birds (penguins and sea birds), wales and dolphins, and Shackleton. If you have time, go look up his journey. It was absolutly crazy, and it was by far my favorite presentation (you know, me as a history nerd and all). We briefly talked about astrobiology, and that was interesting to hear about how freshwater lakes in Antarctica can be used to help us find out how different planets/moons work (it’s just a whole long story that I can tell you all when I come home).
“So that was yesterday in a nutshell. Today was even better. We had two presentations today, and we got ready for the exciting day. We’ve been making good progress through the Drake Passage, and we arrived at Elephant Island today. Throughout our journey, we had relativily calm weather, and the boat didn’t rock too much. I felt perfectly fine with my patch and all. So today we got to go on our zodiacs. I had a small group with Geoff, the leader/owner of SOI, and ever so characteristically, I asked a ton of questions. We saw chinstrap penguins and one macaroni penguin. No Michael, the penguin does not make velveta. I was in awe the entire time, and when we saw the island, I was jumping and screaming We even saw some seals beached on this island. There’s a giant glacier, too, and it was GIANT GIANT GIANT. Can I be more clear?
“I was thinking the other day about how weird it is that you can hear all of this from me, but I can’t hear anything from you all. It’s kind of weird, but we have developed a sort of family on the ship. I truly am having the time of my life.
“I love you all, and I miss you more than you know. I’m thinking of all of my family and friends at home a lot. I can’t wait to see you guys!
“Ok well I guess that’s it for today. I hope everything is well at home, and I’m still thinking of our cute little Cardinals.
“Oh! So My zodiac trip came back early today, and I accidentally started a heated political debate between two New Yorkers about all the police force issues. That was interseting. We also were comparing gas prices throughout the country, and Arizona had the lowest, with Chicago being the highest. I had my day in the park with all my friends on this topic, if you know what I mean. I’ve made some good friends ;).
“Ok, well I guess this is finally it. Have a fantastically, wonderful, beautiful day,”
~Sarah Johnson, Phoenix, Arizona 
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“Today was incredible! We woke up this morning and listen to two presentations by Santiago and Dave. Santiago gave an amazing presentation about Penguins, describing the types and behaviors. Dave talked about the life and adventures of Ernest Shackletonn. Both of these lectures were really well timed because today we stopped at Elephant Island. Once the ship stopped moving we went out into the Zodiacs and explored the coastline. While in the zodiacs we saw thousands of Chinstrap penguins, one Macoroni penguin, one Gentoo penguin, and many other see birds. We also saw 5 young elephant seals lying on the coast, and a Lepoard seal! The Lepoard seal was so amazing it came right uo to within 3 meters of our zodiac before it dove into the ocean. During our Zodiac cruise we also came across hundreds of birds feeding on Krill or some small fish. During this time I useed my GoPro to film the birds that were in the water and a few came over and started pecking the GoPro!! I can’t wait to see that footage. What an amazing first day in Antarctica, if the days to come are as good as today, it will be an amazing expedition.”
~William Sanderson, Perth Road Village, Ontario
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“Dieser Trip ist einfach unglaublich. Alles ist super organisiert und es ist das bequemste Bett und das beste Essen (riesen Fruehstuecks-Buffet, 3-Gaenge Menu mittags und abends und Snacks zwischendurch), seit Oktober. Jeden Tag erleben wir hier so viel – spannende Vortraege, Workshops und diese unglaubliche Natur. Zum Glueck war die Drake Passage nicht so heftig wie sonst, trotzdem wurde ich etwas seekrank. Auf Grund des guten Wetters sind wir aber schon frueher als geplant in Elephant Island, unserem ersten Stop in der Antarktis, angekommen und haben heute das erste Mal das Schiff auf kleinen Zodiacbooten verlassen. Pinguine, Seals, Gletscher, Voegel, Wale und Eisberge – es gibt so viel zu sehen, dass ich im Moment noch gar nicht richtig begreifen kann, wo ich bin und was hier alles passiert. Ich geniesse diese unglaubliche Reise ans Ende der Welt, aber freue mich auch schon Familie und Freunde wieder zu sehen und euch von meinen tollen Erlebnissen zu berichten.
