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In the Footsteps of Franklin: Canadian Team Discovers Lost Franklin Expedition Ship

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Feature photo: Bettman/Corbis

After more than 160 years of searching, the Government of Canada announced this week that a Canadian team has located one of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated Arctic exploration ships, just off King William Island.

"I am delighted to announce that this year’s Victoria Strait Expedition has solved one of Canada’s greatest mysteries, with the discovery of one of the two ships belonging to the Franklin Expedition lost in 1846," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement September 9, 2014.

Franklin's ship Image credit: Parks Canada

"Although we do not know yet whether the discovery is Her Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Erebus or HMS Terror, we do have enough information to confirm its authenticity. This find was confirmed on Sunday, September 7, 2014, using a remotely operated underwater vehicle recently acquired by Parks Canada."

Bob Headland, senior associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge and a member of Quark’s Expedition Team, tells Quark, "The discovery of the wreck of either HMS Terror or HMS Erebus is a major development in resolving some of the many mysteries of the fate of Sir John Franklin and his expedition. The results of a scientific investigation of the wreck will provide evidence about the ship's fate, although many other enigmas will remain."

Headland warns that documentary evidence is highly unlikely to have survived aboard. However, he says, "There is much that may provide other information, especially as the wreck is in such shallow waters."

The Lost Franklin Expedition has been one of the great archaeological and marine mysteries of the last century and a half. In 1845, Franklin and his crew of 129 men and officers departed England in search of the Northwest Passage. After three years with no reports back from her husband, Lady Jane Franklin convinced the government to send search parties. Searchers came back largely empty handed, though reports from Canadian Inuit indicated that Franklin and his crew had died.

A search by Leopold McClintock and commissioned by Lady Franklin in 1857 led to the discovery of a number of corpses and a cairn note chronicling the voyages of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. According to those logs, the ships had hung up on ice in May, 1847, but all was well. The ships were stocked with enough food supplies to last up to three years.

By April 1848, the tone of the missives began to show that all was not well at all. The men had been caught up on the ice for over a year and had begun to abandon ship.

What might have happened aboard the ships has been the source of much speculation since. In 1981, skeletal remains were unearthed on King William Island by a University of Alberta team. Lead poisoning and scurvy were identified through forensic testing as likely causes of death.

Grave sight

In 1984, the remains of three crew members were exhumed on Beechey Island, a National Historic Site of Canada thanks to its Franklin connection and a stop on Quark’s In the Footsteps of Franklin expedition. A small grave site now marks the final resting place of these three crew members, who were also believed to have died from lead poisoning.

Excavations in 1992 seem to point to a more sinister demise for some of Franklin's men, as the bones unearthed were inflicted with cut marks. Many have speculated that Franklin's crew had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive.

What happened aboard the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror to cause the men to abandon ship? We may never know, but the discovery of one of the lost vessels certainly gives researchers new avenues to explore.

This week, Harper thanked the parties and agencies that had assisted in the discovery efforts. He said, "I would like to congratulate and pay tribute to all partners involved in this year’s momentous Victoria Strait Expedition, including Parks Canada, the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS), the Arctic Research Foundation (ARF), the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), the Royal Canadian Navy and the Government of Nunavut. This discovery would not have been possible without their tireless efforts over the years, as well as their commitment, dedication and the perseverance of the many partners and explorers involved."

Canada also plans to continue searching for the second lost Franklin ship. In his statement, Harper promised, "Finding the first vessel will no doubt provide the momentum – or wind in our sails – necessary to locate its sister ship and find out even more about what happened to the Franklin Expedition’s crew."

Headland explained to Quark, "Now the location of one ship is known, the probability of locating the other is increased. Relics from the expedition, including many poignant ones, have been detected for over a century and a half, but one of the ships is the largest of any yet. Careful examination of the wreck will take time, especially as the Arctic winter is rapidly approaching, but I look forward enthusiastically to learn of the findings."

He added, "The several Canadian organizations involved are to be congratulated on their success after much effort in searching for the ships has been made over many decades."

Greenland

Travelers in search of an authentic Franklin expedition experience are invited to join us as we travel In the Footsteps of Franklin on a 13-day voyage from Greenland to Resolute, with an opportunity to explore eerie Beechey Island.

Quark Expeditions' Northwest Passage – Franklin's Legend expedition takes you deep into the heart of the crew's fabled journey so many years ago, as we head westbound. Explore firsthand the islands, waterways and wilds that led men such as Sir John Franklin and his crew to risk their lives in search of the elusive sea route between Europe and Asia.

