Category: Antarctica – Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship

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Sharing the Magic of Antarctica

It is hard to believe that it’s been more than nine months since I departed on my expedition to Antarctica. When I look at photographs or watch videos from my experience, it still seems somewhat surreal. In the months since my return, I’ve had the privilege to engage community members in hands-on inquiry activities similar to those in which my students have been participating and to share my experiences with audiences across Connecticut at libraries and universities.

As one of the deliverables required by National Geographic upon my return from Antarctica, I’ve completed the National Geographic Educator Certification process – a “free professional development program that recognizes pre-K through 12 formal and informal educators committed to inspiring the next generation of explorers, conservationists, and changemakers.”  As a culminating experience, I prepared a Capstone project video highlighting how I have communicated my experiences to students across the Portland Schools through inquiry lessons designed to challenge learners to think like explorers and social scientists. Please click on the image below to view the video and learn more about my journey from enthusiastic teacher to educator-explorer.

Click to view my 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellow capstone video.

 

Bringing Antarctica Home

I returned to Connecticut on December 29th to frigid temperatures more than twenty degrees below our coldest day in Antarctica! Just beyond the luggage carousel at JFK Airport, I opened my suitcase to retrieve my orange parka, and I’ve been wearing it in CT nearly every day since I returned. In an effort to stay warm during New England’s “deep freeze”, I’ve been reminiscing about Antarctica’s “warm” summer weather (around 32º F) and have been sorting through all of the photos and video footage that I collected during our expedition. My GTF colleagues and I have been sharing our materials so that we can begin creating content for our respective classrooms and school communities.

When I traveled to Washington, D.C. last March to meet and collaborate with the other 2017 Grosvenor Teacher Fellows at the National Geographic Headquarters, we were introduced to Google Tour Builder, an “interactive storytelling tool that connects people to places using Google Maps and multimedia content”. In order to create an immersive experience and provide geographic context for the photos and videos I wanted to share with my students, I have developed an interactive tour. The Tour Builder application works best on a desktop browser (not a phone or tablet). Side Note: When you zoom in, you’ll notice that it looks like we traveled across the Antarctic Peninsula. Since we were on a large ship, this part of the path is obviously inaccurate, but the landing destinations are correct. As you “visit” each destination, you can click on the image to expand and view multiple photos and/or videos. Click on the map below to begin the tour!

Click on this image to visit my Google Tour with embedded photos and videos of our expedition.

Teaching in the Drake: A Rite of “Passage”

This is the unlikely story of how a high school chemistry teacher from California, a middle school social studies teacher from Connecticut, and a Director of Innovation from Chicago found themselves teaching an inquiry lesson to 150 “learners” (ages 10-75) on a ship in the middle of the Drake Passage.

GTF teachers leading an interactive “recap” aboard the National Geographic Explorer. Photo by photographer and GTF mentor Eric Guth

On all expeditions aboard the National Geographic Explorer, the naturalists and photographers organize a daily “recap” session before dinner each night. Different members of the expedition team give presentations related to their respective areas of expertise and the day’s activities. Through these daily sessions, I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible about a wide range of topics, including the unique features of Antarctic lichens, the challenges of photographing ice in polar regions, the dive reflex of whales that allows them to hunt underwater for long periods of time, and the challenges of life “wintering over” on Antarctic research bases – just to name a few!

The experts on board the ship all bring different experiences and expertise, and many are highly-regarded researchers in their fields. Some of them work with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions full time, while others embark on only a few expeditions a year. It has been fascinating to listen their stories as we sit together at meals and during excursions. Some of them have spent years of their lives in Antarctica, and yet their excitement upon spotting a whale or encountering a particularly stunning iceberg is obvious and contagious. Aboard the ship, it is not unusual to see a photographer or naturalist whiz by in a t-shirt and flip flops headed to one of the top decks because he or she spotted an iceberg with “perfect light” or a whale off the bow of the ship – no time for warm layers!

My fellow GTFs and I were honored to be asked to lead a recap on December 26. Although recaps typically take the form of short lectures, as teachers, we decided to do what we do best – lead an interactive activity to engage the guests on board in some thinking, discussion, and reflection. We started our activity with a percentage: 0.00060526%. After a few guesses, a participant correctly identified the number as the infinitesimally small percentage of the world’s population that will travel to Antarctica this year.