“This trip is just amazing. Everything is super organised and I think this is the most comfortable bed and the best food on my whole trip through South America during the past two months. Every day so many things happen – super interesting presentations from even more interesting people, workshops and that amazing nature! Luckily, the Drake Passage was not too bad, but still I got seasick. Due to good weather conditions we arrived earlier on Elephant Islands, our first stop in Antarctica. Penguins, seals, glaciers, sea birds, wales and ice bergs – there is so much to see, I think I can’t even realize at the moment where I am and what is happening to me. I enjoy every bit of that incredible journey to the end of the world, but I am also looking forward to meeting my family and friends to tell you about my awesome experiences.”
~Barbara Peutler, Germany
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“White mountains. At 3 in the afternoon we got our first glimpse of Elephant Island. White mountains, rocks and a glacier covered the view. Absolutly breath taking. I’ll get to what we did today later but first I’ll sum up the passage through the Drake passage we just finished.
“Mom, I did NOT get seasick just like I said, and I also didn’t wear my patch. I can’t say I was not the only who was this lucky, but a lot of people well. Lets just say they were facing the ocean quite often… During the sea day we had a lot to do. 6 lectures about the ocean, science, whales and all of the above. I stayed awake for every single lecture. I’ve taken two workshops/classes so far. A photography class with Lee (you’re welcome Mom). And also a drawing class, I need a lot of practice. The meals are great on board. 3 meal courses, not a single compliant. At night my Swedish roomate, Samuel, and I play cards with the connecting room. I got them all addicted to Ginrummy.
“As for today, it was amazing. I got great pictures do not fear Mom. We took a zodiac boat ride along the cost and saw amazing things. Thousands of penguins EVERYWHERE. We also saw a leopard seal, he was a big fella. I also ask that you guys google search the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton. I won’t give it away but we saw the landing spot on Elephant Island. It looked impossible for any boat to land here. Quite impressive. Great first day!
“Some housekeeping notes: its cold, like real cold. Don’t worry, I have made friends. I am having severe Football draught diseases. I can’t stop thinking about the seeding for the NFL playoffs. There is a girl here who is going to TCU, so I have made a frog family. Love you Mom, Dad, and the rest of my family reading this. BTW it’s 4:15pm here and we are leaving Elephant Island as I’m typing this. TTYL.”
~Matthew Peterson, Glenview, Illinois
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“Today was insane. We finally saw Antarctica and it was really cold outside. But I was freaking out because I have never seen so much ice in my life. We took our first zodiac ride today and went around Elephant Island. We saw so many penguins and seals, it was very exciting. We also saw two birds eating a penguin and though it was kind of gross, it was interesting. This is kind of short because I have to go to bed, but I’m having such an amazing time and I’m so happy to be here!”
~Ryan Peete, Los Angeles, California
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“Today has been the most incredible day and we still haven’t reached the continent of Antarctica. Last night, we sailed across 600 South into International Antarctic waters. Around 3 o’clock, we reached Elephant Island, or the first solid land in almost 2 days. We took our first zodiac cruise around the shores and observed (and smelled) thousands of chinstrap penguins. Everyone on board has been wishing or singing me happy birthday, and although I’m terribly embarrassed every single time, I have to confess that this has just been the most incredibly perfect day to turn 22. I could never have asked for such amazing gifts I’ve received; humpback whales, leopard seals, stunning blue icebergs, and many new wonderful friends.
To all of you who asked me to bring home a penguin for you, go buy a parrot and have it poop on an unrefrigerated fish for a few weeks and then smell that fish and it will smell like your very own penguin.”
~Emily Moore, Sherwood Park, Alberta
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“I always knew, from the start of this trip, that the moment I was going to see the Antarctic for the first time was going to be an awe inspiring moment, but wow, nothing could have prepared me for this. After a morning of lectures, especially an apt one about Sir Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition, it was finally time to embark on our first zodiac cruise as we finally got sight of land once again! I had heard about the Endurance Expedition before, but to be able to actually go to Point Wild and see Elephant Island first hand was incredible. The sheer size (or lack thereof) of the island that his men waited for him only goes to prove how far human dedication can truly go, and being able to see the places that I have heard so much about really add another dimension to a piece of history that not many may know about.
