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Meet the Southern Elephant Seal: Impressive Antarctic Giants

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Elephant seal by Dave Merron

Photo by Dave Merron, Quark Expeditions

Southern Elephant Seals, larger in size than their elephant seal cousins in the Northern Hemisphere, inhabit areas traveled by Quark Expeditions including the beautiful island of South Georgia. There, passengers bear witness to the incredible roaring of the adult males (bulls) on the beaches.

Elephant seal on the beach

Photo by Dr. Sam Crimmin, Quark Expeditions

Elephant seals are so named partly thanks to the bulls' large proboscis, the trunk-like nose that also helps the animal reabsorb moisture from its exhaled breath. However, their massive size also lends to their name. Southern Elephant Seals are far larger than Northern Elephant Seals – bulls can reach up to 16 feet in length and weigh up to 6,600 lbs. The female of the species typically only reaches 1/6 the size of the male.

Mikolaj Golachowski and an Adelie penguin, Antarctica

We asked Quark Expeditions onboard biologist Mikolaj Golachowski to share his experience with this majestic creature. After studying biology at the University of Warsaw, Golachowski continued his research in ecology and the behavior of carnivores. After earning his PhD in 2002, he went on his first Antarctic expedition for one year while working with the Department of Antarctic Biology at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

It was during this time, he says, that he became "completely hooked on this frozen paradise." Golachowski returned to Antarctica for three additional scientific expeditions, finally returning from one in 2006 on board an expedition ship, where he was introduced to marine biology lecturing and guiding in Antarctic tourism. A year later, he did the same in the Arctic.

Golachowski has spent as much time in the polar regions as at home over the last twelve years and now works as a writer and translator, as well as giving presentations about the polar regions, when not actually traveling about in them.

Meet the Southern Elephant Seal, as introduced by a man who has spent a good portion of his life studying them.

Studying Elephant Seals on the Seventh Continent

"I went to Antarctica to study the population genetics and behavioural ecology of elephant seals. In fact, I was mainly interested in their sex lives, as it is one of the most dramatic on Earth," Golachowski says.

"The big male has to fight other males for the access to females, who are much smaller, weighing 'only' up to 800 kg," he explains, noting that if the male elephant seal is successful, his harem may contain up to a hundred females!

Elephant seals fighting

Photo by Dr. Sam Crimmin, Quark Expeditions

"As the male/female ratio in the population is more or less 1:1, that means there are loads of males who don’t have a girlfriend and they really want one," he explains. "I suppose the downside of success is that if you are successful, you get to spend a whole month just tending to your girls and fighting your opponents, without any time to eat or sleep. After such a month of sex & violence, males are so exhausted that they often die (but hey, what a way to go!)."

Part of Golachowski's research required that he collect samples from the seals. The pups were easy enough to work with, he says. "They actually seemed to enjoy it. For the samples, I used a metal brush on a stick to collect some hairs from moulting individuals; I imagine it’s quite itchy to moult so the kids actually loved a bit of a scratch."

However, it becomes increasingly difficult with females and quite ridiculous with the big males. "Fortunately, quite often they are asleep. But when they aren't… their eyes are great under water, not so much above it. When they see me walking towards them, they see a shape under two metres tall, which is as high as the males lift their head when they want to fight," Golachowski says.  

Clearly, he would lose a fight with a bull elephant seal. He could crawl on the ground, but might then be mistaken for the smaller female!

"In this context, given the alternative of making love or war, I always chose war," Golachowski says. "I always approached the big males as straight up and tall as I could, to avoid any confusion. I would rather die in a battle!"

Viewing and Interacting with Southern Elephant Seals

Quark Expeditions passengers have unique opportunities throughout their Antarctic voyages to view and even interact with wildlife most people will only ever see on the Internet. Even so, says Golachowski, Southern Elephant Seals are best viewed from a distance.

"It’s best just to watch them; they are really fascinating creatures," he said.  "If one is lucky, a pup may come to investigate, offering one of the best wildlife encounters ever. However, it is vital not to touch them. We don't want to infect them with germs that we may have brought from home, to which they may be susceptible."

Southern Elephant Seals aren't exactly known for their stunning good looks, yet Golachowski protests, "I don’t think they are ugly at all! For one, they certainly have absolutely gorgeous eyes."  It's true, if you get close enough or can zoom in from a safe distance, they are a spectacle to behold.

"We always have to keep our distance and be particularly aware of the adults, though," he points out. "They may appear clumsy but due to their sheer size, they can move very fast. It’s enough to just reposition their head to be two metres farther up."