 

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Arctic Quest: Colin Stump recounts his thrilling Arctic adventure

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Written by Colin Stump.

Social media has drowned us in superlatives. Amazing, OMG, fantastic, awesome, etc etc. So, how can I possibly recount a recent adventure in the Arctic without recourse to the same?

Perhaps I should focus on the professionalism of our expedition team, the guys and gals from Quark Expeditions. These are the folks who variously hunt out the best wildlife viewing opportunities, lead hikes in polar bear territory, and manage our safety whilst boarding Zodiac inflatable boats from the mother ship on lively seas or on shore landings.

 

Polar Bear sighting Polar bear sighting

Or, should I concentrate on the natural phenomena that such a trip reveals? From the four thousand Beluga whales crowding the mouth of the Churchill River just as we were setting off on our voyage (initially I had thought the bay just had a lot of white-capped waves on it), to the ethereal swathe of the Northern Lights all around us further north in Hudson Bay. Then there was the awe of one million guillemot nesting on Akpatok Island, and their fledglings who leap hundreds of metres from their nests, only for some to miss the sea and be consumed by the polar bear who spend part of their summer here.

 

Belugas Beluga whales off Chuchill

There were random sightings of a lone polar bear though the fog on Monumental Island, a humpback whale who swam nonchalantly past our ship as were leaving Disko Bay in western Greenland, and the discovery of herds of musk ox on Diana Island, just off northern Quebec. I also saw a bay full of comb jellyfish, displaying iridescent blues and greens, accompanied by millions of pteropods, small mollusc seemingly ‘flying’ through the crystal clear waters.

Musk Oxen

Maybe I should recount the time we spent with remote communities up here in the Far North. There was an enthusiastic welcome from the people of Kimminut on Baffin Island, the younger ones expectant of a successful rematch with the ship’s band of very international, albeit amateur footballers. Also memorable were the freshly caught Greenlandic prawn offered to us by the people of Sisimiut, alongside dried minke whale and raw beluga skin, the latter very much an acquired taste!

 

Football match in Kimmirut Football match with the locals in Kimmirut

And then there’s the physical aspect of the landscapes we pass through. The brightly coloured moss and lichen of the tundra, interspersed with patches of Arctic cottongrass, berries, and small but colourful flowers and fungi in abundance. The dark and foreboding dolorite intrusions into glistening white banks of quartzite on Marble Island, or the endless mountains of western Greenland hiding the icecap, home to 9% of all the world’s ice mass.

 

Icebergs at Disko Bay Icebergs in Disko Bay

Let’s not forget to mention the ice. The iceberg we happened upon as we entered the Hudson Strait, estimated to be one square mile in size, and most likely the remnants of a major calving event from the distant Petermann Glacier in north west Greenland a couple of years earlier. The many bergs in Disko Bay had chaotic shapes, their thunderous birth witnessed first hand when we hiked to the side of the Eqip Sermia glacier. Nothing competes with the truly enormous icebergs stranded at the head of the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Ilulissat Icefjord, all awaiting their release into the sea with the next Spring tide.

 

Eqip Sermia 'Calving' at Eqip Sermia glacier

Of course, one needs some respite from all this excitement. Guided by the expedition lecture team, we were simultaneously educated and entertained on subjects as diverse as glaciology, the history of the discovery of the Arctic regions, modern day geopolitics, and the natural history of the region. And with luxury cabins, somewhere to rest our heads after enjoying fine dining and excellent service in the restaurant and bar on the ship.

There were a few celebrations too - a party to mark the end of our passage across Canadian Arctic waters and entry into the Davis Strait. There was also the inevitable ‘Neptune’ ceremony as we crossed the Arctic Circle, the ‘Polar Plunge’ for those who fancied a dip in Arctic waters, and a final dinner and trip slideshow to mark the end of our passage.

Neptune Ceremony

We had enough sightings in two weeks to give flashbacks for months ahead as we all return to reality; enough experiences to give happy memories for a lifetime.

No superlatives needed.

‘Nuff said.

See more of Colin's stunning photography and voyage highlights on Stumpy's Blog

 

 

 

 

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Spotlight on Port Lockroy: A Living Museum & Haven for Gentoo Penguins

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Tucked away in a natural harbour on Goudier Island, on the western shores of Wiencke Island, Port Lockroy is a popular stop on our Antarctic Explorer voyages as well as Antarctic Express: Cruise South, Fly North and other Antarctic expeditions.