“Being able to go on our first zodiac cruise was everything I thought it would be and so much more! We got to get up close and personal with the island firsthand, and we also got to witness the insane amount of Chinstrap penguins that call the island home. There had to have been at least a few thousand of them easily. We also saw a lone Macaroni penguin, although it wasn’t initially easy to spot. After seeing a few leopard seals, it was back to the ship and off to our next destination. Already since reboarding the ship, we’ve seen humpback whales feeding, Minke whales following the boat, fur seals playing, and even more penguins porposing! It’s been such an incredible first real day in the Antarctic, and I cannot wait to see what the rest of these next few days has in store. If they’re anything like today, they’re sure to be amazing.”
~Serenity McKenzie, Abilene, Texas
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“Today was spectacular, there was nothing so far that has prepared me for the sheer amount of amazement I felt almost as if I don’t have the words to physically describe the feeling I had when we spotted Elephant Island. No lectures, nothing prepared me for this. It was a shell shock of the good kind.
“On a map Elephant Island is like a needle in a haystack, a dot on the map that isn’t even comparable to the size of the mainland. Yet it is as preverse and profound of an experience that I will ever have. The first thing anyone saw was a gigantic expanse of mountains, I haven’t read anything that would get me so pumped for the experiences I would have.
“It was an amalgam of ice, snow, and the most colossal mountains I have ever seen. We took a zodiac out to experience it first hand, and as the rest of trip has gone, the weather has permitted us to see some of the most rare natural occurences on planet Earth. We saw birds perch on Humpack whales and feed with them in a synchronized and almost practiced motion. The connectivity and balance that nature has when it has not been tampered with is truly phenomenal. It is something I wish human beings were as in tune with nature.
“I am so pumped for what is about to come, and the feeling that were swirling in my head are something I’ve never experienced, and I’ve traveled around the entire world Antarctica is truly a one in a lifetime experience.”
~Aalekh Kaswala, LaPlata, Maryland
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“This morning we received a brilliant lecture from Dave Fletcher on Ernest Shackleton and his various Antarctic expeditions of the early 19th century. Fletcher depicted Shackleton’s Endurance campaign which started in 1914, and saw him arrive on Elephant Island in 1916 after the eventual shipwreck of the crew’s original ship- The Endurance. Shackleton left 22 of his 28 man team on Elephant Island under the guidance of a man who the point they spent four months on was named after, Point Wild. This is where our first zodiac cruise took place.
“We just did an hour-long zodiac cruise around the coast of Elephant Island. The name of the island derives from the sealers who first discovered the island, with its shores having been inhabited with elephant seals. Elephant Island is also where Ernest Shackleton’s crew landed after the failure of The Endurance Expedition in April of 1916. This is the 100th anniversary since the beginning of the campaign and it was humbling to see just what Shackleton and his men lived through during a far less developped time. We started our cruise by checking out some Chinstap Penguins who could be seen traveling to and from their nests. We continued on to an active glacier. We saw some ice crack off the glacier and fall into the water. The amount of ice which fell into the ocean followed a huge cracking sound before the ice fell. The bay infront of the glacier was flooded with ice, resulting in a rather slow zodiac speed. The water colour was a turquoise-blue as a result of active phytoplankton populations. This also led us to see huge schools of krill in the water. Past the glacier a statue could be seen. This iconic sculpture is of the captain of The Endurance during Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition and was errected by the Chileans, illegally so. The statue was surrounded by more chinstrap penguins (who were the dominant penguin found around Point Wild) and a few elephant seals. We also found a leopard seal flirting with the coast of the island, waiting for penguins to feast on. We actually came across half of a bird carcass which had been eaten by the leopard seal, which is quite an unusual occurrence. I am guessing that the bird was mistaken for a penguin by the seal, who was very curious and who we got a few good looks at.
“Before the cruise ended we passed by a final cliff of chinstrap penguins who were dispersed all around a single macaroni penguin. The two species often nest together and biologically are closely related.
“It is hard to imagine how 22 of Shackleton’s men survived for four months at Point Wild with limited provisions, eating penguins and hopefully waiting for their bosses return. Although Shackleton did return to rescue the men some four months after they were stranded on the island, their hardship was quite a contrast to us tourists who are visiting here today.”
