Exploring the Frozen Ocean of Terra Australis Incognita

“May we never tame it” (Andrew Denton), I hope as my thoughts wander against the backdrop of the seemingly limitless expanse of white wilderness. A white so brilliant that it quickly burns the memory into your retina forever. Bar the big red ship, atop of which I am perched, there are no human-built structures in sight and for this I am grateful. I gaze out as the wind whips up recently fallen snow, hurling it into swirling flurries, and listen to the cracking ice as the thick sheets are crushed under the weight of our hull. We have entered the frozen ocean of Antarctica, the territory of the penguin and the sea of the iceberg.

Our Trail

Our Trail while on Station in the Ice

Growler

Growler

Iceberg

Iceberg in a Sea of Pancakes

Iceberg

Ice Ice Baby

Chinstrap Penguins

Chinstrap Penguins

During the Austral Spring of 2019, I was lucky enough to be given a second opportunity to journey south aboard the SA Agulhas II. Forming part of the two-person BirdLife SA seabird observation team, I embarked on the SCALE Spring 2019 Expedition down to the Antarctic Ice on the 12th of October. To say that the Antarctic bug had bit back in 2016, during my first voyage south, would be an understatement of epic proportions. To feel those biting polar winds batter you, to witness albatross soar, their perfectly designed wings glancing the stormy crests, to feel the frigid temperatures take hold as the cold seeps in, to watch the icy waters of a pitch black ocean swirl in our wake, to try and describe the crisp ice blue of looming icebergs, and to feel snowflakes settle onto your eyelashes. I have longed for those experiences, the polar regions of the south being where I feel most at home. Every time I walked out on deck, I would take a moment to appreciate my incredible surroundings, thinking about all those who have ventured before. The ancient Greek philosophers and their theoretical southern continent, the European explorers owning the first Antarctic sightings, and the legends describing the even earlier polar discoveries of the fearless Māori.

Snowflake

Snowflake

Polar Sunset

Polar Sunset

Sun Halo

Sun Halo

Icescape

Icescape

As early as 350 BC, a theoretical southern continent is mentioned in the writings of the ancient Greeks. Reasoning that the landmasses on earth would be in equilibrium on either side of the equator, a cold region in the southern hemisphere was said to exist to counterbalance the northern polar regions. They chose the term ‘Ant-Arktos’ to describe the realms lying on the opposite end of the earth to the land watched over by the constellation of the bear (Arktos), the Arctic. While the existence of this hypothetical continent was not based on any documented observations or first-hand knowledge, the mythical Terra Australis Incognita (Unknown Land of the South) became commonplace in medieval geography, even appearing on maps between the 15th and 18th centuries. No person is thought to have seen this theorised continent until 1820 when Russian Expedition Leader, Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen, and English Naval Officer, Edward Bransfield, were among the first to sight land within the Antarctic Circle. A shelf edge of continental ice and snow-capped mountains on the Antarctic Peninsula, respectively. These discoveries a mere two days apart. On further investigation, a Māori legend speaks of a 7th century Polynesian navigator, Ui-te-Rangiora from Rarotonga, leading a fleet of Waka tīwai (earliest form of canoe in the Pacific region) south to an area in the Southern Ocean that he named Tai-uka-a-pia (‘sea foaming like arrowroot’). Describing their encounters with ice floes and icebergs, their ancient writings state; “These were those wonderful things: the rocks that grow out of the sea, in the region beyond Rapa”. It is thought that these early mariners ventured far enough into the southern sea ice to spot the Ross Ice Shelf and therefore become the first people to lay their eyes on the physical representation of the fabled Terra Australis Incognita. (Carroll & Lopes 2018).

