Antarctica Day 9 – Into Antarctic Waters

Over night we had crossed the Antarctic convergence and into the Antarctic circumpolar current. At this point we also crossed into the South Georgia time zone and so had to add an extra hour onto the clocks, bringing us closer to our home time zone. The circumpolar current is exactly what the name suggests – an ocean current that flows clockwise around Antarctica. The convergence is where this cooler water meets the warmer seas and produces turbulent seas.

After breakfast there was a briefing in the dining room to talk about environmental protection and bio-security, and how important it is to make sure outer layers of clothing and backpacks are cleaned before taking ashore. This is to avoid the introduction of any new flora or fauna to these protected places. These guidelines are set by IAATO, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators.

South Georgia already has some introduced plants such as the dandelion, but also have introduced species of rats and reindeers. Both of these animals were introduced by early settlers and efforts are now being made by the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project to eliminate them.

To prepare for the next few days there were vacuum stations set up and the passengers called deck by deck to prepare equipment. As each session took a while we had lunch before it was our turn. Cleaning equipment then took a portion of the afternoon ensuring everything had been washed clean of any mud from the Falkland Islands using a herbicide. After this there was a video about South Georgia which covered pretty much the same as the earlier briefing. This video however was a little more graphic as it demonstrated the result of someone’s hand after being bitten by a fur seal.

Southern Giant Petrel

I stayed out on deck for some time after this in hope of seeing a whale, particularly as this area should be one of the better opportunities to see them. Whaling operations in the last century greatly reduced the population there however so chances were no longer as good as they once were. Eventually I gave up watching and went to a lecture on the seals that could be found in South Georgia and Antarctica. The species covered were the Crabeater Seal, the Antarctic Fur Seal, the Leopard Seal, the Southern Elephant Seal and the Weddell Seal.

After this I continued watching outside for a while until it was time for another briefing. This briefing was to explain what we’d be doing on South Georgia and the plan for the next day.

Shortly after was the evening meal, a medium-rare cooked piece of lamb that was quite chewy, but came with couscous. The dessert however was a very nice red wine soaked pear with vanilla ice cream and chocolate. By the time we’d finished talking to a French, a German, a Russian and a Singaporean it was story time in the lounge.

This evenings story was about another guide’s experience of Tromsø and what the light there is like. This was however cut short by the sighting of a pod of Fin whales. At first I rushed to the window, but when I saw how close they were and that they were breaching the water I ran to my room to grab my camera and went out on deck wearing just a t-shirt. This was really cold but I couldn’t miss the chance to photograph a whale.

By now the sun had been set for quite some time so twilight was coming to an end and would make it increasingly difficult to photograph anything. I did briefly nip back to the room to get some warmer clothes but by the time I returned all that remained was to stand and watch the whales as the last of the light left the sky.

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