Sleeping elephant seal

Photo by Dr. Sam Crimmin, Quark Expeditions

You wouldn't necessarily think of elephant seals as demonstrative of athleticism. However, Golachowski says, "Even if seemingly clumsy, not doing much on land besides snoring and burping (outside the mating season, that is), these creatures are real athletes of the animal kingdom. They are amongst the best divers amongst mammals, capable of going two kilometres deep (only Cuvier’s Beaked Whale is known to go deeper than that) and staying underwater for up to two hours."

If you can get in for a close-up, Southern Elephant Seals are a magnificent animal to catch on (digital) film.

These massive creatures spend nine to ten months of the year at sea, with males staying close to the Antarctic shelf and the females wandering further off. August to November is breeding season, an active time to see males bellowing and fighting on the beaches.  Early in October is a great time to see the pups, while for three to five weeks in January and February, they'll all go ashore to molt.

If you're a fan of Southern Elephant Seals or want to see them in a particular state (their babies are adorable!), keep the season in mind as you plan your trip. See all of our Antarctic expeditions on the Quark Expeditions website and start planning yours today!

 See elephant seals in action in our "Day in the life: Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica" video:

 

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How Antarctic expeditions assist in Albatross conservation

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Image credit: Andy Stringer

At the time of writing, over 3.9 million albatross have died as a result of longline fishing since 2000.

That number increases rapidly each day, with another albatross death every two minutes. Seventeen of the 22 species of albatross are currently threatened with extinction, with longline fishing the main threat to the population.

Quark Expeditions is a proud sponsor of the Underwater Bait Setter project, an initiative by a team of engineers, business managers and scientists working together to reduce the risk to albatross while benefitting the fishing industry.

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300,000 Seabirds Caught In Longlines Each Year

About 3 billion hooks are set annually in longline fisheries. Branch lines are often set by hand and lay on the water, where they are visible and tempting to seabirds. Fishing regulations require the use of deterrents such as trailing bird scaring streamers, or setting at night when albatross are less active, but each regulation makes fishing more difficult and isn't very effective in reducing albatross deaths.

As a result, about 300,000 seabirds are caught on the hooks or tangled in the lines each year. Most of these bycatch seabirds are albatross, a species that have just one chick every one to two years. The problem is compounded by their inability to reproduce if one mate is lost. They simply cannot keep up with replenishing the population at the rate at which they are dying.

 

 

How Does the Underwater Bait Setter Help Antarctic Wildlife?

The underwater bait setter is an innovative new piece of fishing equipment that sets longline hooks underwater, to prevent seabirds from accidentally being caught by fishermen.

 

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Image credit: Underwater Bait Setter

 

Known by engineers as the BS30, the device is the first of its kind and uses a unique hook deployment method to set hooks underwater safely, and without disrupting fishing. It actually benefits the fishing industry by reducing the amount of bait lost to seabirds, but more importantly, it prevents baited hooks from becoming a tempting treat for albatross and their kin.

See how underwater bait setters reduce albatross death by longline fishing:

 

 

 How Quark Expeditions Supports Underwater Bait Setter

As a leading polar travel company, we take great pride in the environmental stewardship and conservation initiatives we support. We have raised over $230,000 for the Underwater Bait Setter organization since becoming involved, and are thrilled to have seen its progress as it developed and tested a much-needed technology to benefit albatross populations. Our funding has helped pay for research/development and operational testing of the underwater bait setter device. We will now continue to support the organization as it moves into implementation by gifting a new device to an industry-leading New Zealand tuna fishing operation.

"The difficulties we have encountered are amazing, but it is also amazing how far we have come," a representative of Underwater Bait Setter shared with us. "We’ve solved a lot of problems and the machine is now a finely engineered product, it looks complete!"

Last year alone, Quark Expeditions raised $58,014 for Underwater Bait Setter with our Antarctic summer fundraising. We encourage others to lend support to help bring the device to the longline fishing industry and contribute to solving one of the world’s big conservation issues, the preservation of albatrosses and their chicks.

  


 

 

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Spotlight on Deception Island: Ghosts of Adventurers Past

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Just off the northwest Antarctic Peninsula in the South Shetland Islands lies Deception Island, once a bustling sealing and whaling station. One of the safest harbours in Antarctica, it's been a place of science and military interests from Britain, Chile, and Argentina, but was deserted when volcanic activity destroyed British Base B in 1969.

Today, Deception Island is a popular Antarctic tourism destination and a scientific outpost for summer research teams from Spain and Argentina. With a history rich in destruction and conflict, the horseshoe-shaped land mass can leave visitors with more than a touch of nostalgia and even the uneasy feeling that the island is true to its name – that everything here is not as it seems.