Photo by photographer and GTF mentor Eric Guth.

With this in mind, we engaged the guests in a discussion about the challenge of telling their “story” as they return home to their communities. We know that everyone on the expedition has taken thousands of photos, and we’ve heard the near-constant clicks of shutters as these new explorers attempted to capture the perfect image of a fluffy penguin chick or the majesty of a towering glacier. Everything has happened very quickly on this expedition, and there has been little time for reflection. During this activity, inter-generational teams collaborated to examine a photograph from our adventure and participated in a “slow looking” process  designed to prompt questions and deeper thinking (What do you see? Notice? Wonder?). We could not have asked for a more engaged, excited group of learners – it was truly incredible. They eagerly participated in small and large group conversations and – most exciting for us teachers – we heard the conversations continue between families looking out over the bow of the ship that evening and between photographers and kids on board as they reviewed their camera images. All three of us were approached by several different guests on subsequent days because they wanted to share something new that they’d noticed as they applied the “slow looking” process on a photograph they’d taken.

Listening to a guest share what she “notices” and “wonders” about one of Peg’s photos. Photo by photographer and GTF mentor Eric Guth
A very real teaching moment – holding onto the desk during a Drake Passage swell while trying to maintain our composure as one of our “young at heart” explorers shared a lengthy story about a penguin based on “inferences” from a photo. Photo by photographer and GTF mentor Eric Guth

Among the many, many highlights of this expedition, this experience stands out and will almost certainly always be one of the most memorable “lessons” I’ve ever taught. In the middle of a choppy Drake Passage, after days of nonstop activity fueled by near-24 hour daylight, we had the privilege to bring together our fellow travelers – from across the globe and across generations – to pause and to reflect.

A White Christmas on the White Continent

Merry Christmas! We’ve reached our final morning on the continent of Antarctica. At midnight, we stood on the deck of the National Geographic Explorer and recorded a video message for our students, families, and friends back home. It was, of course, still broad daylight, and light snow began to fall just as the clock struck midnight.

National Geographic Grosvenor Teacher Fellows enjoy a sudden burst of light snow at midnight on Christmas morning

After some sleep, we woke up just off Paulet Island, a small island in the northwestern Wedell Sea, which, unlike the other places we’ve visited recently, has obvious signs of past human inhabitants. In the winter of 1903, Swedish geologist Otto Nordenskjold and his team had to endure an unexpected winter on the island when their ship became entrenched in pack ice and was crushed beyond repair. The team built a small stone hut and survived on penguin and seal meat. The naturalists’ presentations aboard our ship have been incredibly thorough, and, believe it or not, they have actually addressed the topic of eating Antarctic animals. Apparently, Frederik Cook, a late 19th century American surgeon and explorer, described penguin meat as “a piece of beef, ‘odiferous’ cod fish and a canvas-backed duck roasted together in a pot, with blood and cod-liver oil for sauce”.  I think I’m a fairly adventurous eater, but that sounds awful. Awful or not, the meat kept all but one member of Nordenskjold’s team alive during the winter of 1903 – which is pretty amazing given the near 24-hour darkness and frigid temperatures of Antarctic winters. Miraculously, even the ship’s cat survived the long, dark winter and left the island alive!

Penguins have made their home in the remnants of Nordenskjold’s hut

This morning, we began with a hike up Paulet Island, known for its distinct volcanic cone. As we climbed, we contended with large piles of loose volcanic rock, slushy snow, and lots and lots – and lots – of guano. We ascended the steep incline surrounded on all sides by penguins. When we finally emerged over the ridge, the size and density of the colony was breathtaking. More than 40,000 pairs – almost 100,000 penguins! – call Paulet Island their home, and there were nesting penguins with newly-hatched chicks in literally every direction (see video below). We had to be very careful not to step off our narrow, snow-covered path, as there was no penguin-free land to be found, and we wanted to be certain that we didn’t accidentally crush the tiny, fragile chicks.

Since we were guests in the penguin colony and were abiding by the requirements of the Antarctic Treaty meant to protect the wildlife on this pristine continent, the penguins dictated our every move. As it turns out, they were not the most welcoming hosts. Hundreds of penguins blocked our intended route as we were heading back from visiting the remnants of Nordenskjold’s stone hut, and so we had to turn around and climb back up the way we came. With the rivers of slippery guano and slushy snow and piles of loose, sharp volcanic rocks, the climb was very difficult, but I came out of it with just a nasty, colorful bruise on my knee from slipping in penguin poop – and the best story ever to explain my minor injury.

