January 5, 2015

The Drake Passage: Round two!

Expedition leader update:
The ship complement awoke in trepidation on what the Drake would bring. But after a few sleepy lurches actually found that things were not too bad. We are making good progress, 60 degrees south and the Antarctic Convergence are already behind us. There is a high overcast dappled sky and flopping swell from the west. A day at sea means a day of presentations and workshops.
The array of topics discussed are bewildering in their complexity, but really good questions and arguments seem to be the norm for this group. The sea has claimed a few victims (sea sickness), but only a few and it is great to see folk moving around the ship with the confidence of an old sailor.
This morning students were given multiple options for workshop discussions, giving credit to the caliber of educators we are so fortunate to have on our expedition, and the caliber of students who are absorbing this new knowledge and broadening their perspectives, goals and ambitions in so many ways. Workshops included an “Ice Lab” led by glaciologist Derek Mueller to investigate samples taken from ice coring research conducted in the Antarctic; “Becoming a Conservationist” by ornithologist Santiago Imberti; “Artistic Expression” with resident artist Diane Burko; “Civic Engagement” with former Minister of Fisheries with the Government of Newfoundland & Labrador; “Career Adventuring” with explorer/adventurer Eric McNair-Landry, and “Wildlife Observation” on deck with naturalist Olle Carlsson.
Students enjoyed some time on deck to look for seabirds and take in the Drake Passage before enjoying a presentation by Derek Mueller on “Climate Change and the Polar Regions”. After seeing first hand the changes taking place in the Antarctic and even participating in ice coring research to help measure these changes, Derek’s presentation helped to put everything into context on a global scale and impress on all of us the need to work towards a more sustainable future for our planet.
Students broke away for lunch and some down time for journaling and reflection before launching into a fun game of the “Drake Shake Olympics”! This helped to bring everyone together and forget their seasickness while competing or cheering on their teammates in the Inuit leg wrestle, Antarctic Trivia, bowling and more!
The rest of the afternoon gave students another opportunity to choose between an array of workshops including reviewing the CTD Data obtained on Zodiac outings with oceanographer and marine mapping experts Daniele Bianchi and Paul Brett; artistic expression; crafting a youth declaration for Marine Protected Areas; discussing marine resources and sustainability with Trevor Taylor and Santiago Imberti; and whaling history with Olle Carlsson. David Fletcher also held the students attention with his incredible tales of diving under the Antarctic ice, and other experiences from 30 years working and living in Antarctica!
This evening provided a wonderful closure to the day with the latest expedition video from our very talented videographer Sira Chayer as we enjoyed a look back at our incredible Antarctic adventures.
Tomorrow is another day at sea with an expected arrival time to the Beagle Channel in the late afternoon. We’ll be on the look out for Wandering Albatross and other seabirds before welcoming the sight of the green shores of Tierra del Fuego. Tomorrow night we celebrate our incredible journey during our last night together on board the MV Ushuaia!!
A mutiny has been discussed by the students, to turn the ship around and head back South. But I’ll do my best to quell this uprising! :)
In the expedition spirit,
Housekeeping notes: Below are student blogs for the day, check the ‘video’ page for new videos from the student’s time in Antarctica!
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“Well, this is the beginning of the end. We can all feel it happening – the drawing to close, the sluggishness of our knowkedge that the end of this epic adventure is within plain sight. In this tranisitional phase of the Drake Passage, there is time to reflect and disappointedly wrap up our Antarctic expierience to start preparing for the real world, which hits as soon as we touch down in our respective home cities.
“Am I sad about leaving this majestic environment? Definatley. Antarctica has cast a spell on me that I do not think can ever be lifted. Its majesty, its complexity, its profound ability to inspire awe – all of this will have a lasting impression on my mind. But at the same time, I am looking forward to sharing this magical expierience upon my return. I have witnessed so much in the past week, and cannot wait to enlighten my peers and community as this place has enlighted me. Like everything else about Antarctica, it’s a paradox.
“This place was beautiful and captivated me thoughts and feelings. But now, it is time to look to the future. We are on a path right now towards the destruction of the beautiful continent, which have captivated us to such a profound degree. As a result, though this may be the last time I physcially ‘visit’ Antarctica for the forseeable future, I don’t think that it’s possible for neither me nor the global community to ever truly ‘leave’ discussion about Antarctica. It is time for us to use our remarkable expierience to create change in preservation of this great continent.