 

Deception Island Just Might Be a Paranormal Hotspot

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Many of the ghosts of Deception Island are plain to see – abandoned scientific research stations, airplane hangars, whaling operations and military bases are scattered around the island. Here, the remnants of lives lived out in rough conditions and extreme isolation are evident.

 The paranormal interest in Deception Island is such that SyFy channel's Destination Truth television show team camped out here to perform a supernatural study and night investigation. (Yes, they heard things going bump in the night.)

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Those with a keen interest in history or the paranormal will also want to make their way to Whalers Bay, between Fildes Point and Penfold Point at the east side of Port Foster. The oldest "ghost town" on the island, Whalers Bay is now a designated Historic Site or Monument (HSM) and as such, remains largely the way it was left prior to the 1970s, complete with remnants of generations of Norwegian and Chilean whaling stations, then British science and mapping activities.

 

Deception Island: Living Population = 0

Currently, Deception Island has a total population of exactly zero … zero living people, that is.

Its only permanent residents are a few dozen men buried in Deception Island Whalers Cemetery. Even it was buried in the volcanic eruption in the late 1960s. This is what it looked like before the island took it back:

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Image credit: Rear Admiral Harley D. Nygren, NOAA Corps (retired) [Public domain]

Whaling first arrived on Deception Island in 1906, courtesy of the Norwegian founder of the Chilean Sociedad Ballenera de Magellanes, Adolfus Andresen. Whalers Bay was established as an anchorage for whaling factory ships. In 1912, the Hektor Whaling Company received a license to operate a shore-based whaling station, which grew to employ approximately 150 people.

In 1931, however, whale oil prices collapsed and in April, the station at Whalers Bay was abandoned for good.

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The giant, rusting tanks and boilers remain, alongside those men lost to the whaling industry and lost again to violent geological phenomenon. One would almost think the ghosts of Deception Island are warning new industry away.

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Image credit: Tim Kubichek

Whatever ghosts call Deception Island home, they don't seem to mind when we visit briefly and respectfully, leaving not a trace of ourselves and honoring those fragments of their lives still visible amongst the rotting boats, rusting structure, ice and volcanic rock.

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Image credit: Corina Hitchcock

A visit to Deception Island may leave you melancholy or even spooked, but never bored or unmoved. As we trek the black sand beaches stretching as far as the eye can see or take a polar plunge in the icy waters, you might even find that you've never felt quite so alive as you will on Deception Island.

 Interested in visiting? Our new interactive 2015.16 brochure is now online!

 

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Confessions of a Polar Expedition Team Member

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Have you ever wondered what life is like aboard a Quark Expeditions ship and during polar excursions, beyond what you see and read online and in the travel brochures?

Polar-passionate traveler and Quark team member Dave Riordan visited our Quark office in Toronto recently and sat down to answer the questions prospective travelers ask us most often. Our booking staff are polar experts in their own right, coming from a variety of polar travel backgrounds and each having participated in a Quark expedition. However, Dave brings to the table a breadth and depth of experience, having traveled with Quark for ten seasons in a variety of roles including Expedition Leader, program coordinator and now Logistics Manager. All told, he spends about eight months of the year on Quark Expeditions ships.

Quark Expeditions team member Dave Riordan

In his off-time, Dave is addicted to travel, as well, spending just a couple of months a year "at home" in Courtland, New York. This upcoming Antarctic season, you'll find Dave cruising with Quark passengers on the Sea Spirit and Sea Adventurer.

His experience is extensive and his perspective definitely unique! Here's what Dave has to share about life on board with Quark Expeditions:

Everyday Life on Board a Quark Expeditions Ship

On board each Quark Expeditions ship, Dave explained, there are three groups of people: Quark travelers, Quark expedition staff, and the ship crew – engineers, deck officers, the receptionist, bartenders, wait staff, housekeepers, etc. "The ship crew are from all over the world and typically, there are about 60 of them on board," he said. "There may be 12 to 15 Quark team members and I'll tell you, the better we all get to know one another, the better the ship runs. They're a fantastic group and we'll often go join them below deck in their common quarters, like the break room and cafeteria, and get to know them."

Ocean Diamond crew, Antarctica 2014

Quark Expeditions team members stay in the same types of quarters, in the same area of the ship, as travelers. "We take meals together, do shore excursions together, and spend time together on the decks and in the restaurant/bar areas," Dave said. "Passengers don't expect the comfort level when they get on board and there's something so special in getting together throughout the trip with these people who all want to have that same awesome polar experience. It's a worldly, amazing group of people; we're there day and night to answer questions and share in the experience with them."