Climbing up a steep incline covered in guano and loose volcanic rock. Photo courtesy of our GTF mentor, photographer Eric Guth
All those “dots” behind us are penguins! Photo courtesy of our GTF mentor, photographer Eric Guth
Taking in the moment. Photo courtesy of our GTF mentor, photographer Eric Guth

There’s rarely an idle moment aboard the National Geographic Explorer, and so, as soon as we finished our hike, I climbed into a sea kayak with Peg Keiner, one of the other GTF teachers. The kayaks are inflatable and are equipped with a foot pedal steering system in the back seat. Since Peg is the stronger paddler, I was appointed navigator (yes, anyone who knows me well is probably questioning this decision – and with good reason). We were told that these kayaks are affectionately called “divorce kayaks” by the crew, as they require constant and precise coordination and communication between the people in the front and back seats to steer successfully. Since all of my kayaking experience has been in a solo kayak in lakes in Connecticut and sheltered inlets of the Long Island Sound, maneuvering a double sea kayak in 30°F weather in the windy waters of the Antarctic Sound was a completely new experience for me. Within minutes, our hands – with two pairs of gloves each – were numb. There was little time to warm up, though, as we had other important things to attend to – like navigating around large drifting icebergs (hitting them can cause calving and unplanned plunges into the 29°F water) and large groups of porpoising penguins leaping in front of our boat.

Kayaking in the Antarctic Sound amid icebergs, penguins, and one large ship

We talk a great deal about perspective in my classes, and this kayaking experience was an incredibly poignant example of this concept. As we paddled in these kayaks, perched just above the water’s surface, we saw the Antarctic Sound from the perspective of the penguins and the leopard seals that swam around us, and we fought the same bitter winds as the seabirds swooping low to gather food. It turns out that Peg and I actually made an excellent kayaking team, and we managed to successfully steer our kayak through the windy Sound and back to the ship without colliding with any ‘bergy bits, penguins, or fellow kayakers.

We ended the day with a lovely Christmas dinner – our second, actually, as the culinary team prepared a traditional Filipino Christmas dinner for us yesterday. Tomorrow, we begin our journey back through the Drake Passage as we head toward Ushuaia again.

The Circle of Life: Antarctica Edition

The three Grosvenor Teacher Fellows on board (Peg Keiner, Director of Innovation at a school in Chicago, Kelly Meade, a high school science teacher in California, and I) were asked to write today’s Daily Expedition Report for the ship. Typically prepared by the onboard naturalists and photographers, these reports provide a brief overview of the day’s activities and new learning, along with accompanying photographs. In today’s report, I focused on behaviors of Adélie Penguins, Kelly wrote about the unique features of glaciovolcanic areas, and Peg explored the origins and evolution of the magnificent tabular icebergs that passed our ship in the Antarctic Sound. See an excerpt from my portion of the report below, along with our full 12-24 report on the Lindblad Expeditions website.

This morning, we awoke to brilliant sunshine in the bay surrounding Brown Bluff. Sparkling sea ice of all shapes and sizes decorated the waters, as if nature herself were preparing for Christmas. We spent an hour and a half ashore at Brown Bluff visiting a large colony of Adélie Penguins (estimated to consist of more than 20,000 birds). Both on land and from the zodiacs, we could see penguins everywhere – on the beach, carefully tending to nests and newly-hatched chicks, and dotting the steep rocks of the bluff. Adélie Penguins are fascinating little creatures, and the adults can be recognized by distinctive white patches around their eyes that contrast with their dark heads and bodies.

At just a few days old, this Adélie penguin chick is already acting on its instincts to collect stones for a nest.
Adélie penguins gather on the beach and prepare to enter the water in search of food.

They stick together, not necessarily out of affection for their neighbors, but rather as a means of protection. As a primary prey of leopard seals, these little birds gather in groups on the shore and dive in to search for food only when the group has grown large enough that any one penguin’s chances of becoming a seal’s next meal is fairly small. The seals observe the penguin colony’s habits and, when hunting, they hide behind icebergs ready to capture and eat the unluckiest of the bunch. This morning, we observed a successful seal in action, as we happened upon the hungry predator devouring a penguin that he had caught just off shore. 