~Patrick Hickey, St. John’s, Newfoundland
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“Words are an everyday occurance. We use words to describe food, sports, and even other people. But something as simple as words can not elaborate on the scenery of the Antarctica. These images are more marvellous then any. It has been less than 24 hours that we have been in the great south and even in this short amount of time the beauty of the continent has overwhelmed me to an enormous extent. Being an untouched place has allowed Antarctica to become this continent of innocence.”
~Amalia Harsany, Jackson Springs, North Carolina
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“Today has been the best day so far. We were able to sleep in and then had lectures on penguins and Sir Ernest Shackleton. They were actually both very interesting! After that, we sailed the next 4ish hours to Elephant Island. When I originally thought about Antarctica, I always imagined beautiful, snowcapped mountains, glaciers, and terrain. However, what I actually saw was way beyond my grandest dream. When we first saw the island, it took my breath away. The ocean, sky, mountains, glaciers- were so much more amazing than I could have imagined. After we got closer to the island, we split into groups and travelled around it in zodiacs. We saw hundreds of chinstrap penguins, a gentoo penguin swimming, and a macaroni penguin, along with probably a hundred wilson’s petrals, aka the Jesus Birds, because they “walk on water” and use the water as a runway. Even though today was very cold, it was well worth it. I don’t think anything can beat seeing Antarctica for the first time. (Plus we’re here and I haven’t gotten sick yet!) I am having an amazing time, even on the ship! 
“p.s. Have fun in Cancun! Give Caspar a hug for me! Love y’all!”
~Alexis Dibenedetto, Auburn, Alabama
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“This morning on the 30 of December, the waves woke me up. They rocked me back and forth, which was nice because it felt relaxing. After stuffing my mouth with breakfast, Santiago gave an interesting presentation about penguins. I learned that they only breed once a year and do this lifelong. Some species of penguins build nests made of pebbles and often, other penguins steal the pebbles of others to make their own nests…
After Santiago’s presentation, David talked about Shackleton’s journey to Antarctica with the Endurance. Shackleton travelled to Antarctica with 27 men. Once he arrived there, his ship got stuck in the ice and they could not move the ship. Shackleton had to come up with a plan and he thought that it would be best to go to Elephant Island. When they got there, Shackleton knew that they could not survive on that island and decided to ride with 5 other men to another island to get help from the whalers. They successfully arrived there and the whalers helped them. Shackleton tried to go back and rescue the other 22 men on Elephant Island, but his attempts failed. After a couple of times of trying, he made it and he was so relieved that all his men were still alive.
“At last, after a couple days, Elephant Island was right in front of us and I thought that it was a beautiful place. In order to see the island up close, we went on zodiacs, which was awesome because it felt good getting off the ship. I saw many chinstrap and macaroni penguins. There were smaller than I expected, about 45 cm tall. I also saw a huge glacier and its color was blueish white, which was fascinating. Unfortunately, I spotted gentoos eating a dead penguin that was floating on the ocean’s surface. It was sad to see that, but I knew that that was life, right?
“Today was an awesome day, seeing animals and learning about Antarctica’s history. I miss my family and Switzerland, but I am so glad that I went on this trip. I am grateful for my family’s support and it is a privilege to be here. This trip is an one time in a life opportunity and it feels good experiencing something new.
“Thanks mom and dad,”
~Rose Cideciyan, Baar, Switzerland
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“When I was about 5 I had first heard the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s voyage and his endurance and will to rescue his 22 stranded men from Point Wild: Elephant Island. Little did I know then that 14 years later I would be in the same footsteps as Shackleton looking over at the marvellous Elephant Island. Today, we made our first Zodiac landing to the spectacular Elephant Island! Since, I had taken up an university course with Paul Brett, I went onboard the science group and we analysed the salinity, temperature using scientific instruments and then Daniele analysed the Antarctic waters and we hoped to study terapods and krill. Now, as our ship passes alongside Elephant Island, I can see tabular icebergs, humpback whales, fur seals, chinstrap penguins, glaciers. Antarctica has cast a spell over me! It’s the most beautiful and transforming place on Earth!
