|In our July/August 2000 issue, contributor, Toni Dabbs, travelled to the icy beauty of Antarctica....|
|It seems like a long way to go to look at ice and penguins," said an acquaintance when I told her I was going to Antarctica.
It wasn't the distance that bothered me, though. I was concerned about ruffling the feathers of the tuxedoed birds.
|IAATO members ask passengers not to approach within five meters of penguins, seabirds and seals and to give the animals the right of way at all times. The animals, on the other hand, have no rules, and penguins showed little reluctance to approach those of us who stood quietly observing.|
|Penguins seem obsessed with rocks, continually taking them from each other's nests to place in their own.|
|The itinerary for our week-long cruise aboard the 100-passenger Russian registered Akademik Ioffe was vague, and pre-departure information stated "ever changing weather, ice or political circumstances often dictate" the ship's route and shore excursions.
"This is expedition cruising. We go with the flow," explained Laurie Dexter, expedition leader for our cruise, the first day at sea. It was his responsibility to coordinate with Captain Nikolay Apekhtin where we could safely anchor and take the Zodiacs to shore.
|Dexter, like other Marine Expeditions staff, is well qualified to lead expeditions in both the Arctic and Antarctic. He was a member of the 91-day Soviet-Canadian Polar Bridge ski expedition from Russia to Canada via the North Pole, he has completed a ski crossing of the Greenland ice cap, and he is planning to ski across Antarctica at the end of this year.|
|Passengers crest a hill separating penguin colonies at Hannah Point on Livingston Island.|
|Perhaps a little more adventurous than other expedition leaders might be, Dexter managed to pack six shore excursions and two Zodiac cruises into our three-day stay in Antarctic waters.
One landing each day took us to the rookery of a different species of penguin: the white browed Gentoo; the button-eyed Adelie; and the aptly named Chinstrap, which has a ribbon of black running from its black crown around its white face. All three sites had penguins galore, including large numbers of downy chicks.
|At Hannah Point on Livingston Island, we encountered a herd of Southern Elephant Seals heaped together in a muddy wallow, their puppy dog expressions belying the unpleasant sounds and smells they emitted. They seemed unperturbed by the battalion of zoom lenses aimed at them. Our Zodiac cruises reaped close-ups of other seal species solitary Leopard Seals, Weddell Seals and Crabeater Seals lounging on ice floes.|
|Passengers explore the deserted Almirante Brown Research Station.|
|The Zodiac drivers skillfully maneuvered among the fantastically shaped blue and white icebergs of Nature's floating sculpture garden, stopping to let us admire particularly beautiful examples.
A cruise of Paradise Bay took us beneath a sheer cliff streaked turquoise with copper and red with lichen, where a colony of Imperial Shags (cormorants) was nesting. We landed at nearby Almirante Brown Research Station, an Argentine facility abandoned in 1984 after the team's doctor, having been told he would have to spend a second year at the isolated station, set it afire.
|On another day, we called at the active Akademik Vernadsky Station, established in 1996 near Britain's now abandoned Faraday Station, which was first to alert the world to changes in the ozone layer. The Ukrainian scientists at Vernadsky, who are continuing the meteorological work begun at Faraday, gave us a guided tour of the facility and opened the "Southernmost Souvenir Shop on the Earth" for spending-starved passengers.|
|Boathouse at Akademic Vernadsky Station adds color to the icy landscape.|
|The "shop" is a closet filled with handcrafted items carved and painted by the scientists in their ample free time.
We also visited Deception Island, actually a collapsed volcano that still generates enough thermal activity to make bathing along its beaches possible. We wandered among the remains of a British hangar and airstrip, from which the first powered flight over the continent of Antarctica was made in 1928, and the ruins of a Norwegian-Chilean whaling station that closed in 1931.
Whale sightings were jealously coveted on our expedition, so excitement peaked when, one evening after dinner, we encountered a Humpback Whale feeding frenzy.
|Captain Apekhtin turned the ship into their midst and cut the engines, and everyone passengers, staff and crew stood spellbound as an estimated 50 of the great beasts entertained us blowing, breaching, bubbling, lunging from the water head first, and flipping their tails high in the air to signal a deep dive.|
|Passengers test the volcanically heated waters at Deception Island.|
|The Akademik Ioffe was an ideal platform for viewing seabirds, too. Especially handsome were the Grey-Headed Albatross, with its dark wings and snowy body, and the Cape Petrel, with a distinctive black-and-white checkerboard pattern across its wings.
While there was plenty of fun to be had on our expedition, there also was a strong educational component. Shore excursions and wildlife sightings were supplemented by an optional lecture program, and the ship had a spacious library well stocked with reference books.
A fellow passenger summarized the cruise well, proclaiming: "I'm saturated with experience."
|For more information visit the Marine Expeditions website at www.marineex.com|
|Photos: Toni Dabbs|
|A writer and editor in the United States, Canada and Europe for more than 25 years, Toni Dabbs has had travel articles and photographs published in newspapers and magazines throughout North America from the Vancouver Province to the St. Petersburg Times, from the Halifax Chronicle-Herald to the Los Angeles Times, and many points in between. Her travel features, written from first-hand experience, appear regularly in newspapers from Manitoba to British Columbia.
Toni Dabbs is a member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association, the North American Travel Journalists Association; and the Travel Media Association of Canada.
Toni can be reached at [email protected]