A leopard seal leaps out from behind an iceberg and grabs an unlucky Adélie Penguin…
And a luckier Brown Skua gets the “leftovers” after the leopard seal finishes his meal.

Although it can be sad to see an animal become another creature’s dinner, observing this process was a powerful reminder of the interdependent relationship between the many species living in the rich, yet fragile ecosystem of Antarctica.

Bright Nights & Humpback Whales

Last night, despite – or perhaps because of – yesterday’s nonstop activity, the other teachers and I couldn’t fall asleep. The bright skies in the evening definitely have a significant effect on our bodies, and we’ve been finding that we feel wide awake late at night. I’ve been doing the majority of my blog writing in the ship’s library at 11:30pm or after midnight, and I still have a great view of the water and the porpoising penguins that frequent this area. Last night, our team of GTF teachers spent some time on the ship’s Bridge with the Safety Officer and a navigator spotting wildlife and learning about the complex processes involved in navigation of a large ship in iceberg-laden waters. We finally returned to our cabin, closed our porthole, and went to sleep just after “sunrise” this morning at 2:14am. Of course, the sun “set” (barely) at 12:07am, so I suppose you could say we technically stayed up “all night”!

Officers on the Bridge of the National Geographic Explorer

Later this morning, we awoke in the middle of Neko Harbour to cloudy skies and temperatures in the low-mid 30s. We began the day with a zodiac cruise around the harbor with photographer and GTF mentor Eric Guth. Each photographer and naturalist has a very different focus and area of expertise, and so every zodiac cruise is different. Eric is fascinated by and incredibly knowledgeable about ice, and so we navigated around icebergs and other “bergy bits”, always keeping a safe distance in case of calving (when a chunk of ice breaks off a ‘berg and falls into the water, sometimes causing a wave). We observed the different parts of the icebergs and hypothesized about how and when the icebergs might have formed. We also located a large piece of “black ice”, a perfectly clear chunk of ice with tiny rocks embedded in it that looked black against the water and likely picked up debris and broke off from the underbelly of an iceberg as it scraped along the bottom of the ocean. Although I imagined Antarctica to be overwhelmingly silent, it is actually alive with sound. Even the icebergs surrounding us in the harbor were surprisingly noisy and, when we all sat perfectly still, the ice sounded like a crackling campfire or a sizzling saute pan.

GTFs in Neko Harbour. Photo by our mentor, photographer Eric Guth.
A Wilson’s Storm Petrel dances on the glassy water of Neko Bay

Our zodiac cruise ended on land, and we disembarked and then moved up the slope a bit. We were told that we couldn’t stand around on shore at this site because a glacier calving event in November caused a small tsunami that was powerful enough to sweep the life jackets sitting on shore into the bay. We ascended a snow-covered hill in Neko Harbour and encountered several colonies of chinstrap penguins. Brown skuas – large predatory birds – kept swooping down over the penguin nests menacingly attempting to steal the last eggs of the season before the little guys hatch. I climbed to the top of the hill, and the view was incredible – white-blue glaciers on every side and the occasional echoing crash of small calvings happening around us.

A Brown Skua gets dangerously close to a penguin nest with eggs

While I was hiking, my colleague and fellow GTF, Peg Keiner, went out with the dive team and had an opportunity to operate the ship’s Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV). She climbed into a small black box that contains the steering equipment, and stayed warm and dry above water as they remotely dropped the robot to depths of 75-80 meters. She captured some incredible footage of the creatures living below the water and ice, and I can’t wait to share it with my students since I know some of you were very interested in the ROV when we saw it in action in the videos we watched!

National Geographic Explorer‘s ROV

After a busy morning, we spent the afternoon watching for whales off the ship as we passed through Wilhemina Bay. As it turns out, we didn’t need to do much searching, as our ship was surrounded by humpbacks for nearly an hour! These giant water mammals engage in a fascinating feeding ritual during which they work in small groups to create a “net” of bubbles under the water that siphon krill to the top, and we had the opportunity to watch them do this over and over again – so cool! At any given time, there were forty or so whales around the ship, and it was hard to know where to look.