Cloud Patterns

Cloud Patterns

Happy Place

My Happy Place – Hanna Rosenthal

Visibility

Tough Visibility

Life Ring

A Snowy Dusting

What do Terra Australis Incognita, Atlantis, a continent-sinking asteroid and Noah’s Ark all have in common? Antarctica! Apparently. Once again, while researching for this article, I got myself completely absorbed in the tales of early exploration, the legends borne of the faraway unknown, and the adventures of the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus crew. Totally distracted by theories that the lost continent of Atlantis was thought to be Terra Australis Incognita, and by those that claim that the Chicxulub Crater and the mysteries churning within the Bermuda Triangle are linked. Conspiracy theories abound! Dr Abby would be impressed. Sailing through such a dramatic seascape, bounded by ice and totally insignificant in size, is mind-blowingly surreal and to think that only 122 years ago it was still vastly unexplored; the continental coastline and surrounding waters of Queen Maud Land not yet mapped or studied. To put that into perspective, its counterpart to the north had experienced 89 voyages by 1898. This year being significant because of the Ninth Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica that I keep in a rickety old bookcase and use as a reference of how our understanding and knowledge of the world has evolved. The number of pages documenting the polar regions, and the expeditions venturing into them, back in 1898, is fourteen and a half to the north and only one and a half to the uninhabited wilds of the south. Evident in the vast unexplored regions depicted in the map below.

Encyclopedia Britannica - Polar Regions

Polar Regions as depicted in the Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1898

Roaring Forties

Roaring Forties

Approaching Squall

Approaching Squall on the Good Hope Line

Legit Kom Local

Legit Kom Local hits the Antarctic – Jeffrey Slater

This Mug saw a lot of Tea!

This Mug saw a lot of Tea!

While there is still so much we have yet to uncover, we now know a fair bit more about these harsh icy environments. One of the most astounding facts that I now know about this polar continent is that it just about doubles its size in winter. Growing at a rate of approximately 40 000 square miles a day, and reaching its maximum expanse of 7 million square miles in September, sea ice transforms Antarctica from 7 million square miles in February to 13 million square miles just before the spring melt-off begins in October (Scott 2019). “Owned” by no-one, Antarctica is the only continent on earth without a native human population and is a “natural reserve devoted to peace and science”. The Antarctic Treaty was signed by the original 12 countries, of which South Africa was one, in Washington on 1 December 1959. There are now 54 signatories and in 2019, it celebrated its 60th anniversary. We sailed south at the beginning of this melt to document seasonal conditions as part of monitoring long-term environmental trends within the Southern Ocean. The SCALE (Southern oCean seAsonaL Experiment) Expedition is an interdisciplinary experiment being carried out in the SE Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean. The key objectives of the experiment include improving the understanding of climate sensitivity in the Southern Ocean, observing the decadal changes in ocean storage of carbon, geotraces and heat, and providing post-grad training for students from multiple scientific fields. My fellow birder, Derek Engelbrecht, and I, formed part of the Top Predator group documenting the diversity and distribution of seabirds and marine mammals.

Sea Ice Extent - NOAA

Summer vs Winter Sea Ice Extent – NOAA

View from the Stern

View from the Poop Deck

Ice Gear

Things get Serious!

Polar Gear

Trying out my Polar Gear – It was too Warm – Sanne Paarman

Departing Cape Town Harbour at 15h45 on 12 October, I was eager to see what lay ahead, excited to get back to the ice. The remainder of the afternoon was spent in briefings, completing the Overboard Drill and doing test runs on the Birdlasser App. An awesome app using the AS@S Protocol to log our sightings, but one that we had to abandon 10 days into the trip when Google Maps freaked out and stopped working. You know you’re in the middle of nowhere when Google Maps gives up on you, hopelessly dumping you in a San Francisco cemetery. Relaxing into the ship routine has always been easy for me, the fresh air and roll of the ship ensuring a deep sleep, the smell of popcorn filling the corridors. It’s the breaking of these habits that tends to be harder. For at least a couple of weeks after our return, I was still ready for lunch at 11h30, almost waiting for the plinky-plonk of a glockenspiel to announce the commencement of mealtimes, finishing every meal in under 15 min. I devoted the next few days to reacquainting myself with the seabirds of the south, focussing on some of the subtle differences in their appearance and behaviour. We passed what looked like spilled polystyrene balls dispersed over a large area but, after doing a neuston net (dragged alongside to collect small marine organisms and other floating debris from the top 10 cm of the water column), turned out to be beautiful purple storm snail with their shiny bubble-rafts. We crossed into the Roaring Forties and hit our first storm on the second full day at sea. With 6 m swells, driven by 50 knot winds, crashing across our bow all ops were cancelled for the following day… birding continued as per normal. Spotted my first Shackleton and Diomedes of the trip, two of my favourite seabirds (Pintado/Cape petrel and wandering albatross), and realised that Antarctic prions really are the Kruger impalas of the Southern Ocean.