Home to an abandoned British naval base-turned-museum, Port Lockroy is designated a Historic Site and Monument under the Antarctic Treaty, located off the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. Visitors are invited to explore the low-lying, rocky island and 'Base A,' the museum operated by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust.

Port Lockroy is also a great place to see whaling artifacts. Discovered in 1904 by Jean Baptiste Charcot during the first French Antarctic expedition, the port was named after a French politician who helped fund the trip. Its status as a safe harbour with a good supply of fresh glacier water attracted the attention of whalers, who used the harbour from 1911 to 1931.

British 'Base A' at the Port Lockroy Historic Monument

Port Lockroy

Built on Goudier Island in 1944, 'Base A' at Port Lockroy was constructed as part of Britain's secret Operation Tabarin during the Second World War as part of their efforts to establish bases on the Antarctic Peninsula. Lt. Commander James Marr led a group of eight men through the winter. No stranger to the Antarctic, Marr had visited Antarctica first as a young Boy Scout, under the leadership of famed explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Bransfield House, the main base building, was the first permanent British building on the Antarctic Peninsula. In 1956, crews added a boathouse, then a generator building in 1958. Post-WWII, the base was transferred to the Falkland Island Dependencies Survey, who carried out research activities including surveying, geology, meteorology, botany and ionospherics.

 

Inside 'Base A' Gift shop inside 'Base A'

After the closure of the Port Lockroy facility in 1962, it fell into disrepair. In 1996, the British Antarctic Territory Government provided funding to see it restored to the condition it had been in when abandoned.

Today, Port Lockroy is one of six abandoned bases on the Antarctic Peninsula recognized as a Historic Monument and 'Base A' is a living museum with a gift shop and the southernmost post office, where you can mail a postcard to your friends and family. In 2010, a previously destroyed building called the Nissen Hut was rebuilt to accommodate staff, freeing up the Bransfield House to become part of the museum experience.

Port Lockroy Flora & Fauna

 

Port Lockroy Photo by Quark passenger Shapiro.

Visitor space on Goudier Island is restricted to the 'Base A' site and the two paths leading to it from shore. The Base Leader may allow visitors to roam freely under close supervision in approved areas, but consideration and respect for the animals that call Port Lockroy home comes first.

Friendly Gentoo penguins roam freely here, with colonies located around the island. Scientists believe penguins first established their colony on Goudier Island in 1985 – they were not present before the 1962 closure of the Base. Snowy sheathbills also breed here and you may catch sight of the Subantarctic skuas and Dominican gulls that nest on nearby Bills Island. Crabeater seals breed in Port Lockroy and visitors may see Weddell seals, as well.

Largely barren, Goudier Island has very little flora, but is home to Verruccaria serpuloides, the only marine lichen in the world. You may see it from the low tide mark to as it continues out in to the sea to the 10-metre depth mark.

Port Lockroy visitors might also recognize Prasiola crispa – a type of green algae – along the shoreline.

Port Lockroy

Port Lockroy Travel Tips

If you're heading to Port Lockroy, remember:

  • Dress in layers for walking and visiting the base buildings.
  • Take caution to avoid disturbing the wildlife.
  • Bring your favorite camera equipment or smartphone to capture shots of the historically significant site and whaling artifacts around the island – and don't forget about the abundance of Gentoos!
  • Be sure to buy a postcard and mail a note to friends (or yourself!) from Antarctica
  • Take time to explore the buildings. Interpretation posters are posted throughout the museum area and the Port Lockroy team are there to answer any questions.

Port Lockroy is always a popular stop for Quark Expeditions passengers. There's something for everyone, from the penguin lover to the history buff. Talk to one of our Polar Travel Advisers to learn more about Port Lockroy and the expedition options available!

 

 

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A Leap of Faith: The Murres of Cape Walstenholme

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Written by Acacia Johnson

After sailing east from Churchill, the Sea Explorer was promptly met with a gale warning. High winds, swell, and poor visibility kept us on the ship for a day and a half, and with white caps ripping across the sea’s surface outside the window, we instead turned our attention to lectures and presentations. Fortunately, clear skies soon appeared on the weather forecast, and when opportunity struck, we were prepared to seize the day.