Dave also noted that people are often surprised at the services available on board. "Technology has changed everything – people are surprised that there's any internet service at the poles, but we have satellite." He explained that the Internet connection is usually good enough for sending text-only messages, for checking email or sending short tweets to Twitter. "But then, some are surprised it's slow and intermittent," he chuckled. "For the most part, passengers are impressed we can communicate with the outside world at all when we're in the most remote regions on earth."

Sea Spirit in Antarctica with Quark Expeditions

The in-room TVs don't have any outside programming and are used to show in-house movies and display daily information, he explained, adding, "We get very little news from the outside world. It can be a really good thing but you can have serious culture shock." On returning to port, Dave said, "The first time you see a tree… it's crazy! I like to go straight to a mall just to freak myself out." People's expectations are always different, he said, so being prepared before you go is important.

 

A Typical Day On Board with Quark Expeditions

"Usually, the team gets up bright and early and has a pre-breakfast meeting," Dave explained. "We have breakfast with guests and then get into our gear and head out for the day. That's when we launch the zodiacs and check out the landing sites before we take the guests out." This is especially important in the Arctic, he said, where they need to make sure there are no polar bears or other carnivorous animals onshore. The team then marks out the perimeter of a path for passengers to use onshore.

Quark Expeditions passengers dine at the North Pole

"We're taking about 10-12 passengers out in the Zodiacs and will bring them ashore for the morning," he said. No food is allowed to be brought on shore in the Antarctic, he cautions, so shore lunches are out of the question. The North Pole is an exception, he noted. "We bring tables and chairs and a BBQ and you're floating on ice 4000 feet above the sea floor, in June or July. It's incredible and I can tell you, the passengers who get to participate in that will never, ever forget it."

"If the weather is bad and everyone stays on board, we do lectures with our marine biologists, ornithologists, or other experts. They'll give presentations and we may have parties, or a scavenger hunt, or even quiz nights. We're all entertainers at heart!" Dave said of himself and his teammates.

"After the morning excursion or activity, we go straight into lunch and then gear up. The ship will be repositioned to another spot." Afternoon excursions are often when optional adventure activities take place, Dave said, such as kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, hiking or cross-country skiing.

"Each night, we have recaps of what we've seen throughout the day. We put slides together from our cameras and put together these presentations on the fly." Most people are using PowerPoint, he said, and one person collects everything and puts it together in one presentation for the recap. "We go from person to person and share what we saw that day."

Dinner is a delicious but casual affair, he said. "People can sit with whomever they choose and mix and mingle. A lot of the passengers are well traveled, so you'll hear these great conversations about polar travel, but also about travel the world over."

After dinner, passengers are free to take part in the every-other nightly activities in the lounge, settle in to watch an educational movie, or head to their cabin. "Depending on each person's sleep patterns, some are real morning people and others are more night owls. I prefer to stay up in the lounge chatting in the evening than to be up first thing in the morning," Dave said.

 

Adventure Part of Daily Life in the Polar Regions

camping in Antarctica

"We have experienced, trained guides for every activity, whether it's mountaineering or hiking, or one of our watersports," he said.

Dave was a camping guide for six years before joining Quark and he usually runs the Antarctic camping program on his excursions.  

"We take about 30 people out after dinner and come back before breakfast, as they're not allowed to eat while they're out there," he explained.  It's light all night during the summer in Antarctica and they usually don't need headlamps. "It's incredible… we listen to the penguins and the whales blowing and the ice cracking. I'm usually tucked in a bivvy bag – a waterproof shell, with just my head sticking out," he laughed.

Photo courtesy of Paul Shaver from of our passenger slideshow, Antarctic Explorer voyage, Feb 2014

Photo courtesy of Paul Shaver from of our passenger slideshow, Antarctic Explorer voyage, Feb 2014.

Dave warns that campers have to watch for the Antarctic fur seal (seen above): "It looks like a dog wearing mitts and they bite! They may come into the campsite. We camp on top of the snow so animals don't jump into a snow pit with us. They're about the size of a German shepherd," he said. It happens, too – Dave told us a story about a camper digging deep into the snow in an effort to get further out of the wind, only to have a fur seal hop down into their pit and refuse to leave.

Other animal sightings are common for campers. "A penguin might come look at you while you're sleeping… I once woke up to a penguin jumping on my chest and then calmly just walking away!"

You never know what to expect on the seventh continent, he said. "We once had a penguin and a Weddell seal guard the toilet all night," he laughed.