Loading in Harbour

Loading the Ship the Day before our Departure

SA Agulhas II

SA Agulhas II

 

Cape Town Harbour

Cape Town Harbour from East Pier

First Day Sunrise

Sunrise on the Day of Departure

Table Mountain

Leaving Cape Town, and the Iconic Table Mountain, behind Us

Shackletons

Shackletons – The Ship Followers

The third day was dominated by a rescue mission to recover a compromised sailbuoy. It was blue and white, no longer had comms and was lost at sea. In a storm. Needless to say, we didn’t find her. She did, however, come back to life and was beached on the South African West Coast in December, after a 132-day mission that broke records. The little sailbuoy that could! Despite my best efforts, changing time zones always caught me out. I assumed my phone clock would automatically update. It did not. I was an hour early for breakfast. I manually changed it to the London time-zone but did not take into account their change from daylight savings, which annoyingly, my phone did, making me an hour late for breakfast a few days later. Thankfully Rebecca, one quarter of the awesome Cabin 5317 Crew, had brought along a bakkie-load of snacks so always kept us fed. Derek and I split up our time into two-hour spotting shifts with the idea to use the time in-between to defrost and rest our eyes. As we neared the ice, a serious bout of FOMO hit with neither of us spending much time inside. During off-shifts and while on stations, I could be found on either the Heli or Poop decks photographing ship followers (when not thawing out in my cabin), and other interesting species, as well as the breath-taking (could’ve just been the low temperatures) beauty of the continually changing surroundings. At one of our first stations, we were inspected by a raft of curious southern rockhopper penguins and, once steaming again, a couple of pods of short-finned pilot whales approached our bow while a large pod of southern right whale dolphins silently crossed approx. 5 km off of our stern. Skimming low above the surface, these animals hurtled into the grey mist of a disappearing squall much to the disappointment of most, as this incredible sighting was only seen by three of us.

Diomedes

Diomedes (Wandering Albatross)

Ghost

Ghost (Snow Petrel)

 

Sooty Albatross

Phoebe (Sooty Albatross)

Shackleton

Shackleton (Cape/Pintado Petrel)

Top Deck

Top Deck (Antarctic Petrel)

Being based on the Monkey Island, we would help spot for the other Top Predator teams. Descriptions become rather inventive when there are no obvious reference points available. “The blow was half a gloved-finger below the horizon”, “I saw a splash below that cloud shaped like a gorilla”, “If the dark pointy piece of ice comes into your binocular vision then you’ve gone too far”, “You see that dark patch of water behind the light grey patch of water but not as far as the fuzzy white line? It was somewhere in there”, “Is that a…oh no, never mind, it’s just another crack in the ice”. The enthusiasm for spotting never dwindled, no matter the weather. We reached the Furious Fifties in a blizzard of swirling snow, flying ice pellets and driving hail. And at a temperature of -18° C, it was my kind of weather. Although, not being able to open your eyes did hinder spotting somewhat. Out there, on watch, I was rewarded with some beautifully unique moments. Accompanied by seven ship-following Shackletons, beautiful Diomedes (wandering albatross) suddenly appeared out of the hazy whiteout, lingering in the lee of the Crow’s Nest Tower for a moment before vanishing into a gust of falling snow. Phoebe, the equally beautiful sooty albatross, was occasionally seen seemingly suspended from a heavily clouded sky. The first icebergs were spotted on Sunday the 20th of October. A welcome sight, especially after a rather uncomfortable night of claustrophobic heat where you would be forgiven for thinking that you had arrived on the surface of the sun! The thermostat had a bit of a wobbly that lasted until lunchtime the following day. I spent the night under a wet towel and dozing in the Deck 6 lounge. There’s something about icebergs; every one different and every one just as impressive as the last. They seem ghostly, ethereal, like you’ve been transported to an incredibly magical world. The clarity of that sharp ice-blue, the cold rolling off them in cascades. Two days after spotting the first icebergs, we encountered broken up ice floes and finally reached the Antarctic Marginal Ice Zone (MIZ). The excitement was palpable. Everyone came out on deck to greet it with enthusiastic whoops and squeals.