Thus dawned an absolutely epic day, with three excursions taking in the very best of Hudson Bay. Immediately after breakfast, we made a landing at Digges Island, where tundra ponds glistened in the sun amidst fields of wildflowers and a spectacular Dorset site waited to be explored. We later made our way to the beautiful Eric Cove, with hiking opportunities abound up a colorful river valley to catch a glimpse of caribou. Spirits were high, and we were overjoyed to be off the ship, soaking up the sun and the landscape – but nothing could have prepared us for the overwhelming spectacle of nature that would present itself that evening.

Walsenholme

After dinner, as the sun sank towards the horizon, we neared Cape Walstenholme, a dramatic coastline of gigantic, colorful cliffs plunging straight into the sea. From the reddish tones of the clifftops, the stone transitioned to orange, yellow and vibrant green vegetation before ending in the bright blue water – a full rainbowlike spectrum, illuminated in the low-angle light. And the stone’s surface, and surrounding air, was absolutely buzzing with life. Hundreds of thousands of thick-billed murres filled the stone, sea and sky, churning and soaring in great spectacular waves. Even with the wind picking up, you could hear them from the ship. We loaded into zodiacs and embarked into the evening breeze.

Thick-billed murre chicks are amazing because, at three weeks old and only half-fledged, they take a leap of faith from the cliffs and into the sea. If they can make it that far, they spend the next three weeks with their fathers on the water, learning to fish and dive as they grow their flight feathers. This leaping event happens for only three or four days every year, and we had arrived right in the middle of it. At the base of the cliffs, we found the water teeming with murre chicks and their fathers, chicks dropping out of the sky around us as we idled carefully near the animals.

Walstenholme

The experience was multisensory in every sense of the word. The sound of the birds was deafening, the smell overwhelming, the ocean spray cold and biting. The view was totally panoramic as waves of birds soared in graceful unison around us, above us, and out towards the sea, absolutely filling the sky. I was speechless, astounded to have stumbled into such a phenomenal spectacle of nature. The crimson light of sunset only intensified, setting the landscape and the animals aglow like a painting. To have born witness to such a rare and unique moment in the lives of wildlife was a gift. The experience filled the mind and the senses to the brim; it caused one to re-contemplate life in general. As the sun set on Cape Walstenholme and aurora filled the sky, I thought that in times like this, the Arctic becomes something out of a dream, a rich and captivating reminder of what it is to be alive.

Walstenholme
Visit Arctic Quest for more information on this fascinating voyage!

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White Whale Wonderland: Cruising with Belugas in Churchill

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Written by Acacia Johnson

On a beautifully warm day in Churchill, Manitoba, the Sea Explorer welcomed a new group of passengers aboard. After a long day of travel and sightseeing for our guests, we had initially planned a restful evening for their first hours aboard the ship – but nature had other plans. In the true spirit of an expedition, we decided to seize the opportunities that presented themselves, because outside, something amazing was happening.

Alongside the ship, in the Churchill River, thousands of beluga whales and their young calves broke the surface of the water as far as the eye could see. The water itself stood mirrorlike and calm, dazzling sun reflecting in all directions. We set immediately out for a zodiac cruise in the evening light. A few short minutes from the ship, we set our engines to idle, and we waited.

The belugas surrounded the zodiacs, skimming under the surface of the water and breaking through in short and frequent bursts. The grey calves splashed energetically, the pristine white adults sleek and elegant in their motion. I thought about how amazing it would be to listen to them underwater, as belugas are the most vocal of all whale species, with an incredible range of sounds they use to communicate. Some of the staff tried squeaking their boots against the zodiac pontoons to capture the whales’ attention; my closest encounters happened without any efforts whatsoever.

beluga near zodiac

As I looked over my shoulder at the zodiac’s motor, my eye was drawn to the constant stream of water that keeps the engine cool. There, mere inches below the surface, was the face of a beluga whale, staring curiously up at the engine’s cooling stream. As I watched, it slowly spun around a few times, seeming to look right up at me as it did so. I laughed aloud in delight and called for my passengers to take a look. “It looks as if it’s drinking from a fountain!” exclaimed a passenger. “You’d think it hadn’t seen water for days!”

For most of that remarkable evening, there was little to do except intermittently laugh and exclaim from the sheer wonder of it all. Such a close and friendly encounter with wildlife was like something out of a dream. As the time passed and we moved slowly towards the ship to return for dinner, the whales gained a newfound fascination with the zodiac’s motor. Nearly the entire drive back to the ship, we were followed by a group of about five whales, only a meter or two away, porpoising curiously in the boat’s wake.

