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Summer in Antarctica  

By Robert Holbrook
Special to the Lookout

April 6, 2011 -- When not doing yeoman's service on the city council, Robert Holbrook, along with his wife Jean Ann, is an accomplished world traveler. Today, Holbrook shares his experiences on his latest cruise to Antarctica with our readers.

Last January Jean Ann and I sailed on the last cruise ship that will be allowed to visit Antarctica, the Star Princess.

Ships that carry diesel fuel are no longer allowed to sail below sixty degree south latitude. In order to reach the Antarctic Peninsula you must go below sixty degrees.

Antarctica is stunningly beautiful, serene and the silence is deafening. If the wind isn't blowing and making some noise, I am sure you could drop a pin and hear it a mile away! The icebergs are spellbinding. Many we saw could easily carry our entire City of Santa Monica on their backs!

Only two percent of the Antarctic is free of ice. Ninety percent of all the fresh water on our planet is ice in the Antarctic. The Antarctic Peninsula and islands that are close by are steep and sharply chiseled by millions of years of wind, rain and ice. The most spectacular scenery is along this area of the Antarctic.

The Antarctic is rich with bird life, and the penguins are the ones you chuckle at and photograph the most. Sea birds are everywhere. They are close to land and they appear hundreds of miles from land as we sailed from South America to the Antarctic. Whales and seals are abundant. There are no land animals that live in the antarctic. The only animals that live on the ice are the Emperor and Adelie penguins.

This King penguin was photographed in the Falkland Islands. He has beautiful orangey-yellow cheeks and a yellow patch of feathers on the top of his breast. Notice the bump above his feet. That is an egg resting on top of his feet and covered by his belly feathers to keep it warm.

King penguin caring for his offspring Photos by Robert Holbrook

The Kings are the second largest and tallest penguins. The Emperor penguins are the largest.

There are no trees or bushes on the Falklands, only those planted near homes and cared for by people. Regrettably there are 19,000 explosive land mines left undetected on the Falklands. Hugh areas are fenced off with signs waring of the land mines. The mines are plastic and undetectable with typical mine detectors. They are a left over from the Falkland War.

The Star Princess was stopped in Admiralty Bay at King George Island in the South Shetland Island group. We were picking up some Polish scientists and leaving some off at a Polish research station on the shore close by.

Everyone was watching a rubber boat going back and forth from the station to our ship. I walked to the other side of the ship to take some pictures of beautiful Admiralty Bay. I saw this humpback whale about a block away swimming directly towards me.

Humpback whale gets close

He went under I stood there about 15 minutes wondering where he went. I looked down and he was swimming along the side of our ship beneath the water. I snapped this picture as he surfaced and blew right beneath me! Notice his two large nostrils on the top of his head and the light reflecting off of his two long flukes on either side beneath the water. A beautiful summer day, no wind, no waves and the air temperature was 32 degrees and the sea temperature was 33!

This is my favorite iceberg picture.

Tabular, or table, berg

This iceberg is a tabular berg. It is flat on top and broke off the Antarctic continent after being pushed by ice behind it onto the sea and eventually breaking off. I was told that the blue ice can be as much as 30,000 years old. The ice caves were carved by wind and ocean. Only one-ninth of an iceberg is above water.

Ships must be very careful to stay a safe distance from large bergs as they can extend out beneath the water! It can take years for large icebergs to melt. This iceberg is in the Gerlache Strait.

The last picture is a typical scene of the Antarctic Peninsula along the Gerlache Strait.

A summer landscape in Antarctica

Small ships will continue visiting the Antarctic Peninsula as they are not powered by diesel or get some kind of approval.

Be aware that crossing the Drake passage from South America to the Antarctic Peninsula is some of the roughest ocean in the world (if not the roughest). On small ships the crossing is two days down and two days back. Be sure to bring your seasick medicines and hope for good weather!!

The Star Princess is a large ship and much faster so we crossed in one day in each direction and had no stomach problems, although it was a little rocky heading back to South America, so they canceled the floor show that night for the safety of the dancers.

That night it was 32 degrees and the wind blowing about 75 miles per hour and the seas running about 12 feet. Not bad at all. No one was seasick!

There is obviously a lot more to tell about the Antarctic, but one thing that is very positive is that it is a more pristine environment than it was fifty years ago. The scientists and countries that have research stations there have been removing the derelict remnants of the whaling industry that had bases there, old rusting tanks, broken shipwrecks, etc. are being removed.


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