On November 25, 2022, we left for our long journey to Antarctica, at the bottom of the world. We boarded our cruise ship at Puerto Williams, Chile, on Nov. 27, after flying from Santiago, Chile. It took another two days through the rough Drake Passage to reach the Antarctica Peninsula. We arrived home on December 8.
On our first day on the ship, we spotted the Moon. You may wonder why this is noteworthy. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Moon and the constellations look upside down! It is quite bizarre to see this.
The Moon looks upside down to us from the Southern Hemisphere. Credit: Randy Attwood
Because Earth is a sphere, when in the Southern Hemisphere, we are actually upside down compared to when in the Northern Hemisphere, so our perspective of the Moon changes. Credit: Betty Robinson
We had hoped to see some of the many beautiful night-sky objects that can only be seen in the Southern Hemisphere, such as the Southern Cross constellation. And we were ready to see the aurora australis (the southern lights). But we were in the deep south (latitude 65 degrees south) just a few weeks before the Southern Hemisphere’s summer solstice. As a result, the Sun was up most of the time and when it set, it set just a few degrees below the horizon. So, the sky never got dark for us. Rats!
Our first excursion to land turned out to be one of the best. We visited our first colony of penguins, Gentoos. Penguins are not afraid of people; however, visitors to Antarctica must stay 5 metres from penguins. If penguins walk by, you let them; they have the right of way. It was breeding season when we were there, so we witnessed lots of courting behaviours and nest building.
Our first stop was a visit to a colony of Gentoo penguins. Penguins everywhere, with our cruise ship in the background. Credit: Betty Robinson
We are Canadian, so we were prepared for the cold. However, we weren’t prepared for the beauty: the mountains, the glaciers, the icebergs, the wildlife. It was stunning!
We were treated to spectacular views like this every day. Credit: Randy Attwood
The blue-coloured ice in the glaciers and glacier fragments (icebergs) was vibrant. Whenever you see ice with blue in it, you know you are looking at really old ice: Over thousands of years, precipitation (snow) accumulates, and the ice becomes quite compacted and dense. As the ice is compressed, the air bubbles are squeezed, and they become quite small while the ice crystals get larger. When sunlight lands on the glacier ice, the dense ice crystals absorb all the colours of visible light except blue. Blue light has shorter wavelengths than the other colours of visible light, so the blue light passes through the ice and gets scattered, which is what we see.
The farther light travels in glacier ice, the more intense and vibrant the blue. Credit: Randy Attwood
Over the several excursions to land we saw three types of penguins: Gentoos, Chinstraps, and Adelies. There were many other bird species, as well: the Antarctic albatross, petrels, skua, terns, and more. We saw a few seals, too. We never tired of seeing the humpback whales.
Two humpback whales looking for krill. Credit: Randy Attwood
When you see the whale tail like this, straight up from the water, it means the whale is making a deep dive. Credit: Randy Attwood
Our visit to Antarctica was outstanding. It is such an interesting and amazing place to visit. And it’s well protected, too. Nobody owns Antarctica. However, there is an organization called the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO), which is dedicated to preserving this unique continent. IAATO was founded in 1991 and is made up of tour operators from several countries, all with the common goal to promote environmentally responsible travel to the Antarctic.