We could not have asked for a more stunning start to our trip to Kangerlussuaq. With the magic of the evening still lingering over us, we sailed east from Churchill, watching a brilliant orange moon rise above the sea as our voyage began.

Moon

 

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A Monumental Experience: Bears, Bergs, and Brilliant Weather

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By Acacia Johnson

Having spent a day crossing Davis Strait from the foggy, ice-filled wonderland that was Greenland, it was with much anticipation that we approached the Canadian Arctic. Our first stop would be Monumental Island, an uninhabited island where we hoped to spot some Arctic wildlife. Almost magically, the sea stood perfectly still, flat and calm far into the open ocean towards Greenland. With bright sun gleaming through a hazy sky, it was a perfect day to be out on the water.

Icebergs

Thrilled with the warm weather, we set out for a zodiac cruise, admiring the beautiful frost erosion pattern in the rocky shoreline. A few icebergs floated nearby, reminding us that despite the streaks of green vegetation on the hillside, this area would be frozen for a large portion of the year. Binoculars out, we scanned the shore for signs of animal life.

A glimpse of creamy white atop a rocky point alerted our attention. As we drew closer, our hopes were confirmed – a female polar bear and her second-year cub lay resting atop the hill, awaiting the arrival of the sea ice in a few months’ time. For many in our group, this was a first sighting of a polar bear in the wild, and it was with great awe and wonder that we spent a while idling offshore, observing the animals interacting with each other. After a while, they wandered slowly down to an ice patch to cool off, where the cream tones of their fur stood out against the blue of the ice. We watched the way the cub followed its mother, imitating her every move. Even the kayakers in our group were able to paddle past for an unparalleled view of bears.

Zodiac with Polar Bears

After some time, we decided to leave the bears in peace and circumnavigate the island. As we rounded the first point, a churning motion in the water’s surface caught my eye. A large pod of walrus – 50 or 60, we estimated – rose and fell with great agility in a concentrated group, the details of their whiskers and tusks clearly visible through a pair of binoculars. Although fascinated by their gracefulness in the water, we decided to give them space, as walrus in the water are unpredictable and wary of humans.

As we came around Monumental Island full circle, we stopped at an iceberg floating in the eerily glassy water. A brilliant blue vein ran through the ice like a ribbon, traversing both the angular faces of the berg and the smoother parts that had been eroded by the sea. At a certain angle, as the sun illuminated the vein, the berg appeared to be glowing from the inside.

Iceberg

It was, all in all, a monumental day for everyone, and we left the island overjoyed with the weather and the day’s wildlife sightings. Not bad for a first day in Canada, eh? Back aboard the Sea Explorer, we sailed for Akpatok Island, where the adventure was sure to continue.

Visit Arctic Quest for more information about this fantastic voyage!

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Sunshine in Sisimiut

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Written by Acacia Johnson

Early morning on the Sea Explorer dawned calm and hazy, the low sun sparkling off the sea in a golden haze. In the distance, mountains lined the horizon, growing slowly larger as we made our way towards shore. Coffee in hand, I joined a group of passengers on the deck, watching seabirds and waiting with anticipation as the colorful houses of Sisimiut grew nearer. Good morning, Greenland.

It was to be a day of local experiences, with walking tours led by local guides who lived in Sisimiut year-round. As we disembarked, a small fishing boat pulled up behind the ship. A beaming fisherman, loading boxes of fish onto the deck, held up the largest, most beautiful spotted wolffish I had ever seen, its leopard-print skin noticeable amongst the bright redfish loaded onto the dock. Later, we were going to have a feast.

Sismiut Fisherman

We set off into town with Sanne, a Danish woman who had lived in Sisimiut for years, and her 11-year-old son Magnus, both of whom illuminated the landscape with knowledge, stories, and anecdotes. Under their guidance, the town came alive as we trekked through its warm, sunny streets. Wildflowers bloomed along the road; our guides told us about the meanings of the colors used to paint the houses, the local culture and way of life.

“You should REALLY think about living here in Sisimiut, at least for one year,” Magnus exclaimed energetically. “The winter is the best part. It’s too hot right now, there’s not as much to do.” On a sunny summer morning, it was difficult to envision everything blanketed in snow in the darkness of winter, but our guides assured us that the ice and snow open the landscape to easy travel by snowmobile, skiing and snowboarding.