“What has happened with seals in the South Shetland Islands during the 1820s, and whales in the Soulthern Ocean during the 1900s is at risk of happening again in our modern world. Krill, the base of the Antarctic food chain, is at risk of being harvested for human consumption. Many argue that taking from the natural environment is a natural part of the human food chain. Just like all other animals, we need to eat. However, we must use our new expierences and knowledge of the continent to balance our needs with those of the natural environment. This trip has shown us the perils of undertaking the path of overexploitation, and we must do everything in our power to keep any such harvesting of the sort from happening again. If we do not decide to rise up and take action, those motivated by the human desires of greed and power will again destroy the kind fruits of Mother Earth. The great Canadian band Rush once sung that, “The more that things change, the more they stay the same.” However, with our diligence, perhaps humanity can take the road towards sustainability and a better planet for all.”
~Robert Adragna, Toronto, Ontario
“5th Jan, 2015, we are now sailing through the wobbly Drake Passage and making our way back to Ushuaia. The rough seas here can make some people feel very sick. As for my part I think it’s all the persons mind. If you feel good on the inside you will feel good on the outside. However, lately my solution dosent seem to be working too well. So I have started my second solution which is eat less. This advice was given to me by my amazing Uncle Rocky and it seems to be working very well! As I now think of my family, I would like to take this moment to convey Happy birthday to my wonderful grandmother.
“Till now the educational program onboard the ship is keeping us all occupied. There have been lectures on becoming a conservationist, ice labs, career adventuring, civic engagements, wildlife observation and artistic expressions. Olivia and I have been kept very busy by our instructor Paul Brett and we are working on the ARCGIS software.
“Tomorrow we will enter the Beagle Channel and the seas will be calm again but till then we have another day to face the Drake Passage!”
~Zareen Cheema, Pune, India
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“Today morning was a relaxing time. After breakfast, I went back to sleep because I was exhausted after then, there were workshops. I went to Santiago’s one and he talked about how he succeeded on making a National Park in Argentina to protect special kinds of bird species. After his interesting presentation, Derek talked about climate change. I learned that some people were complaining that global warming does not exist due to lower average temperature compared to the year before. Derek said that global warming does happen because the world’s average temperature was higher than the year before. However, it can be that the temperature by some places stay the same, but other places are severely affected by global warming, such as the arctic and antarctic. Huge amounts of ice shells break off the continent and float on the ocean. When they melt, this causes the sea level to rise, which is bad for our earth.
“After lunch, I went on the deck, but I only saw the ocean. There was nothing out there anymore and I was sad that the trip was over soon. Around 15:00, we played ”Antarctica Olympics”. Each pod competed against each other and there were many games. One had to throw tennis balls in buckets, stand still as long one could, throw balls to knock down paper cups, pictionary, etc… It was really fun and at the end, my team, placed 2nd!
“More workshops took place and I listened to Olle’s one. People slaughtered so many whales and put their blubber in huge kettles in order to melt it. Every time, they murdered a whale, they only used a small part of the whale. They did not know that inside the meat and bones, there was precious oil that they could have used as well. So, they wasted so much of the whale and when they found out that they could use more of the animal, then they produced 60% more oil than before. Farmers also used the meat for fertilization. The blue whales, the largest mammals on earth, are almost extinct due to whaling. The other whales such as fin whales and humpback whales were also affected, but now, they are slowly recovering.
“Today was an interesting day because I learned a lot of new things about climate change and whaling. These workshops are really helpful because they increase my knowledge and they help me understand more about our world. Two more days to go and then the expedition is done…..”
~Rose Cideciyan, Baar, Switzerland
“Truth be told the cold made me miserable, I absolutely hate anything that’s cold and the fact that I wore roughly six layers every time a zodiac landing was made testament enough. However, as the trip progressed I slowly but surely gained a begrudging respect for the unwelcoming landscape of the Antarctic. It blossomed into a love for the place.
“On our last landing there was a single gigantic glacier and we were given permission to climb it and then slide down. Most people rushed to the top and slid down, but about halfway up I stopped and sat down in the snow. I took off my waterproof jacket, my bulky sweatshirt, my gloves, and all the hats I was wearing. I simply soaked in the freezing cold, and loved it.
“The area was called Neko Harbor and it was absolutely breathtaking. My eyes were glued to our ship, nestled inbetween two mountains that dwarfed it in comparison. It was truly a spectactular sight. Icebergs floated inbetween, refracting light and giving the entire place a sort of ethereal glow. At once, it all hit me. I was going to miss this place. All the injuries, all the fun, even the people onboard, I was going to miss every single bit of it.
“If there was a choice, there was no doubt in my mind that I would not choose any other people to come back with me a second time. Eventually I did have to get up and leave this wonderful place behind.