Ice!

We Spot Ice!

Sparkly Pancakes

Sparkly Pancakes

Lowering the Mast

Lowering the Mast so that the Crane could Operate

View from Cabin

Waking up to this – View from our Cabin

Ice

So Happy to be Back!

Happy Face

Happy in the Snow – Sanne Paarman

The search and collection of suitable frazil and pancake ice samples could begin and, as we ventured deeper south, so could the tagging quest for Ross seals. Due to its preference of heavy pack ice, little is known about the Southern Ocean’s smallest seal. Members from the Mammal Research Institute (University of Pretoria) aimed to change this by tagging as many individuals as they could. The team of four intrepid researchers successfully sampled and satellite-tagged two beautiful specimens whose measurements and movements will add valuable data to our limited knowledge. The zig-zagging nature of the seal census would render the seabird atlasing inaccurate so Derek decided that we would join in the census fun and count penguins. I realised later, after leaving the ice, how cushy we had it. Penguins are all relatively big, they stick around until the last second staring at the passing ship and, being so few species from which to choose, are very easy to identify. Back in open water and the tiny zooming storm-petrels snapped me back to atlasing reality.

Frazil Ice

Frazil Ice Collection

Pancake Ice

Pancake Ice Collection

 

Ice-Corers being Watched

Ice-coring with an Audience (Emperor Penguin)

Southern Fulmar

Southern Fulmar

Shackleton

Shackleton – My Favourite

Adelie

Curious Adelie Penguin watching the Ship

To keep ourselves entertained during the quiet times, a Murder Game was invented. A “hit list” was posted on the pinboard just outside the Dining Saloon and each of us blindly selected a victim, a location at which to carry out the murder and a weapon with which to eliminate the victim. Within hours people no longer trusted one another, evasively responding to any questions and treating everyone with thinly-veiled suspicion. “With which team are you working?” and “Would you like to join me at the gym?” were no longer seen as casual conversation. Calculating plots began brewing and alliances began forming. Late at night on Tuesday 22 October 2019, I was murdered in the most devious manner. I was sitting under the router in the passageway, trying to get better signal for messages, when Diego came rushing in in a panic. There was a little bird in distress, it had flown into the side of the ship and needed assistance. Being one of the birders, he thought that I could help. I was really worrying about the bird, already wondering whether or not I should wake Dr Abby, while I hurriedly pulled my jacket and boots on over my pyjamas and rushed to the lower deck to help. I emerged on the Poop Deck, a bitterly cold wind funnelling between the containers, only to find Diego brandishing a bucket. Momentarily thinking that the bird was in the bucket, I went to look inside. A split second later and my brain caught up with me, realising that this sneaky bastard had played on my emotions and conned me out into the cold only to kill me. Well played!