A Humpback Whale surfaces during a feeding ritual in Wilhemina Bay
Humpback Whales’ flukes can be used to track their migration. Check out www.happywhale.com to learn more about scientists’ efforts to track whale populations using crowd-sourcing.

Tonight, after our very long day and early morning yesterday, we were finally tired, and so we closed the porthole, put on our eye-shades to block the sunlight still peeking in, and went to bed bright and early. 

Close (Wildlife) Encounters In an Alien Land

I’m writing from the ship’s library again as I sip a cup of tea and try to warm up after spending several hours on the bow and stern of the ship attempting to capture the magnificent towering glaciers that surrounded us as we sailed through the Lemaire Channel this evening. Today has been a whirlwind of activity and adventure!

First thing this morning, we landed at Orne Harbour, an area close to Port Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsula. We began with a zodiac cruise around the harbor in the midst of increasingly heavy morning snow. The naturalist in my zodiac, Connor Ryan, is a whale expert from Ireland, and not long after we headed out, he spotted a whale. Within minutes, we were surrounded by a pod of 40-50 Type ‘b’ Killer Whales. These magnificent creatures dive to depths of 400-500 meters to feed on Antarctic Toothfish and other sea creatures, and they eat with teeth rather than baleen like Humpbacks. They are social animals, and they capture prey like leopard seals by working together to make a wave that knocks the seals off icebergs into the water. The whales in this pod – particularly the young females – were quite curious about our boat, and they came close to check us out as we floated silently in the bay. Killer whales are massive water mammals, and it was incredible to watch them swim around us and appear within feet of our little water craft. EDIT: Check out this incredible footage of Type ‘B’ killer whales captured by another National Geographic expedition in early January 2018!

A Type ‘b’ Killer Whale surfaces in Orne Harbour
This photo provides some perspective and shows just how close these beautiful water mammals came to our zodiacs.

After more than thirty minutes of whale watching, we headed to shore to begin a 1000 foot ascent up to Spigot Peak. The mountain was covered in a layer of deep snow (probably 1.5-2 feet in many places), and we used walking sticks to help ourselves climb as the snow got heavier and became more icy. About two thirds of the way up, I encountered one of the naturalists. My face must have betrayed my discomfort as tiny icy pellets stung my skin in the bitter wind because she shouted – with genuine enthusiasm – “Sarah, isn’t this wonderful?! This is your Antarctic moment. This is what you imagined when you pictured Antarctica, right?” And that is true. The biting wind, the sting of the snow and ice on my face, and the trudging up a snow-covered mountain while focusing on nothing but putting one foot in front of the other, was indeed very much how I’d pictured the experiences of early Antarctic explorers. I did finally make it to the top, and the views and a colony of intrepid chinstrap penguins who live on the peak made it worth the challenge. Going down, as it turns out, was more like downhill skiing on a very steep and windy trail. Since my skiing experience is limited to two visits to the bunny slope, I did lots of tumbling before I reached the bottom.

After a quick lunch and a change of clothes, we “suited up” again in our full Antarctic gear (for me – silk sock liners and two pairs of wool socks + a thermal undershirt, a fleece jacket, my parka shell jacket, and my ship-issued parka + a pair of wool-lined leggings, a pair of jeans, a pair of sweatpants, and waterproof pants/boots + a hat or headband + two pairs of gloves). Sometimes, it feels like we’re astronauts getting ready to land on another planet. This time, we headed to Port Lockroy – a site that was first used by whalers and later by the British as part of a secret wartime initiative to monitor German shipping movements. It continued to be used for civilian activities until it was disbanded in 1964, and in recent years, it has been restored and is now open to tourists as a museum during Antarctica’s summer months. Next, we headed to Jougla Point (right across from Port Lockroy) where we visited a colony of penguins and watched a pair of sleeping Wedell Seals “talk” in their sleep, as they made noises that sounded like a mix between R2D2 and a pinball machine.

A sleeping wedell seal at Jougla Point

During dinner, I sat at a table with Hannah Johns, a member of this year’s Port Lockroy summer team. She, along with three other volunteers, are spending four months working at historic Port Lockroy on an island the size of a soccer field. They live in very primitive conditions (no running water, no electricity, no internet, gas heat, limited cooking facilities) and are responsible for maintaining the site, completing curatorial work with the site’s artifacts, and maintaining records on the penguin populations on the tiny island. Hannah is a teacher who has taught both at home in the U.K. and in schools around the world, and she will be running the post office of Antarctica this summer (November through March). She kindly shared a little bit about her unique position in a brief video interview for our students. We ended our day sailing through the Lemaire Channel, a narrow passage on the western side of the Antarctic Peninsula known for its towering glacial walls on either side.