~Zareen Cheema, Pune, India
“Today we finally arrived in Antarctica! We’ve stopped at Elephant Island, which, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t actually have any elephants on it. But it certainly has penguins! Floating in, we caught glimpses of groups of penguins porpoising through the water and I probably took about a hundred pictures of them. They are really adorable. The landscape is a little different than I expected it to be, but that could also be because the island itself is bigger than I imagined. The land is a mixture of brown rock cliff and bright white snow, with a few penguins speckled in of course. It’s really a great place to start our expedition. I’m itching to see more!
“At the moment, half of our group is out on zodiacs, getting a tour of the island. I hope we get to see more than just penguins. I’d really like to see a seal of some sort. We have seen a few whales and even a couple dolphins since our ship set sail, but I’m ready for something new. I can’t wait until I get to board a zodiac and get a real view of the island. I think it’ll be super fun!”
~Kelly Esenther, Madison, Wisconsin
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“When I woke up in the morning I had no idea that I would remember this day forever. It started the same as yesterday. We woke up, ate breakfast, and had two lectures. One was about penguins which was interesting, but the last one was on Sir Earnest Shackleton and was presented by David Fletcher whose voice is so addicting to listen to. In the afternoon right after lunch we heard our first calls for land. When I stepped outside to check it out, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The view was so breathtaking that I honestly couldn’t speak. Our zodiac ride was at four in the afternoon. At first the boat was just uncomfortable, but eventually I couldn’t care less. The only way of describing what I saw is if people view it for themselves.”
~Cullen Burke, Moscow, Idaho
“This morning at 2:00 am the ship Ushuaia crossed the Antarctic Convergence. Geoff likes to call an 8:00 am wakeup call ‘sleeping in late.’ Obviously he doesn’t know that most of us sleep in until noon. I rolled out of bed and went to breakfast. I had crepes with honey, banana, and apple juice then I headed back to my room to attempt a shower without falling back and forth into the walls. We had a presentation about Penguins from Santiago and then David told a long story about Shackleton’s Expedition. Next we had a zodiak briefing about safety and then we had lunch which was a beef stir fry followed by a piece of apple tart. As we were sitting in the dining room the ‘Great White Continent’ came into sight. It was way bigger and way more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. We were approaching Elephant Island and I can assure you that no elephants inhabit it. We all watched from the top decks as our ship anchored. I heard the chain clanking as it wound around the wheel and down into the ocean. And then I felt it. I felt the ship stop sailing forward and suddenly we were still. It finally sank in where I was and what I was looking at. Everyone got dressed in their wet gear and we loaded onto Zodiacs using the sailor’s grip. We sailed off and were cutting through ice with the boat when we went right up next to a penguin colony on top of a huge rock. The smell of the penguins was overwhelmingly terrible but we sailed toward the glacier and that smell became irrelevant. Looking at that first glacier and the brilliant blue colors that the ice created in its crevasses was spectacular. I will forever hold that image inside my brain for which no photograph could ever capture that simplistic and natural beauty. We kept sailing around the island and came across another penguin colony where we found penguins staring at the water below them deciding if feeding was worth the risk of losing their lives. One penguin pushed another in the water and the rest waited to see if it would make it out alive. Apparently there were many leopard seals nearby waiting to feed on the penguins. Up top on the colony stood one Macaroni penguin; the only one on the island. We saw many different birds on our way back as well as penguins jumping in and out of the water. We pulled up alongside the ship and I stared in awe that we had come all this way in it. We got back on board the ship, had a snack, and then set sail for another island. But before we retrieved our anchor I enjoyed a nice cup of hot chocolate outside overlooking Elephant Island just in complete admiration of its beauty. We all went up on deck and in the bridge to whale watch which was insane! We saw at least 4, maybe more, humpback whales feeding on krill. For dinner we had fish and then we all joined in the conference room for a life story from Scobie. Following that we all shared our favorite experience of the day and then ended our meeting by viewing Sira’s video of our time in Ushuaia. Before bed Daniele explained to me the zooplankton that he and some other students collected as ocean samples. What a fantastic way to start our time here in Antarctica!”