Hull Inspection

Hull Inspection in the Snow

Broken Ice

Ice Broken by the Ship

Southern Giant Petrel

Southern Giant Petrel

At 58° S and with a temperature of -32° C, we started to encounter the thicker ice. The ship’s movement through it feels and sounds like travelling by train; crunching through the ice at 10 knots, a dull thud reverberates through the ship as the sheets are cracked under the weight of her bow. The sea out here looks almost black in colour and you can easily imagine the rawness of the bitter cold should you fall in. It is, however, a little harder to imagine while writing this in the sweltering heat of a Cape Town summer. I am definitely longing for the frigid temperatures of the south. The SA Agulhas II is an impressive ship and listening to how the Crew speak about her and her capabilities, is endearing. Her bow and stern thrusters, along with her multi-directional propellers, are able to move her sideways (especially handy when surrounded by ice) and, together with her computer-controlled dynamic positioning GPS system, hold a position with incredible accuracy for hours, even in bad weather. She houses 8 permanent labs and 6 portable container labs, an on-board desalinisation plant and the cargo capacity of 4 000 m3. Her drop keel allows for the deployment of sensitive echo-sounders that are lowered 3 m below the hull to track the seafloor, measure ocean currents and record the presence of organisms. 6 000 m of steel cable spools off the deep-water sampling CTD, a rosette of 24 x 20 litre niskin bottles, to measure the physical properties of seawater (conductivity, temp, depth (pressure) and capture water samples from specific depths for further analysis. My favourite is the moon pool, similar in design to a lift shaft that is used to deploy scientific equipment down through 3 decks and the ship’s hull allowing sampling to continue even when the ship is surrounded by ice or in heavy weather (Lucas 2012).

Bongo Nets

Bongo Net for Plankton Collection

Neuston Net

Neuston Net used to Sample Microplastics

CTD

CTD being Deployed from out of the Side Hatch

Tobogganing Adelies

Tobogganing Adelies

Iceberg

Another Impressive Iceberg

While this trip did not encounter overly heavy weather, thanks to the storm-dodging mastery of our Captain, we were treated to a few days of Southern Ocean charm. And, as I mentioned, that’s my kind of weather. Scraping ice off the outside of the Crow’s Nest windows at approx. 35 m above sea level, while standing on a wonky frozen chair, during a blizzard… just another day in paradise! I was a guest in that cosy little bubble while I was helping out the whale team during their 5-day survey. I say helping, but… I spent the whole day, spotting nothing from the Crow’s Nest only to be climbing down the ladders inside the tower at the end of the day’s final shift (never to be done without gloves!), when a blue whale surfaced right next to the ship! We popped out at the bottom to joyous celebrations… Bloody hell! Something to which I never got accustomed was the testing of the ship’s horn at noon every day. It always brought on a colourfully sweary moment as it blasted my ears when on the Monkey Island, but it was especially brain-jiggling when I holed-up in the Crow’s Nest just below it. As the journey progressed, we became used to the routine of the crew; especially when it concerned snacks. The kiosks started filling up a few minutes before 15h00 with people “washing their mugs” while they were actually just waiting for the biscuit delivery and zealously warding off stealthy intruders from other decks. By 15h05, all the biscuits would be gone.

Window Cleaning

Practising my Window Cleaning approx. 35 m up – Elisa Seyboth

Antarctic Fur Seal

Antarctic Fur Seal looking a tad Miffed that we Interrupted its Sleep

Wandering Albatross

Wandering Albatross

Adelies Contemplating their Existence

A Pair of Adelies admire the View

Bailing Adelie

A Bailing Adelie

One of the items most looked forward to on the menu were flapjacks, sneakily named “Girdle Cakes” (spelling as seen on the menu, pretty sure it’s because that’s what you’ll need to wear after eating them). Urgent messages would be sent around the ship to rouse those already in bed after the night-shift. The chefs were incredible, and always so accommodating; their food so appreciated after being out in the cold for hours getting samples or just not wanting to miss a moment. One such moment being the first time that I saw an emperor penguin. I was getting ready for breakfast when Sanne burst in announcing that there was a penguin right near the ship. I obviously rushed out, with my camera but without my sunglasses, beanie, buff, gloves, thermals and in jeans (the worst) with only one pair of socks (horrors); breakfast long-forgotten. Lunch, however, didn’t touch sides! The emperor was a beautiful yearling, later joined by another, that inspected the ice-coring team before tobogganing to the stern where it spent the next two hours contemplating its existence while my fingers slowly froze. While watching the two interact and listening to them communicate with each other, it began snowing. The moment could not get any more special. The one penguin did, however, slightly spoil the vibe by doing what could only be described as the most oily, smelly shart all over the pristine white ice. His partner, presumably horrified, shuffled upwind in disgust. I only allowed myself to retreat to the warmth of my cabin once the pair had become little black smudges in the distance.