Wandering through the town, the howls and yips of dogs filled the air as we crossed into a wide mountain valley extending into the wilderness beyond. There, beautiful Greenlandic dogs stood tied to the rocky hillside amongst colorful dog houses and sleds. Affectionate puppies frolicked curiously at our feet, to the delight of the group. It was explained to us that these animals are strictly working dogs, and after the age of five months must be treated as such, and kept tied to a designated area. Here, on the outskirts of town, they too stood awaiting the winter in which they thrive.

Dog

Hungry after hours of walking, it was time for a taste of traditional Greenlandic cuisine before boarding the ship once again. Dried cod, herring and minke whale, mattak (raw whale skin) and muskox soup were on the menu, and I was beyond excited to taste them all, especially the mattak. While the chewiness took some patience, the flavor was surprisingly awesome, in my opinion – and eaten raw, quite high in vitamin A! For those less convinced, the muskox soup tasted just like beef stew. Everyone had their favorites, but I was particularly taken with the dried minke whale, which I found pleasantly reminiscent of beef jerky.

It was, simply put, an extraordinarily immersive day in Greenland, and we returned to the ship with all senses newly stimulated by our experiences. As we sailed north that evening towards Ilulissat and the Ilulissat Icefjord, I reflected on how surreal it was that we had left Copenhagen only the morning before. It was as if we had entered another world – an amazingly warm and sunny glimpse into Greenland’s arctic summers.

Visit Arctic Quest for more information on this fascinating voyage!

 

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Spotlight on Falkland Islands and South Georgia: Explorers & Kings

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Photo courtesy of Chris, Quark passenger.

Early in the Antarctic travel season each year, passengers aboard the Quark Expeditions Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica expedition spend two days each in the Falklands (Islas Malvinas) and on beautiful, remote South Georgia.

Teeming with wildlife, the Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic consisting of two main islands – East and West – and over 750 smaller islands. Travelers have an opportunity to explore both main islands as we make daily landings and explore the area in Zodiacs.

The Falkland Islands are a Wildlife Watcher & Birder's Paradise

Birders and photographers find themselves in paradise here; some of the world's rarest and most captivating birds make their home in the Falklands alongside majestic King, inquisitive Rockhopper, cuddly Gentoo and fascinating Magellanic penguins.

 

South Georgia Photo courtesy of Quark passenger.

This is one of the greatest places on earth to get up close and personal with a variety of penguins, which are incredibly active early in the season when we visit. With an estimated 800 miles of coastline and fourteen species of marine mammals, the Falklands are an explorer's nirvana.

Port Stanley, the capital of the islands, is a popular stop-off with a rich history and a population of just over 2,000 residents. Several shipwrecks lie in the harbour and the town is home to the Falkland Islands Museum, several shops and Government House, home of the archipelago's Governor.

You'll have time to wander and explore Port Stanley. Be sure to chat with a few of the locals! If you're lucky, you'll catch a farmer in town visiting or stocking up on supplies. Warm, friendly people, the agricultural community in the Falklands typically open their farms for viewing and even allow visitors to participate in farm life firsthand. Sheep farms dot the countryside and some farmers still milk their cattle by hand.

The immediate reaction to landing in the Falklands for the first time is one of overwhelming wonder and awe at the spectacular scenery. Once you've recovered, you'll fall in love with its history, culture and idyllic lifestyle.

South Georgia a Destination for Explorers, Yesterday and Today

 

South Georgia Photo courtesy of Quark passenger.

Continuing on, your next stop is South Georgia, one of a collection of islands deep in the South Atlantic Ocean. Incredibly remote and barren, it's surrounded by smaller islands and islets just off the coast.

Once an important destination for seal and whale hunters, South Georgia is home to the historic Grytviken Church (The Whaler's Church) and is the final resting place of famed explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The vast expanse of mountainous terrain here remains among the most pristine and untouched on the planet, thanks in large part to the island's lack of an airstrip. Accessible only by boat, South Georgia is a destination few will ever have the opportunity to visit in their lifetime.

Massive colonies of penguins inhabit the island, alongside petrels, prions, gulls, terns, shags and skuas. Birdlife International has designated South Georgia an Important Bird Area, recognized internationally as a crucial habitat for the conservation of bird populations. Visiting the beaches of South Georgia will open your eyes to the importance of each and every natural element on the island, from the grasses to the mountains, with an incredible number of species dependent on the ecosystem here for their survival.

 

South Georgia at night Photo courtesy of Sam Crimmin, Quark Expeditions Doctor.