"Sure, it was a bit creepy at first. We try to set the toilets up behind some kind of snow wall or natural sight barrier and here were these two little guys, just hanging out right there for the entire night. Just keeping an eye on things, I guess!"

littlecamper

Oh, and about those Antarctic toilets… "Everyone gets a very realistic briefing of what they'll experience before they go camping. Sometimes people decide it's more than what they want to get into, and that's totally fine!" Dave said. "We have bucket toilets and everything goes back onto the ship for disposal in the proper sewage system. We make sure people understand how everything is going to work out there so there are few surprises."

Once passengers go to shore, he said, unless they're hypothermic or there's a medical emergency, they're can't return to the ship. "We take safety very seriously at Quark and have emergency equipment with us in a tent, with wilderness first aid leaders in camp. We do take flares, blankets, signalling equipment, food rations, and water, just in case. We want everyone to be comfortable and happy and a big part of that is knowing what to expect while you're out there!" he said.

 

A Day in the Life of a Quark Expeditions Traveler is Different Each and Every Day

Photo credit: Angus Hamilton

 

Even with all of that preparation, Dave said, "people are often surprised and even in awe at the sheer scale of Antarctica and the Arctic. You can learn about the animals and the geography, but you can't understand it until you're there.  It's massive."

Travelling different areas of the world, he explained, you have all of these different cultural elements – the history, the languages, the people, the traditions, and so on. "But in the polar regions, you have no inhabitation. There are no trees – it's just epic nature and you don't have to tune out the human aspect of it. It's amazing how that floating vessel turns into a community for the time you're together," he said.

For Dave Riordan, heading out to the ships is like coming home. It's a sentiment shared among many experienced polar travelers. Whether it's your first expedition or your twenty-first, a typical day in the polar regions is highly unlikely to be typical in any way, shape or form. And we wouldn't have it any other way!

 

 

 

 

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10 Antarctica Must-Haves – Don't Leave Home Without Them

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 Visiting Antarctica is often described as a surreal, life-changing experience – one that might leave you feeling you've stepped off this planet and onto another one. Even as you're having this other-worldly experience, it's good to have a few of the comforts of this world along.

Some of these items are going to make your Antarctic expedition and trekking a lot more comfortable, while others will simply bring a bit of comfort on-board, as you enjoy the ship or hang out in your berth.

 Either way, don't leave home for Antarctica without these 10 things:

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1. Sunscreen

That's right, you're going to one of the coldest and least hospitable climates on the planet, and you're going to need sunscreen!  Quark Expeditions take place during the Antarctic summer months and while it's not sunbathing weather, it's sunny most of the time and the UV rays can be quite strong. Ice, snow and water reflect the sun from every direction and it is possible to get a sunburn. Bring at least SPF 45 with you and make sure it's water and sweat-proof.

 

2. Chapstick

Antarctic is the driest and sunniest continent on earth and the sun, wind and salt-tinged mist can all wreak havoc on your lips. Bring enough chapstick to use it liberally throughout the trip. Staying hydrated will also help prevent chapped or cracking lips in harsh Antarctic conditions, should they occur.

 

3. Waterproof pants

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We spend a lot of time in Antarctica near the water and on the ice and snow. Waterproof pants are a must! You'll find them useful if you're doing adventure activities like cross-country skiing, but also for every day trekking around, getting in and out of the Zodiacs, etc. Choose a pair with a moisture-wicking liner to stay warm and dry as we disembark and head inland over the snow on day excursions.

 

4. A good piece of chocolate or your favorite snack

Some people find it easier to be away from home for extended periods of time than others. Falcon Scott, one of our resident experts and a frequent special guest on Quark expeditions, recommends that passengers bring along a piece of good chocolate or several helpings of their favorite snack. The food service on-board is fantastic, he says, yet it's nice to have that bit of something familiar from home when you're away on an expedition.

 

5. Good gloves and head protection – x2

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Remember how your grandmother always told you that you lose most of your body heat through your head? Well, she was right. Proper head gear and gloves are important in Antarctica. Depending on the conditions, you could experience rapid changes in temperature and wind conditions – but you may also sweat, depending on your level of physical exertion. Many people are surprised by how much warmer than expected Antarctica can be in the summer time!  Bring at least one extra pair of gloves and an extra hat, toque or other head gear.  You probably won't need thick, heavy gloves or head gear.

  

6. Waterproof boots with good tread

 Keep your feet warm and dry with a pair of good, waterproof boots. You'll need traction on the ice and snow, but they should still be lightweight enough for you to walk comfortably over the bare ground. When you travel with Quark Expeditions we provide your boots for you so you'll stay warm and dry on your voyage!