Windblown Ice

Windblown Ice

Blue

That Blue

On Saturday 26 October, after reaching 59° S, we began our track east and started our penguin census. The clumsy, albeit lovable, Adelies dominated our counts. A crabeater seal with fuzzy pup incited even more “ooohs” and “aaahs”. When the ship moves through the sea, between the ice floes, it’s almost silent but, according to my diary, the she got stuck a few times in the thicker ice so a lot of the day was spent in reverse. I forgot my sunglasses in my cabin during one 3-hour shift, my eyes being burnt by the glare, and so suffered head and eye aches for the next few days. Conditions out there do not allow you to be stupidly forgetful, the consequences of failing to properly thermalise being severe. The following day saw the Springboks take on Wales in the Rugby World Cup semi-final and, while we were steaming east through consolidated ice, we gathered with the Captain and crew in the auditorium to cheer our team on. After supper a Ross seal was spotted and the sealers were deployed by crane against a setting sun. We huddled on deck watching them collect their samples and fit the first satellite tag. Being spring, the ice is naturally melting and so we moved further south to find safer ice on which to core. On Thursday 31 October, in anticipation for the Rugby World Cup final, we decorated the weather balloon with a giant springbok, English rose and good luck message from the Southern Ocean. Mike, in his South African flag speedo, bravely released the balloon into the atmosphere and we released the subsequent photos all over social media, with copies being sent to the Springboks. Now you know where Faf de Klerk got his now-famous look. I finished the day with food poisoning while others celebrated Halloween. There were some great costumes. I was going to ask the kitchen for a bag of raisins that I had planned to sellotape to my chest while wearing all blue… I’d be ocean currents. Well I thought it was genius!

Reflections

Reflections

Ghost

A Ghost for Halloween

Ross Seal

First Ross Seal to be Tagged

Sealers

Sealers being Deployed as the Sun Sets

Weather Balloon

Decorating the Weather Balloon before sending the Positive Vibes into the Atmosphere

Mike Deploying Weather Balloon

Mike Releasing the Weather Balloon

Derek and I decided that we would sacrifice a couple of hours of observations so that we could watch the Rugby World Cup final between South Africa and England. The auditorium joined in with the anthems and then sat in tense silence for the first half. The second half though, wow! South Africans erupted at the final whistle and, with a final score of 32-12, Kolisi’s team could not have made us prouder. Mere minutes after returning to our observations, a Ross seal was spotted and the sealers were once again deployed; successfully sampling and tagging a beautiful female. The crew lit the fires and, to a backdrop of immensely impressive icebergs, we enjoyed a celebratory braai and toasted the victorious Springboks. It even started snowing. Later at the bar, in true SA Agulhas II tradition (well, it is now), I introduced Sanne, Rebecca and Prince (our other awesome weather guru) to Kabo. Having learnt the card game during my first Antarctic expedition, it was only to be expected that I pass the knowledge on to the new recruits. It only took a couple of rounds before the scheming started, impressive.

Ross Seal Approach

Approach…

Protesting

A Protesting Ross Seal

Team in Position

Team in Position

South Africa Won

South Africa Won!