The wonder doesn't end when the sun sets. A clear night in South Georgia will leave you dizzy at the incredible display above; some have likened star-gazing in the area to being in a planetarium, as illustrated above in this spectacular photo from Quark doctor Sam Crimmin. Light and air pollution don't exist here, where you can view even low magnitude stars with the naked eye. Look for Orion, the hunter, and Sirius, the brightest star in the Southern Hemisphere summer sky.

The Falkland Islands and South Georgia stops are an excellent South Atlantic prelude to the majesty of the Antarctic. Call one of our polar experts at (888) 979-3622 (or +1-802-490-1645 outside of North America) to learn more about the adventure options and natural attractions these areas have to offer!

 

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Antarctic Expeditions Yesterday and Today: 100 Years of Exploration

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This November, famed polar explorer and expert Jonathan Shackleton will once again join Quark Expeditions aboard the Ocean Diamond. This marks 100 years since his cousin Sir Ernest Shackleton's legendary voyage on The Endurance, in which he and his crew had hoped to be the first explorers to traverse the seventh continent.

Antarctic travel and tourism has certainly increased since Shackleton and his brave crew set out to conquer the continent, yet visitors to the region know it remains one of the last truly untouched places on earth.

The video below illustrates how polar travel became accessible for travelers and also a magnificent journey for those wanting to get off the beaten path:

Video

Much has changed – the vessels and equipment we have access to now are far superior to the technology available to early explorers. We've had a century to learn more about the environmental and meteorological challenges travelers face when crossing the rough waters en route and the harsh conditions they may encounter while exploring.

However, we also strive to lessen our environmental impact on the area; to be good stewards of the pristine Antarctic environment and the diverse wildlife that call it home.

Much has changed, it's true – but more has stayed the same. Travelers often tell us of the incredible sense of peace they feel in Antarctica; of the overwhelming wonder they experience in realizing they could be the first person ever to walk a certain path. That iceberg there – no one will ever see it exactly as you have. Those amazing pictures you have of penguins playing on an ice shelf – no one else has ever experienced that in quite the same way.

The Antarctic landscape shifts and changes constantly as wind, sun and water mold and shape it to their liking. Here, it's entirely possible to imagine a world free of human influence.

Frank Hurley accompanied Shackleton and his crew on that fateful journey as the official photographer; his photos are now housed in the State Library of New South Wales. Let's have a look at his photos and compare them to ours from recent expeditions to see what's changed over the last 100 years in Antarctica – and at what's stayed reassuringly the same.

Camping on the 7th Continent

Few people on the planet can say they've camped out in Antarctica. One hundred years ago, Shackleton's Endurance crew did, in their "Ocean" camp:

Camping

Today, Quark passengers can also choose to camp out and you'll notice that although our outerwear has certainly improved, the tents are still very similar. They're low to the ground and aerodynamic, to keep wind flowing over top and allow heat to stay inside.

Camping

Dining in Antarctica

In this photo of Hurley's, the Endurance party had just spent five days and nights in open boats to reach Elephant Island and are enjoying their first hot meal in that time.

Endurance

Today, we're fortunate to enjoy far better fare at the bottom of the world. Onboard the Ocean Diamond, passengers enjoy chef-prepared meals, a bar staffed with professional bartenders and a spacious, elegant dining room. You can bet it's a lot nicer to return to after a day or trekking and exploring than the limited supplies the Endurance crew had with them!

Dining room

Magnificent Icebergs

Mother Nature's awe-inspiring ice sculptures are ever-changing, yet this is one of the features of the Antarctic you can rely on experiencing in all its glory in any visit. Hurley captured this color image of a New Fortuna glacier in his travels aboard the Endurance. We're lucky to have these images today, as he had to smash over 400 of his photo plates after the ship wrecked. There simply wasn't enough room to bring them all home on their rescue vessel.

Iceberg

Today, icebergs and glaciers are one of the most photographed scenes in the Antarctic (alongside penguins, of course!):

iceberg

Majestic Wildlife

One hundred years ago, Hurley captured this Wanderer Albatross chick resting in its nest:

Albatross

Today, wildlife and ornithology viewing and photography opportunities abound in the Antarctic, from this albatross pictured on South Georgia (Shackleton's final resting place) to the many different breeds of penguins you'll encounter on the seventh continent:

Albatross

Life in Antarctica: Then & Now

Frank Hurley called this portrait of the Endurance crew on Elephant Island, "The most motely and unkempt assembly that ever was projected on a plate."