 

7. A good book

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Jonathan Shackleton, another of our resident experts and the relative of a famed Antarctic explorer, recommends that passengers bring a good book with them. Some people have trouble falling asleep, whether it's the excitement of it all, the adjustment to new sleeping quarters or just a natural trait. There may also be times you just want to relax alone for a few minutes. Remember, there's no cable TV, so bring a good book to keep you company!  Need some inspiration? Here's a list of recommended reading for the passionate polar traveler! Our ships also feature polar libraries stocked with a fantastic selection of reading materials.

 

8. Sunglasses with a strap

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Wraparound sports sunglasses are best for keeping the bright sun out of your eyes. Make sure the lenses offer UV protection and bring an extra pair just in case. Bring a strap so the sunglasses can be easily removed to hang around your neck (so you don't need to remove your gloves or fumble around with parka pockets).

 

9. A daypack

Large backpacks are great for long treks, but on our day excursions you really only need a small daypack. You can store extra layers of clothing, sunscreen, water and more without feeling like you're carrying half of your cabin around with you. You can purchase one before your trip in our Polar Gear Shop.

 

10. Merino wool underclothes

Merino wool really is a magical thing. If you're dreading the thought of wearing wool underclothes while you trek around, don't worry – this isn't the itchy, heavy wool of yesteryear. Merino wool is a fantastic underlayer that draws moisture away from the skin and actually generates heat when it's wet. Unlike other types of wool products, it has natural odor-destroying properties and will keep you feeling and smelling "fresh" longer on the seventh continent.

 

There you have it – 10 things you shouldn't leave home without when you're Antarctic bound! Do you have a travel tip or packing recommendation for other passengers? Share it in the comments below.

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Antarctic Colossal Squid Fascinates in Museum and Online

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Deep in Antarctica's Southern Ocean in December 2013, Captain John Bennett and his crew aboard the San Aspiring toothfish boat hauled from the Ross Sea a creature seen more often in fiction than in real life. The 770-lb colossal squid was the second such catch for Bennett, who saw it surface on their line and decided to donate it to science.

“It was partly alive, it was still hanging onto the fish,” Captain Bennett told media. “Just a big bulk in the water. They’re huge, and the mantle’s all filled with water. It’s quite an awesome sight.”

The massive squid was preserved in ice for eight months in Wellington, New Zealand, before researchers at Museum of New Zealand Te Papa thawed it for examination September 16th. They were joined by squid scientists from Auckland University of Technology and the University of Otago.

Given that this was only the second colossal squid recovered and its fantastic preservation, scientists shared the experience with the world via live-streamed video.

 

The livestream examination drew an audience of about 142,000 viewers from 180 countries.

Measuring about 13 feet from tip to tentacle, the giant squid was carrying eggs when she was discovered. Each of its arms are over a metre in length and its two tentacles could have been twice as long, were they not damaged.

Lead researcher Kat Bolstad was amazed the squid was in such great condition and told media, “This is essentially an intact specimen, which is almost an unparalleled opportunity for us to examine. This is a spectacular opportunity.”

This one had two perfect eyes,” she said. “They have very large and very delicate eyes because they live in the deep sea. It’s very rare to see an eye in good condition at all.”

A forklift was needed to hoist the squid into the examination tank. After taking samples and examining the creature, researchers planned to preserve it for further research and display.

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Te Papa is home to the only colossal squid on display on the planet. Image credit: Te Papa

Graduate researcher Jesse Kelly shared his experience at the examination tank in a Te Papa blog post on October 1st:

"My finger was between the two beaks, which felt unyieldingly hard, and as Kat cut around the bulb of muscle underneath slight tugs and pulls were transferred through to the beaks. The result was that it felt like the squid might yet still be alive and ready to eat my finger. I couldn’t help picture how it would feel to be chopped up by a colossal squid in the frigid Antarctic waters, and was quite happy when the beaks finally came free. My research deals with other large squid, with large beaks and hundreds of sharp hooks, but I’ve never had an experience quite as chilling as that."

Kelly also thanked the crew of the San Aspiring for recognizing the importance of their find in the Antarctic waters last summer.

Te Papa is home to the only colossal squid specimen on display in the world and offers a virtual tour online for enthusiasts the world over to take part in educational games and activities. Scientists are assessing the condition of this latest squid to decide whether it should be preserved for public display.

Interested in learning while you travel? With Quark Expeditions you can travel with scientists, photographers, and descendants of Polar explorers to add an extra layer of interest and insight to your Polar expedition.



