March represents a critical time for whales in Antarctic waters as they feed on the vast swarms of krill to build energy stores either for the long migration to tropical breeding grounds or to maintain their energy as they struggle to survive in the ice-choked waters that soon will take possession of the region. For humpback whales there is growing evidence to show that while many migrate, some remain in areas that, due to a warming climate, now remain free of ice for long periods of time. The expedition will survey several locations along the Antarctic Peninsula that are the focus of long-term research projects to determine how the abundance of whales changes throughout the course of the Antarctic summer. You are joined on board by several world-renowned cetacean (whale) experts and can observe their important fieldwork in close proximity. They share with you unique underwater footage and scientific data and interpret the behaviour, migration characteristics and feeding patterns of adult whales and their calves. Their participation on the voyage is greatly valued and provides a fascinating glimpse into world of Antarctic science. Of course, there will continue to be discussions of other areas of interest in Antarctica, with presentations on Antarctic history as well as on the peninsula’s seals, bird and penguin life.
|Day 1||Ushuaia||Optional excursions to Tierra Del Fuego National Park, Martial Glacier|
|Day 2-3||Drake Passage||Giant Petrels and birdlife, Antarctic Presentations|
|Day 4-8||Gerlache Strait & Antarctic Peninsula||Gerlache coastline, adelie and chinstrap penguin rockeries, seals|
|Day 9-10||Drake Passage||
Drake Passage, Cape Horn
|Day 11||Ushuaia||Farewell your fellow travellers as your voyages comes to an end|
Ushuaia is known as the southernmost city in the world (although, with a population of around 60,000, really more of a large town). Set on the shores of the Beagle Channel, ‘Ushuaia’ actually means “the bay facing westward” in the language of the original Yamana inhabitants. Once a penal colony for political prisoners as well as hardened criminals – the Presidio (prison) was closed in the late 1940s – Ushuaia is now a major tourist centre, particularly for people cruising to Antarctica. The town is also a major ski resort area for both alpine and cross-country skiers and offers magnificent hiking in Parque Nacional Tierra del Fuego, the only coastal national park in Argentina.
Today is the first day of your adventure. Your morning is at leisure to do any last minute shopping, take an optional excursion to Tierra del Fuego National Park, or perhaps make a good hike up to the Martial Glacier. This afternoon board the expedition ship, with embarkation time set for 1600hrs. As you board the vessel and start to become familiar with your ‘home’ for the next 12 days, you cannot help but wonder about the exciting journey ahead. In the early evening set sail, leaving behind Ushuaia and charting a course through the Beagle Channel.
As you make the crossing south across the Drake Passage, there is much excitement in the air as the ship comes ever closer to the white continent. You will be joined by hundreds of seabirds including the wandering albatross while giant petrels and smaller Cape petrels are also constant companions. Photographing these magnificent birds from the deck of the ship takes patience and skill and our photography expert will be on hand to show you the best techniques. Join the ship’s Captain on the bridge and learn about the operations of your modern research vessel. Guests eagerly soak up the friendly atmosphere aboard as the numerous onboard experts prepare you for your adventures with presentations on everything Antarctic, from wildlife to history. As you cross the Antarctic Convergence you will notice a distinct drop in temperature as you enter the waters of the Antarctic Ocean.
In the waterways of the Antarctic Peninsula and along the Gerlache coastline, it is hoped to make as much time as possible to explore by inflatable Zodiac boats and marvel up close at nature’s glory. Rocky outcrops, known as ‘nunataks’ are home to gentoo, Adélie and chinstrap penguin rookeries and the waters are rich in marine life. You’ll frequently encounter seals, including the powerful leopard seal, usually found hauled out on an ice floe. Curious humpback whales and the smaller minke whales are present much of the time as they feed on the vast schools of krill.
Fournier Bay is a known whale ‘hotspot’ and ice permitting, you’ll explore in Zodiacs looking to encounter pods of whales. The science team hope to deploy non-invasive tracking devices on the whales to collect data on diving and feeding patterns. Observation and photography of whale flukes (tails) is something everyone is encouraged to participate in both from the ship and while Zodiac-cruising. Whale flukes are unique identifiers of particular animals, in much the same way as a human finger print. Collecting and analysing this data is vital to our understanding of whale migration patterns and social behaviour.
In addition to whale encounters, you will enjoy a regular program of exploration on and off the ship. Popular activities include guided hikes on-shore and visits to wildlife colonies with your expert naturalist guides, while the historic huts and science stations provide a fascinating glimpse into the past and the present. Zodiac cruising among the ice is a memorable activity and sea kayakers may range several kilometres from the ship. The photography guide will be on hand to help you with your camera handling, image composition and the peculiar light found in Antarctica.
Planned excursions along the Antarctic Peninsula could include Cierva Cove, Danco Island, or a cruise through the Errera Channel to visit the gentoo penguin rookeries at Cuverville Island. Wilhelmina Bay never disappoints and is another important location where the scientists hope to deploy their research tools. Neko Harbour is yet another highlight and offers an excellent hiking route to a viewpoint providing expansive views.
As you leave this magical place and make your way back, heading again across the Antarctic Convergence and the Drake Passage before rounding Cape Horn (conditions permitting), there is no doubt that time will be spent sharing and reflecting on the wonderful experiences of the last few days. Sailing up the Beagle Channel, you will celebrate the conclusion of your Polar expedition at a special dinner.
In the early morning, arrive into Ushuaia, Argentina. It is time to say farewell to your crew and fellow travellers. Guests will be transported to their hotels or to the airport for return flights home. It will be possible to connect to flights through to Buenos Aires or other destinations in South America. Otherwise enjoy a night in town or venture further afield to explore the highlights of Patagonia.