Braai

Braai with a View

Cabin 5317 Crew

Cabin 5317 Crew – Stiaan Louw

At Station MIZ 9, 58.5° S and 22° E, I encountered my first leopard seal. And she had a pup! A rare and special sighting. While photographing the pair from the bow, a raft of chinstraps swam passed, a group of Adelies waddled about on a pancake close by, and snow petrels delicately danced on the slushy ice floating between the floes. Once the station closed, we started our journey back to the ice edge, planning to be out of the ice tomorrow. I will miss this surreal world tremendously. As dusk was setting in, we spotted the first of the returning humpback whales and, just before nightfall, I was treated to a small pod of hourglass dolphins. 4 November marked the beginning of the 4-day whale survey that would see us head back west at 5 NM from the ice edge. Two days later and I saw my first blue whale. The excitement on deck was unmistakable. We watched this incredible creature, its sheer size astounding, between the pancakes; its 12 m high blow and never-ending back leaving us speechless. Friday 8 November saw us back on the zero line and having a fire drill. I said my goodbyes to the ice and I will miss Ghost (snow petrels) and Top Deck (Antarctic petrels). Being out of the ice means that seasickness has returned to the unlucky. The Monkey Island is once again quiet, with only the observers taking up residence. Stormy conditions are brewing, albatross are once again accompanying the ship, but the Captain has a plan to keep us out of the worst of it. And he did, not a wave over 5 m was seen. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed, I was definitely in the minority.

Leopard Seal and Pup

Leopard Seal and Pup

Chinstrap Raft

A Raft of Chinstraps

Adelie on a Pancake

Adelie on a Pancake

Snow Petrel

A Snow Petrel Dancing on Ice

Adelies and Leopard Seals

Adelies and Leopard Seals

Blue Whale

My Very First Blue Whale

Wandering Albatross

Back to the High Seas

With only 5 days left of this adventure, the Captain carried out an impressive rescue mission. Of a waveglider. Once in our sights, the Captain and crew worked together to sidle the ship up to the glider in a sort of Joey’s “how you doing?” moment, and we could see the reason for the recovery. A missing solar panel had exposed wires at which a group of albatross were happily pecking. When mere metres away, the glider was gracefully plucked from the ocean and delicately deposited on the Heli Deck. A beautifully clear sunset was followed by bioluminescence at midnight, under a rich yellow moon that occasionally peeked out from behind the charcoal clouds. It made me realise that I hadn’t seen the moon in weeks, along with the colour green. It was suddenly very warm outside; we were approaching land, and summer. Another incredible sunset graced our last evening onboard, its rays transforming our wake into silky mercury, with Cape gannets gliding passed and a horizon punctuated by distant whale blows. A few of us spent over an hour on the bow as night fell around us, trying to spot the city lights in the distance, the strong beam of the Slangkop Lighthouse eventually breaking through the darkness. While people started to pack, and celebrated a successful trip at the bar, I hung back on deck, watching shimmering sparks of bioluminescence under a skyful of lightly twinkling stars. I quietly thanked my lucky ones.

Sunset

One of our Final Sunsets

Setting Sun

A Glorious Sunset

Waveglider under Attack

Waveglider under Attack

Rescue Mission

Waveglider Recovery

Swirls of Beauty

Incredible Colours off the Stern

Penguin Trails

Penguin Trails

Explore. Dream. Discover.

 I would like to dedicate this, my Antarctic Adventure, to my awesome parents who have been so incredibly supportive of and excited for me, even looking after my dog, Kai, while I roamed this icy wilderness. Thank you!

 Acknowledgements

Thank you to Captain Bengu and the Officers and Crew of the SA Agulhas II for keeping us safe, facilitating all the scientific requirements and accommodating the viewing of a very cool RWC Final.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to the following…

Andrew de Blocq from BirdLife SA for inviting me to participate in and contribute to the AS@S Project.

Fellow Birder, Derek Engelbrecht, for the company, the chats, the sharing of his wealth of knowledge and the incredible Nat Geo-style photos.

Dr Abby Paton for your medical expertise and coffee kiosk chats over brewing tea/coffee/milo.

Top Predator Crew and Spotters for the endless laughs and thought-provoking chats, especially during the blizzards and quiet patches. Derek, Elisa, Horst, Isabelle, Jeff, Marthán, Nico, Sanne, Wiam… you guys rock!