 

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See Antarctica at its Most Pristine and Untouched

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The Antarctic tourist season lasts from the beginning of November to the end of March, making it a rather short season of just five months. Throughout the rest of the year, the climate in Antarctica is incredibly inhospitable, with temperatures dropping as low as -50°F and darkness day and night. Ice closes in around the seventh continent as over 20,000 square kilometres of the South Polar ocean freezes, making the seas impenetrable until spring.

Arriving early in the tourism season to Antarctica is a unique opportunity to see the continent reborn, as gatherings of shore birds and mammals prepare for to make their nests and breed.

Spring comes first to the more northerly Falkland Islands and South Georgia in November, working its way down through the South Shetland Islands by early December. Finally, spring reaches the Antarctic Peninsula, bringing with it more tolerable temperatures and extended daylight.

Seabirds, whales, seals and penguins flock to the shoreline and surrounding waters to feed on krill and other zooplankton.

Here are a few of the sights, sounds and wonders you can expect to witness if you visit Antarctica early in the season, at its most pristine and untouched:

 

Pristine Ice & Snow Conditions are Perfect for Landscape Photography

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Early summer in the Antarctic is a landscape photographer's paradise. The ice pack and thick continental ice sheet are not yet marred by animal and bird nests and droppings. Icebergs range from snow-white to the deepest aquamarine early in the season.

These spectacular blue tones are caused by air trapped inside the iceberg and this is the best time to see these brilliant hues, before the salt water of the ocean and the warmer air begin to erode the ice. By late summer, the icebergs will show cracks and pitting, but early on, they're clean and crisp, with sharp, jagged edges – perfect for photography.

 

 

Active Penguins, Seals & Whales Delight in Antarctica's Early Summer

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Early in the season, the Antarctic Peninsula and surrounding islands are teeming with wildlife at their most active, as they prepare to breed and nest for the summer. You may see massive colonies of penguins laying eggs, pointing and building their nests – or even mischievously stealing stones from one another!

Penguins lay their eggs in November and December, with the first chicks hatching in the north late in December. This is a great time to see them feeding just offshore, hunting the waters for fish and krill.

Crabeater seals are born between mid-September and November, while Southern Elephant seals give birth on sub-Antarctic islands in October. Weddell seals spend most of their time in the water, but early in the Antarctic travel season, emerge onto ice sheets to rest, molt or give birth.

Keep your eyes open for Minke and Humpback whales, as they return to Antarctic waters to feed in the summer season. The Southern Right whale feeds close to the surface and can often be seen from the shores of the South Shetland Islands and South Georgia.

 

Antarctica: Largely Untouched, Entirely Spectacular

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Antarctica is the only continent on earth still largely untouched by man. The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 and the more recent Madrid Protocol of 1991 have helped preserve the South Pole as a place of peace, science, and environmental preservation and conservation.

Home to some 45 bird species and over 60 species of mammals, the Antarctic is a study in contrasts – a largely barren, seemingly inhospitable and frigid place where tenacious seabirds, seals and zooplankton thrive.

Visit early in the summer, when you can observe and experience Antarctica at its pristine, untouched best!

 

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Low-Light Photography Tips for Epic Northern Lights & Starscape Pics in Polar Regions

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Photo courtesy of Dr. Sam Crimmin, Quark Expeditions Doctor Photo courtesy of Dr. Sam Crimmin, Quark Expeditions Doctor

Imagine vast expanses of sky, free from air and light pollution, with even low magnitude stars are visible to the naked eye and a dizzying array of lights dance overhead. The polar regions are home to some of the most fantastic and original photography opportunities on the planet. However, conditions can make these areas among the most challenging for photographers, as well.

We've discussed how to protect your photographic equipment in extreme weather conditions, as well as tips for taking great pictures with your smartphone. Now, we'll tackle the challenge of getting the best photos of the spectacular Northern Lights and starscapes in low-light conditions.

If you're traveling to the Arctic or Antarctica this upcoming season, use these tips to prepare to capture the stars and the Northern Lights in all their glory, with clear, crisp photos you can use to relive your adventure for years to come.

 

 

 Know Your Levels of Low-Light Know Your Levels of Low-Light

1. Know Your Levels of Low-Light

We tend to think of low-light photography as a nighttime activity, yet you may need to use low-light tactics anytime the light you're dealing with is lesser than natural daylight. Mountains, cliffs, glaciers, low cloud cover, weather systems and more can all affect the amount of light available to you, as well as how shadows play on the landscape.

