Bransfield, 1/10/2022, National Geographic Endurance
National Geographic Endurance
It is believed that 202 years ago this month, Irishman Edward Bransfield was the first person to see and describe the Antarctic Peninsula. We sailed through those same waters today, albeit in much more comfort. Bransfield Strait, the 200-mile stretch of sea between the South Shetlands and the Peninsula, is named in honour of Bransfield’s discovery. We are heading from Trinity Island towards the Trinity Peninsula, which Bransfield named “Trinity Land.” It was a wild and windy day here, which prevented a landing despite valiant attempts!
Conor Ryan is a congenital ecologist. His career began in the late 1980s, when he developed a keen interest in intertidal ecology, undertaking almost daily field trips to the seashore across from his home in Cobh, Ireland. Though he logged significan...
Please Note: This expedition crosses the International Date Line, so there will be two DERs for February 5. A calm but foggy morning greeted us for our last day of exploring the Subantarctic Islands of New Zealand and Australia. Macquarie is unique in its position on the boundary of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. The island is entirely comprised of oceanic rocks with a complete sequence from mantle to extruded ocean floor. These rocks are draped with a lush vegetation dominated by grasses and megaherbs that tumble down precipitous slopes to the shore. Many seabirds call this place home, including the elegant light-mantled albatross, the endemic Macquarie shag, and the effervescent rockhopper penguin. The main story is in the massive colonies of royal penguins and king penguins, estimated at well over a million pairs.
After three wonderful days in New Zealand’s Subantarctic Islands, we are making our way south to Macquarie Island, within the Tasmin State of Australia. Macquarie is a UNESCO World Heritage site, namely for its fascinating geology. The intact seafloor was pushed above sea level by mid-oceanic convergence to form the island. The same ridge that produced Macquarie Island also creates ocean currents that generate biodiverse hotspots, and we were greeted with evidence of just that this morning. During breakfast, we spotted several whale blows in all directions around National Geographic Endurance . We sighted two southern right whales, one of the rarer cetaceans in the Southern Ocean, and numerous sei whales. We were also escorted by a large pod of long-finned pilot whales. The large males and pairs of mothers and calves were just off the bow. They had large, round, shiny heads, white blazes, and beautiful saddles. It was truly a treat to watch them effortlessly move through the water as a unit before disappearing together in one fluid dive. We had two lectures by the photo team. One helped us better understand the phone in our pockets, a.k.a. our smartphone, and the other helped us improve our bird photography. Next up was a lecture on the smell of the ocean by naturalist Conor Ryan. We learned how birds find dense prey aggregations in the vast ocean they call home. The seas were relatively calm, and the fog came and went throughout the day. Albatrosses soared along effortlessly as we moved toward our next destination. The air is getting noticeably cooler. Soon we will lose sight of the vegetation we have been enjoying along with the milder temperatures. We are getting ever closer to the Ross Sea. We are getting closer to Antarctica.
Although we arrived in thick fog and rain, the weather and visibility gradually improved as the day progressed. We Zodiac-cruised the bays of the inner harbour in the morning, followed by a rewarding hike to a southern royal albatross colony under blue skies in the evening.