Steward Ashwin for taking such good care of us, and ensuring that the best biscuits and muesli rusks were in the Deck 5 Kiosk!

Chief Scientist Tommy Ryan-Keogh and the entire SCALE Spring 2019 Team for making this a successful and awesome voyage.

Cabin 5317 Crew (Hanna, Rebecca and Sanne) for always looking out for and entertaining each other. Mortdecai was hilarious!

My murderer, Diego, for hatching such an elaborate, albeit mean, murder plan.

 Species Lists

Seabirds (34)

  • Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos)
  • Black-browed albatross (Thalassarche melanophris)
  • Grey-headed albatross (Thalassarche chrysostoma)
  • Light-mantled albatross (Phoebetria palpebrata)
  • Shy albatross (Thalassarche cauta)
  • Sooty albatross (Phoebe – Phoebetria fusca)
  • Wandering albatross (Diomedes – Diomedea exulans)
  • Bank cormorant (Phalacrocorax neglectus)
  • Cape cormorant (Phalacrocorax capensis)
  • Southern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides)
  • Cape gannet (Morus capensis)
  • Hartlaub’s gull (Chroicocephalus hartlaubii)
  • Kelp gull (Larus dominicanus)
  • African sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus)
  • Antarctic petrel (Top Deck – Thalassoica antarctica)
  • Atlantic petrel (Pterodroma incerta)
  • Blue petrel (Halobaena caerulea)
  • Cape (Pintado) petrel (Shackleton – Daption capense capense)
  • Grey petrel (Procellaria cinerea)
  • Kerguelen petrel (Aphrodroma brevirostris)
  • Northern giant petrel (Macronectes halli)
  • Snow petrel (Ghost – Pagodroma nivea)
  • Soft-plumaged petrel (Pterodroma mollis)
  • Southern giant petrel (Macronectes giganteus)
  • White-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis)
  • White-headed petrel (Pterodroma lessonii)
  • Antarctic prion (Pachyptila desolata)
  • Cory’s shearwater (Calonectris borealis)
  • Great shearwater (Ardenna gravis)
  • Sooty shearwater (Ardenna grisea)
  • Subantarctic skua (Stercorarius antarcticus)
  • Black-bellied storm-petrel (Fregetta tropica)
  • Common tern (Sterna hirundo)
  • Swift tern (Thalasseus bergii)

Penguins (6)

  • Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)
  • Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus)
  • Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)
  • King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
  • Macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)
  • Southern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome)

Cetaceans (8)

  • Hourglass dolphin (Lagenorhynchus cruciger)
  • Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas edwardii)
  • Short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus)
  • Southern right whale dolphin (Lissodelphis peronii)
  • Antarctic minke whale (Balaenoptera bonaerensis)
  • Blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus)
  • Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus)
  • Humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae)

Seals (5)

  • Antarctic fur seal (Arctocephalus gazella)
  • Cape fur seal (Arctocephalus pusillus pusillus)
  • Crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophaga)
  • Leopard seal and pup (Hydrurga leptonyx)
  • Ross seal (Ommatophoca rossii)

Other (2)

  • Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta)
  • Ocean sunfish (Mola mola)

References

Carroll M & Lopes Rosaly. 2018. Antarctica: Earth’s Own Ice World. First Edition. New York: Springer.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. 1875-1889. Ninth Edition. Edinburgh: A & C Black.

Lucas M. 2012. A New Ship for Polar Research. [ONLINE]. Accessed at: https://seamester.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SA-Agulhas-Information.pdf

Scott M. 2019. Understanding Climate: Antarctic Sea Ice Extent. [ONLINE] Accessed at: https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/understanding-climate-antarctic-sea-ice-extent

Shirihai H. 2007. A Complete Guide to Antarctic Wildlife. Second Edition. London: Bloomsbury.

 

 

2 thoughts on “Exploring the Frozen Ocean of Terra Australis Incognita

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s