~Dawn Damiano, Miami, Florida
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“Today was our first day in Antarctica and I can’t express in words how incredible of a day it has been. We had our first Zodiac excursion – to the well known Elephant Island, sight of where Sir Ernest Shackleton’s men survived stranded for four months on this rugged island with unimaginably harsh conditions. To be here was overwhelming. The experience of seeing Antarctica for the first time is difficult to express. A place considered to be harsh, unforgiving and nothing but ice is remarkably beautiful in its harsh beauty and teeming of life! During our Zodiac excursion we saw Leopard seals, Chinstrap penguins, a lone Macaroni penguin, Elephant Seals…and that was just from the Zodiac. Once we returned to our ship and pulled away from Elephant Island we came upon a pod of Humpback whales engaged in an intricate feeding pattern that held all of us completely entranced for an hour at least! Just watching these incredible creatures driving schools of Krill to the surface to open their mouths widely and feed with flocks of Cape Petrals feeding on the remaining krill and Chinstrap penguin porpoising past. I just stood in awe, taking it all in. The day came to an end too quickly and I hope I never forget the feelings I experienced here in these moments. Today is also a special day as it is my 14th wedding anniversary – my first big adventure without you, Joel. I wish I could share this with you. Thank you so much for all your support of my journey here and taking such good care of our girls. Happy Anniversary! I am toasting us tonight and many more adventures that we will have together. I love you.”
~Ashley Brasfield, Ottawa, Ontario
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“Today we arrived at Elephant Island. The past two days have been mainly sailing on the ship. Two days ago, before we got on the ship, we went on a hike to a beautiful view of Ushuaia. We had a picnic and then headed down to the ship. I’ve been so anxious to get on the zodiacs and get a closer look at the animals and geography. Once we arrived at Elephant Island today it took me awhile to comprehend the beauty of the place that I was at. To see that this place has been untouched and so preserved is fascinating. I fell in love with the landscape and animals of this place. We saw whales, seals, penguins, and many other birds. I can’t wait to see what excitements the days to come hold inside.”
~Brady Buckley, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
“Impressionantment increible!!! No se per on comencar i no se si podre explicar-ho tot, han passat masses coses avui, moltes emocions, sensacions i sobretot visions (imatges!!).
“De nou el dia ha comencat amb ioga i esmorzar. Encara estavem al mig del passatge de Drake i el mar continuava calmat. El sol no ens ha acompanyat, pero els nuvols alts s’han comportat.
“Dues xerrades per comencar el dia, una sobre pinguins pel Santi i la segona del Dave sobre l’explorador Shackleton, ja que aviat arribariem a l’Illa Elefant on ell va arribar quan havia perdut el vaixell Endurance i on va deixar els seus homes (22) durant 4 mesos, mentre anava a buscar ajuda. I abans de dinar la xerrada sobre seguretat a les zodiacs i com evitar qualsevol impacte mediambiental quan finalment posem peus a l’Antarctica. El primer iceberg gegant ens passa pel costat, es un tabular (de taula), molt gros, en alguns fins i tot un petit avio pot aterrar, i completament pla, es formen quan es trequen dels prestages de gel (iceshelves), extensions de gel sobre l’ocea.
“Degut al bon mar arribem a l’Illa Elefant just despres de dinar i fem la primera sortida amb les zodiacs (1h). Ja des del vaixell les imatges de l’illa eren per deixar-te sense paraules, muntanyes cobertes de gel, penyassegats de roca negra i glaciars que arriben fins a l’aigua. I tot envoltat de pinguins de ratlla a la barbeta (chinstrap), que naden al voltant nostre i salten de l’aigua.
“Amb les zodiacs ens apropem a la costa agreste, veiem els pinguins de prop, en aquesta illa hi viu una colonia d’uns 20.000! Els sentim cridar i tambe sentim la forta olor salada que fan. Molt i molt monos i graciosos caminant muntanya amunt per al pedra o carreteres que formen al gel. I a l’aigua esperant-los per a fer una mossegada una foca lleopard! El cap gegant davant nostre, es deixa veure, es curiosa i ens observa. Ens ensenya tambe l’esquena de tant en tant i va patrullant la costa a veure si algun pingui cau.