So, yes, it was an incredible, exhausting whirlwind of a day.

Bergy Bits and Mountain Tops

This ship certainly doesn’t stay in one place for long! Last night, we departed Barrientos Island and sailed past Deception Island. Seas were rough when we went to bed, and the waves were hitting and obstructing our porthole. This morning, we entered Paradise Bay, a stunning area surrounded by cavernous blue glaciers and plentiful sea ice.

I spent the morning riding a zodiac with a naturalist around the glaciers and through the ice bergs and “bergy bits” (the technical term for chunks of ice that don’t meet the criteria for an iceberg – sticking out of the water at least 15 feet up). The ice is astonishingly colorful, and it’s taking quite a bit of practice fiddling with my camera settings to capture the contrast of colors – especially shades of blue – on the walls of ice. As we rounded a corner in the Bay, one of the glaciers calved – a piece of ice broke off into the water – and the resulting eruption of water and echoing crash was at once amazing and somewhat terrifying.

We traveled during lunch and, upon completing our meal, we had arrived in yet another location – Danco Island. This island looked, perhaps, the most like the iconic “Antarctica”. We climbed a steep, snow-covered incline for nearly a mile and a half. As I climbed, a penguin climbed parallel to me, his tiny round body wiggling and falling and getting back up again. He struggled nearly the entire way up and got his beak stuck in holes in the snow again and again, but he was a persistent little guy and finally waddled his way to the top. It was tough climbing on the way up, especially since I was so distracted by the incredibly scenery all around me and the adorable penguin accompanying me. On the way down, I – mostly unintentionally – took a lesson from my penguin friend and did some belly sliding and flopping as I descended the steep, slippery hill.

This evening, we’ll attend a presentation by Mike Libecki, a “National Geographic Explorer” who has camped and climbed in extreme, remote places around the world. Off to historic Port Lockroy tomorrow!

Stepping Foot on the Peninsula

Today’s the day! After sailing through the Drake Passage, we finally made our first “landing” just after 12pm at Barrientos Island in the South Shetland Islands. We spent the morning learning about the Antarctic Treaty (signed in 1959; went into effect in 1961), an international treaty that declares, among other things, that Antarctica will be used “for peaceful purposes only” with an emphasis on “freedom of scientific investigation and cooperation”.  Because of various provisions of that treaty, tourism in Antarctica is highly regulated to ensure that any human visitors have minimal impact on the unique and fragile ecosystems that thrive on the continent.

In order to protect the delicate biodiversity of Antarctica, we disinfected all items that had previously been used elsewhere (i.e. boots, camera tripods, backpacks, winter clothing) prior to landing. Each time we land and return to the ship, we will repeat this process – stepping in disinfecting fluid with our boots and waterproof pants – to ensure that we don’t introduce a species that could potentially be invasive in an area where it doesn’t belong.

Penguin on a mission across the beach.

We left the ship around 1:30pm in zodiacs (small rubber boats) and headed toward Barrientos Island. Within seconds of pulling away from the ship, the smell of the island was overpowering, and I immediately recognized the scent from the Penguin House at the Bronx Zoo. We were smelling lots and lots and lots of guano (otherwise known as penguin poop). The island is home to two species of penguin – Gentoo and Chinstrap – and they are everywhere! As visitors to their home, we aimed to stay 15 feet or more away from the penguins at any given time. However, the penguins didn’t go to the briefing we attended, so they weren’t aware of the rule. The other two GTF teachers and I sat down on the ground. (Side note: You might be wondering about the guano that I mentioned was everywhere. Yes, there was guano everywhere, so yes, although we tried our best to avoid it, we had to sit in the penguin poop – how often are you in Antarctica, right? Plus, we each have to wash our own pants every time we return to the ship as part of the protocol!) When we sat down to take photos and record audio at the ground level, the penguins walked right up to us and began pecking at our boots. We were careful to stay very still to avoid disturbing them or making any movement toward them, as we wanted to maintain a respectful distance. It was absolutely surreal to be eye level with a Gentoo penguin as he (or she?) waddled by on an Antarctic beach. Definitely worth a little extra cleaning when we got back!