“I can say I’ve seen some of the greatest events on the planet now. I’ve witnessed a Minke Whale follow us as if we were one of its own, I’ve stared into the eyes of a Leopard Seal and seen its curiosity match my own, I’ve seen booming and thunderous avalanches, seas that were so spectacular that they looked unreal. There is not a thing on this continent that did not surprise me, and I feel this experience has shaped me as a whole. Nothing out there compares to the Antarctics cold and forbidding majesty, and I know it is in my power to protect it. Something that I will strive for when I get back home.”
~Aalekh Kaswala, LaPlata, Maryland
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“Last blog for the trip unfortunately, because tomorrow is our last day! We are officially out of Antarctica, and headed for Ushuaia. I had such a great time, it is going to feel weird not waking up to waves and mountains and Goeffs voice saying ‘Good Morning Students On Ice!’ Because we are on the Drake Passage, we have had a bunch of free time and workshops today on the History of whaling, Expeditions, Diving in Antarctica, Climate Change and other interesting stuff like that. I think my journal is the fullest it has ever been with info in two weeks. Antarctica definitely feels like home as cheezy as that sounds, I am going to have to come back! Home in three days!”
~Alissa Sallans, Whitby, Ontario
“Today was our first day back on the Drake Passage.We have been doing a lot of workshops in the morning and we had a two very good presentation on Climate Change. Then after lunch we had the 2nd annual Drake Shake Olympics where our pod groups all competed for gold medals in seven different events. My pod, Foxtrot, tied for the silver medal overall, which was awesome. This evening we have more presentaions and workshops before bed.”
~William Sanderson, Perth Road Village, Ontario
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“The last two days have been crazy busy, so I apologize for not posting yesterday! Setting foot on Antarctica for the last time yesterday was unbelievable. Where has the time gone? But yesterday we landed at Neko Harbor and walked along the beach there. We also hiked a ridge next to a glacier and watched it calf. The noise was incredibly loud for only small pieces of ice breaking off! Ice completely inhabited the harbor because of the glacial activity. We slid back down the glacier afterwards and most of us took quite a tumble on the way down as the drop off was quite steep! We then boarded the zodiacs and waved goodbye to Antarctica. Once on the ship, I was able to complete an interview with the Denver Post via satellite phone! We are now back on the Drake Passage and it is a bit rougher than before, but still not ‘Drake Shake!’ We saw some orca yesterday and today has been filled with workshops and lectures. We also plugged some of the CTD (conductivity, temperature, and depth) data we recorded over the past few days into a map and analyzed it today! We will be back in the Beagle Channel tomorrow and will disembark in Ushuaia on Wednesday morning! Then many flights home… What an amazing time this has been.”
~Olivia Sayer, Littleton, Colorado
“Our Antarctic journey is coming to a close as we make our way back across the Drake Passage. Once again we have ben blessed with relatively gentle seas and I for one enjoy the gentle rocking of our ship in the evenings. A few of our young explorers have had a bit of sea sickness, but most have adjusted well and spirits are high.
“Yesterday we had another lovely day in Antarctica. After our landing many of the young explorers climbed to the top of a glacier to recover scientitic machinery that has been recording data for the last several years. The mission was successful after quite a bit of digging and chipping of ice. Excited with their success, most slid down the long embankmant – some more gracefully than others. Still, all were invigorated by the experience.
“As usual penguins and sea birds were prevalent and provided lots of opportunities for observation. The vistas were simply magical. The mountains entirelt encased with snow reflected in the clear waters casting all in an amost other wordly shade of periwinkle blue. Camera lenses simply cannot capture the unbelievable beauty of this place.
“We have had the opportunity to see much wildlife along our journeys. We encountered a leopard seal napping on a flat iceberg and he seemed not very interested in our presence. Weddell seals were often lounging on the ice resting and acknowledged us with their unusual singing sounds, and an elephant seal opened an eye or two only to notice us as we walked past. Here the wildlife is unafraid confirming to all of us that fear is a learned behavior.
“We have also visited a variety of penguin rookeries and have learned about the communal behaviors of these unique birds. All of us would agree that penguins can be rather noisy and smelly birds – although quite cute and friendly. The ever present variety of seabirds also provided constant interest with their unique songs and nesting activities.
“Of course, on a grander scale we have been blessed to observe a variety of whales as well. One day a curious minky whale followed our ship for some ways entertaining us with its antics. All were quite concerned for minky when a pod of orcas was visible ahead hunting in the straight. As suddenly as it had appeared, the minky wisely disappeared and we watched the pod of orcas hunt ahead of us in the straight. We’ve also been blessed with some wonderful sightings of humopback whales as well.