“La zodiac ens porta a prop del glaciar, no massa a prop que en qualsevol moment pot caure un tros de gel, esquerdes impressionant i quin blau mes intens a dins. Amb la zodiac creuem l’aigua plena de trossos de gel (brash), el sorroll de la zodiac contra ells es especial. Anem cap a Point Wild on els homes del Shackleton van fer campament mentre ell anava a buscar ajut. Aqui, entre els pinguins veiem 5 foques elefant. Seguim observant els illots amb les zodiacs i es dirigim a un lloc on els pinguins saltren a l’aiga per pescar i netejar-se. En veiem uns quants saltar cap a dins i el mes divertit es veure’ls saltar cap enfora, agafant velocitat a l’aigua fent salts (porpoise) i l’ultim salt fins a la roca; rapid de peu i cap amunt! I entre tots els Chinstrap un Macarroni, pingui amb una cresta groga al front. L’hora ha passat molt rapid i hem de tornar al vaixell. Pero tinc sort, al segon grup hi ha menys gent i puc quedar-me a la zodiac que te llocs buits. La segona hora ha sigut espectacular. Pinguins saltant a tocar, i en gran massa. Una altra foca lleopart just davant nostre i un gran grup d’ocells pintados (cape petrol) sobre l’aigua rentant-se i de cop tots volant alhora planejant. Increible i als voltants icebergs flotant, els glaciars fins a l’aigua i els pics imponents. Els crits del pinguins, el sorroll de la foca al respirar… impossible d’explicar.
Amb els peus realment gelats retorn al vaixell, rapid a l’habitacio a escalfar-me’ls a l’estufa pero l’espectacle no s’acaba i per la megafonia anuncien balenes. Un grup de geperudes (humpback) esta alimentant-se just al mig de la nostra ruta del vaixell, baixem velocitat i ens dediquem a contemplar-les. Les obsevem quan estan a la superficei, ara respiren, ara obren la boca per agafar el krill, ara s’enfonssen de costat amb l’aleta lateral amunt, la panxa blanca exposada, i de tant en tant ens ensenyen la cua. I ho fan un cop, i dos, i tres i continuaven fent-ho quan hem continuat el cami despres de mes de mitja hora. I durant tota l’estona un grup de pintados alimentant-se al mateix temps, alguns dels experts del vaixell que han estat aqui decenes de cops diuen que mai no havien vist res aixi. El que es increible d’aquest continent es que els animals no tenen por de l’home, son curiosos i o et miren ells a tu o continuent fent la seva com si res. Inexplicable.
“I aixo ha seguit fins al sopar, amb algunes foques (fur seals) nadant i pinguins sobre petits icebergs (growler) passant al costat del vaixell. Ha sigut passant el “Cabo Valentin”, on els vaixells petits de Shackleton primer van arribar, i navegant pel “passaje principe Carlos” o de les balenes geperudes, entre l’illa Elefant i la Clarence. Ara ens queda l’activitat de la nit, el primer video de la Sira, quines ganes de veure’l no us el perdeu a la pagina web, els seus videos valen molt la pena! I despres historieta amb el Scobie. Jo avui aviat a dormir, tinc un bon encostipat i el temps encara que bo per ser Antartica no acompanya per a curar un encostipat, molt de fred i vent. De totes maneres avui els nuvols no ens deixaran veure la fantastica posta de sol que ahir va acomiadar el dia passades les onze de la nit.
“Per la finestra continuo veien les muntanyes i glaciars de les illes que ens envolten. Ens dirigim al continent, terra firme, on arrivarem dema al mati, unes 130 milles des que hem sortit de Point Wild i unes 10 hores de navegacio, pel “mar de la flota (Bransfield Strait) . Si tot va be i el gel ens ho permet dema farem la primera baixada a terra (landing), pot aixo encara ser millor?
“Un dels estudenats, en Robert, ha definit l’Antartica com: “A continent on one hand very hostile (thinking about the firsts explorers) but on the other is like a paradise (thinking about our encounters today)”.
“I’m sorry but today I got taken away with the explanations and won’t be able to Translate, maybe Google will be able to do it for you?”
~Anna Abella, Baar, Switzerland
“I have seen it. Antarctica in its most serene, and welcoming condition. I am not really sure how my emotions are dealing with what I have seen. It is truly the most unique place I have ever been. I had no idea that mountains could come straight out of the water, where jagged peaks shoot straight up to meet the clouds. The rock was scarred from harsh winds and storms whose power I have no feel of. And despite the potential of this alien land, it meets me with calm seas, light wind, and only a breath of cold air to remind me that it is right there, watching, letting me enjoy, letting me explore, but that at any moment it could leave me helpless to its forces.