Endurance crew

The men had just reached the remote island after a harrowing journey from their marooned ship, dodging pack ice in the treacherous waters. They were exhausted and suffering the effects of being exposed to the elements. Hurley wrote in his diary April 15, 1916, "Conceive our joy on setting foot on solid earth after 170 days of life on a drifting ice floe... Many suffered from temporary aberration, walking aimlessly about, others shivering as with palsy."

Today, health and safety is our top priority on every Antarctic expedition. Each ship is ice-strengthened, staffed with an on-board doctor and equipped with medical equipment and medications. Staff are trained to use technology to gauge weather conditions and find safe passage around potentially adverse weather systems.

Hiking

Our ships are a place of refuge for adventure travelers, with comfortable cabins, delicious meals and all the comforts of a luxury hotel. Top-of-the-line equipment and gear protects passengers from the elements.

Antarctic travelers today are far better equipped to cope with the conditions of the area, enabling them to fully enjoy all the wonder it has to offer. On this 100th year anniversary of Shackleton's Endurance expedition, we give thanks to all of those who came before us, opening the doors to Antarctic exploration in ways we're sure they never imagined!

Image credits: All historical images are from the Frank Hurley: Endurance collection in the State Library of New South Wales.

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Quark Expeditions’ Guide to Explore Human Connection to the Arctic Landscape This Winter

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Artist and photographer Acacia Johnson is all set to join Quark Expeditions as a guide and photography lecturer in the Arctic this season. Even before she joins us, Johnson is looking towards the winter, when she'll stay on in the Arctic to work on Into Indigo, her exploration in images of the profound human connection to the mythic winter landscape of the Canadian Arctic.

Johnson will stay a full season of darkness in the town of Arctic Bay, on Baffin Island. She plans to photograph sites of mythical or cultural significance to the Inuit people as part of her Fulbright photography project and traveling exhibition.

Arctic Bay is certainly the place for such an undertaking – the area has been inhabited by Inuit people for over 4,000 years.

The Alaskan photographer is dedicated to conveying the profound awe and wonder of the Arctic landscape. A recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, she has created projects across Alaska, Iceland, and Arctic Scandinavia in the past, and currently exhibits her work internationally.

Video

Johnson is fully committed to the project and has received a grant by way of a Fulbright U.S. Student Award from Fulbright Canada, which will help offset the costs of her Ontario College of Art & Design tuition and living expenses in Toronto this fall. In her time there, Johnson will spend a month and a half working with faculty who specialize in landscape photography and indigenous visual culture. She will also research visual images of the Far North and narrative references that relay their cultural significance.

In November, she will make her way to Arctic Bay to kick off four months of shooting 4x5 color film with a large-format field camera. Given the expense of traveling to and residing in the Arctic, Johnson has created a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funds necessary to cover her project expenses.

She explains the project in more detail on Kickstarter:

"Using a 4x5 view camera and digital video, I will create a traveling exhibition of photographs and installations with the intention of linking all people living in the Circumpolar North to their common ancestries. These exhibitions – so far planned in Canada, the USA, and Norway – will contribute to a broader international awareness of the deep human connection to the Arctic landscape and mythologies and visually represent life in the Arctic today."

Johnson also explained where she plans to concentrate her efforts in her time in Arctic Bay:

"The polar night will provide the otherworldly quality of light that has always compelled me to make photographs, enhancing their mythological quality. In addition to landscape images, I will create portraits of the people in the landscape whose lives remain intertwined with the land, their culture, and their mythologies. My affiliate in Arctic Bay, who will assist greatly with the logistics of the project, also suggests that I showcase my travel experiences and photography to local youth to expand their vision beyond the immediate horizon. I will also be seeking ways to otherwise engage with the local community during my residence."

If you're unfamiliar with how Kickstarter works, it gives people an opportunity to make a pledge towards a project, with different items awarded funders for various levels of sponsorship. If the project meets its funding goal, each of the funders receives the pledged items. For example, a book author might offer a signed copy of their book to funders, with the top funder qualifying for a private book reading.

In Johnson's case, top funders will receive a 28" x 35" archival print of a commissioned photograph from Baffin Island, a Skype call from Toronto when she returns, exclusive behind-the-scenes updates from Arctic Bay and their name included as a Level III sponsor in the final online presentation of her work.

Sponsorship for Into Indigo: The Mythic Landscape of the Contemporary Arctic continues until July 27, 2014.

 

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