Finally, we have been using our ship time wisely and have had many informative scientific lectures. This morning many of our questions on global warming have been answered and the real scientific explanations that made all of us certain of the very real threat to our planet and way of life. I think that all of our young explorers each have interest in spreading word in their local communities on such critical issues. Clearly, each person has come away with the sentiment that one person and even one voice can effect change. Very inspirational.”
~Beth Ann Smith, Augusta, Georgia
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“Ah, the Drake Passage.

“It’s only swell at the moment (no waves), but even that is enough to cause seasickness in a portion of people. The first night on it, nearly everyone turned up to dinner, and I was seated by the door. I made a bit of a game out of counting the people who left, and my table laughed a lot at the fact that everyone was sitting up straight, but we were all relaxed and just sloshing from side to side along with the ship. I took a video of it and it makes me laugh hysterically because we look insane, swaying from side to side slowly in sync.

“Today was a low energy day, and we even got to sleep in! Lectures about various topics, workshops (where I have a very hard time deciding which one to attend) and just generally flopping about playing cards or watching the ocean roll by. A bunch of people did art, and in the end I guess I went to a lot of workshops about politics and fisheries. I had to lie down around lunchtime, because my blistered lips are beginning to crack, and I realized I have spent the last 4 meals sitting near a girl who had a pretty bad cold for most of the journey. If my immune system is running low, I’d rather take time out than push it and become sick- as although we’re nearing the end of the expedition, this is not the end of my journey!
“We had the ‘Drake Passage Olympics’ competition today, which was full of silly games like ‘who can stand still upright the longest’, pictionary, bowling down the aisle with tennis balls, and some sort of Inuit leg-wrestling? It was so funny- the guy we put up for our team was super skinny and short and light, but the aim of the wrestle is to lock legs and push your own leg down, flipping the competition over. He flipped like an egg! Or… scrambled. Well, the competition burned us. Okay, I’m out of egg related puns. The teachers won that game by a mile, flipping students left right and centre.
“Every time we get into competitions- like last nights ‘Jeopardy’ game, or todays Olypmics, our ‘pods’ (created primarily for the purposes of making roll-call quicker) get super competitive. We call out and yell and argue about decisions and rules and inconsistencies. Is that bad sportsmanship? Maybe, maybe, but its nice to see everyone fired up instead of falling asleep on the couches. Also, its great to win, so there’s that. My team, ‘Alpha’, as well as being the first in the ALPHAbet, also has a team chant and cheer and symbol, and a tonne of spirit and talent (and pride) to go with it. I feel really lucky to have been put in that group! This is our cheer:
Adelie penguins and the atmosphere
All the Alphas are now here!
All the best things start with A
Alphas in Antarctica, hip hip hooray!
(usually followed by A L P-H-A! Alphaalphaalpha! And us making A shapes using three team members arms)
~Jemma Sweeney, Mount Waverley, Australia
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“I REALLY hate the Drake Passage!”
~Eva Wu, Toronto, Ontario
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“Day 12: With a much needed late wake-up call at 8:00am, we head to breakfast at 8:30. At 9:30am, workshops kicked the day off. Today I chose to do the planning and sponsoring of an expedition. After about an hour, we had some free time to blog, go on deck, and sleep. At 11:00am, Derek presented a lecture over climate change in the polar regions. This lecture was interesting to listen to; it gave multiple pieces of evidence that global warming is happening and the polar regions are the most affected by this. We were then given 10 minutes of deck time. At 12:30pm, another lecture was about visualizing climate change with Diane. She told us how she realized that the paintings that she painted of a certain place 10 years ago and the same place at present day looked so different as a result of global warming. Afterwards, it was then time for lunch at 1:00pm. After lunch, we were given a break until 3:00pm. It was then time for the 2nd annual Drake Shake Olympics! Every pod group was given a country name in correspondence to their pod names. Since my pod was group Delta, our country name was Dominican Republic. We competed in several events including: totem pole, zig-zag line walk, basketball, bowling, Inuit leg wrestling, pictionary, Antarctic trivia, etc. The Drake Shake Olympics were pretty amazing. My pod group, Dominican Republic, brought home the silver medal! After a 30 minutes break, a lecture over diving in Antarctica was presented by Dave at 5:00pm. Afterwards, workshops started again. This time I chose whaling history which was very informational and interesting. At 7:30pm dinner was served. Later on at 9:30, our recap and briefing took place. This included a Mr. Bingles video (video from a SOI alumnus: Scobie), video of SOI trips to the Antarctic and Arctic from 1999-2011, and a Sira video of Deception Island and Baily Head. It was then time for bed to rest up for our last day together.”
~Suzanne Zeid, Longview, Texas
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