“All of the seasoned guides and sailors aboard our Expedition are saying that these are the calmest seas they have ever seen in all of the years they have come to Antarctica. Today, as we made our way over the last stretch of the Drake Passage towards Elephant Island — the legendary place where Shackelton left 22 of his expedition men — pods of chinstrap penguins welcomed us and ushered us along to the snowcapped, glacial mountain island. Their loping bodies, shooting out of the water and right back in, a spectacular display of grace and companionship and playfulness.
“While we steadily made headway, we heard the tale of the Great Ernest Shackleton and his perseverance, strength of character, and leadership during the Endurance expedition. To make the epic even better was to hear it from a present day explorer, and someone who has experienced the Antarctic in its full harshness, much like Shackelton himself. After a quick lecture on the penguins of the Antarctic, we took the time to go onto the deck and watch excitedly as the massive mountain peaks and glaciers of Elephant Island came into sight.
“In what seemed like a flurry of activity, I got myself ready, layered for as much warmth as possible, and found myself plopped in a zodiac, pushed off from the M/V Ushuaia, and in the middle of the small cove where Shackelton’s crew made camp and waited on a small outcrop of rocks for their expedition leader to return with a rescue vessel.
“The only thought that managed to get through everything else that my mind was seeing and trying to comprehend was the water… The water in this little cove, it was like liquid silver. So calm, flowing up and down, slowly with the tide, leaving a surreal piece of mind, and making it seem even less likely that I was actually in a place that humans can behold. I was not certain that I was in fact in Antarctica. It all just seemed too bizarre to me.
“We toured the cove, taking measurements of temperature and conductivity of the water as we went, and sampling small marine organisms with a filter dragging behind the boat. And we came to the bust of Shackleton, erected on the very spot that his men camped for those many months, with meager rations, and whose only hope of survival was the successful crossing of their great leader across much of the Drake Passage in a glorified rowboat. Chinstrap penguins scatter the rocks, high in their rookeries, newly born chicks clinging to the top of their feet, and standing in massive piles of their own excrement. We circumnavigated a massive rock outcrop and came upon a massive swath of painted petrels resting and feeding on the water. A minke whale comes up for air just a little ways away. We manage to spot a lone gentoo penguin, with its long, conspicuous orange beak, cleaning in the waters just off of the main group of petrels. A rogue macaroni penguin makes a large ruckus in the chinstrap colony as they push him to the edge, an unwelcome intruder in their society. And a leopard seal shows its sleek back as it races off to find its catch.
“Too fast the view of the loping penguins and swarming petrels returns to its birds-eye appearance as I make my way back up to the tall M/V Ushuaia, our zodiac outing all out of time. The evening is falling upon us, and as we are waiting out the last few hours of light on the bow of the ship, an even more spectacular display begins to unfold. Two large breaths and a large, humped back make themselves known on the water surface just a small distance ahead. And another one off to the side.
“This is the moment I have most been waiting to see. Before I know it, a white fin breaches the water. A ring of bubbles circle around an area of dark, ocean water. And then, a large gaping maw, pink on the inside, and ridged white on the outside breaks through the water, scooping up hundreds of krill, before the feeding humpback splashes back into the dark ocean. Seabirds hurry in to pick up whatever churned up krill is left over. And for what must have been an hour, these beautiful humpback whales continue to feed using their sophisticated hunting methods right in front of our eyes.
At this point I can say that I have truly seen some of the beauty of Antarctica. I have no idea what is in store for me tomorrow, but I know it will be both awesome, and slightly disturbing. I think it is such a beautiful thing to see what I am that I cannot really understand what it means. I do not think I can really think I can fully appreciate this place that I am seeing, where both sea and land animals, all of incredible form have come to meet every austral summer for hundreds of years to share in the ocean’s plenty.
“But as the sun set tonight, and a group of chinstraps escorted us along in their loping fashion, a tabular iceberg in the distance (probably the biggest floating piece of ice I have ever witnessed), and the Antarctic seas showing their calm beauty, my mind was put to ease as I truly believe that tomorrow Antarctica will once again allow me to see her beauty in this welcoming, compassionate way.”
~Patrick Soprovich, Whitehorse, Yukon