Gentoo penguins waddling along an Antarctic beach.

After dinner this evening, the Expedition Leader made an announcement over the intercom inviting everyone to come to an outer deck as we passed Deception Island. Unfortunately, he forgot to mention the 50 knot (approximately 60 mph) winds outside. So, I, along with my fellow GTF teachers, trekked out to the top decks of the ship, clinging to the railings as w­e attempted to get a good view of Deception Island and the abandoned human stations nearby while also aiming to stay upright. I also attempted to film the experience for my students (see photo below).

60 mph winds off the coast of Deception Island.

Tomorrow, we have a full day – Paradise Bay in the morning and Danco Island in the afternoon. I just checked the monitors inside the ship’s Bridge and learned that we’re currently at a latitude of 62.5d degrees S. It’s also 11:30pm and still as bright as a cloudy CT afternoon. We’ve had to close the porthole in our cabin each night to block out the daylight and remind our bodies that it’s time to go to sleep. Off to Paradise Bay in the morning!

Across the Drake Passage!

Hello from the Drake Passage! As I write, I am sitting in the ship’s library surrounded by windows looking out over the open water. Seabirds are swooping in and out of my line of vision, and the water is relatively calm, although we can definitely feel the swells and the occasional white-capped wave. Unfortunately, I keep finding that if I sit down, I immediately start to fall asleep thanks to the gentle rocking of the ship. In order to avoid snoozing my way to Antarctica, I’ve spent most of the day running up and down between decks exploring all the nooks and crannies of the ship, and I haven’t really stopped moving until now. As my students know from our virtual tour, it’s a big ship, and there’s so much to see!

I didn’t go to sleep until about 11:30 last night because I was sitting on the ship’s bow (front) fascinated by the glow of the sun just beginning to set around 11pm (see photo below). We entered the Drake Passage just before midnight (as I was trying to fall asleep!), and the seas were fairly rough for a few hours during the night – lots of creaking in our cabin and opening and slamming of cabinet and closet doors as the ship pitched with the swells. We woke up to calmer seas, though, and – at least among the three teachers aboard the ship – no seasickness! It was 47º F this morning, which, for us hearty New Englanders, is a cool fall morning. It’s definitely getting chillier as we move farther south, and I’ve put on my hat and gloves now. I’m hoping to spend some more time outside tonight to take some photos of the progressively later sunset.

Sunset in the Southern Hemisphere off the coast of Argentina.

I spent much of today exploring the ship and finding open decks on which to practice my wildlife photography on the albatrosses flying overhead. With 12 foot wingspans (7th graders – remember our demonstration – 2.5 X your armspan for most of you?!), albatrosses make great subjects for novice photographers like myself – they’re pretty hard to miss! I took some video of different parts of the ship for my students, and I’ll post that when I’m able – or share it when I get back if the internet signal isn’t strong enough to post it here. It’s an amazing – and also somewhat eerie – feeling to be on a deck with no land in sight and no other people.

Check out some of my wildlife sightings from today and my first attempt at photographing the unique wildlife of the Antarctic region. Below, there’s a picture of a Black-Browed Albatross (white bird with black wings), and I’ll be putting up more pictures as our internet access allows. I went to workshops on identifying seabirds and Antarctic wildlife photography with the National Geographic naturalists and photographers today, so it’s been a day full of learning at sea for me.

Black-browed albatross flying above the Southern Ocean.

12am Update: I just sat in the Bridge (room with the radar equipment) with the Second Officer and one of the other GTF teachers as we crossed the latitude of 60ºS. This latitude is significant, as it indicates our official entrance into the Antarctic Convergence – a biodiversity boundary that is marked by a clear separation of different species living on each side. Amazingly, just as we crossed over to 60ºS, we observed three Fin Whales blow their characteristic vertical pillars of water just beyond our ship. We are expected to arrive off the Aitcho Islands late tomorrow morning (Wednesday) and aim to land on Barrientos Island, an island on the Aitcho archipelago that is home to Chinstrap and Gentoo penguin colonies, along with Wedell seals and elephant seal babies!