Humans are actually able to see more light than cameras do. Even if you think there's enough light while you're shooting, you may be disappointed to find your photos blurry later on. Try using a higher shutter speed to reduce shake and motion blur when conditions may offer some lower level of light – even in the daytime! See Photography Life's Understanding Shutter Speed – A Beginner's Guide for more on choosing the optimal shutter speed.

 

2. Use a Tripod

A tripod is a must for shooting in polar regions, particularly in low light conditions. This simple stabilizing equipment can help you improve your image sharpness, depth of field, capture quality, framing precision and focal-length range.

When you're shooting in low light and using a slower shutter speed to let in as much light as possible, even the slightest movement can cause blurring. Using a tripod reduces camera shake, enabling you to experiment with a wider variety of camera settings and go after far longer exposures that may take seconds, minutes – or even hours.

Bonus: using a tripod makes for smooth panning and tilting if you're trying to capture the Northern Lights or other polar scenes on video.

 

3. Lower your Aperture to the Lowest Number Possible

Shooting at faster shutter speeds requires more light, so you'll need to decrease your lens aperture. Aperture is the photographic element that allows you to blur a background, or bring everything into stunning focus, and has a direct impact on depth of field.

Aperture is expressed in f-numbers, ie.: f/2.8 or f/5.6, that basically describe how open or closed the aperture is. The larger the f-number, the smaller the aperture – and the larger the f-number, the better it is for low-light photography.

 

4. Adjust ISO

ISO is the sensitivity of your camera to light. Adjusting your ISO can help you better capture images in low-light settings, but it can also have the unwanted effect of adding noise to your images, making them grainy.

ISO numbers generally start at 100 or 200 and usually, you would want to use the lowest ISO possible to get the clearest pictures. However, when you're shooting in low-light conditions, it can be beneficial to use a higher ISO. As you increase to ISO 400, 800, 1600 and beyond, you're doubling the sensitivity to light and reducing the amount of time needed for a clear shot.

This is critically important when you're shooting the Northern Lights.

 

 

Photo courtesy of Quark passenger Robert Lee Photo courtesy of Quark passenger Robert Lee

With still shots of starscapes, ISO isn't as much of a concern. You can afford the slower shots. However, Northern Lights often "dance" and move unpredictably in the sky. Using a combination of a higher ISO with your chosen shutter speed and aperture can help you capture clearer photos of faster moving Northern Lights shows.

 

5. Practice Makes Perfect

None of this is an exact science! Conditions are constantly changing in the extreme Northern and Southern skies.

Before your expedition, spend some time with the camera equipment you'll be using in the polar regions, in low-light settings. Use a tripod and experiment with your aperture, ISO and shutter speed to see if you can identify optimal settings for different low-light situations you may encounter.

Familiarize yourself with your camera's capabilities now and you'll be able to cycle through different combinations of settings faster in the moments that matter – when the brilliant South Georgia sky takes your breath away, or you would swear you could reach out and touch the Northern Lights in East Greenland.

Of course, our Quark Expeditions community of fans, staff and passengers have the most in-depth knowledge on everything polar! If you have low-light photography tips to share, please do in the comments.

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Polar-Passionate 'Citizen Scientists' Invited to Participate in Antarctic Penguin Watch Project

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This coming December and January, Quark Expeditions passengers on select Antarctic voyages will have a unique opportunity to witness polar preservation research in action. Dr. Tom Hart, Junior Research Fellow at the University of Oxford, will join Quark Expeditions on the Antarctic Explorer and Scotia Arc trips to continue his research for the Penguin Lifelines project.

Founded by Hart, Penguin Lifelines is a collaborative effort between Oxford University, ZSL, Oceanites, Stony Brook, the British Antarctic Survey and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Hart and his team set out to explore threats to the global penguin population, to identify risk factors, inform policy, and educate the public on the impacts of climate change, fisheries and other issues on the declining penguin population.

 

Dr. Tom Hart positions a camera in Antarctica Dr. Tom Hart positions a camera in Antarctica

"Climate change and fisheries are the greatest threats to date. The impact of fisheries is under-researched, in my opinion. We know a great deal about climate change, but not as much about how the fisheries are interacting with this," Hart said in a recent interview with Quark Expeditions. "The loss of sea ice has reduced the prey availability for penguins at the same time as fisheries are increasing and we're not really sure how much the fishery is damaging penguins."

 

Field Work and 'Feather Printing' on Quark Expeditions Cruises

Travelling with Quark Expeditions allows Dr. Hart to access many more sites than otherwise possible.

"We've tried to reduce the field work we do to something we can achieve within 3 hours. We go around and pick up feathers and samples and use those for DNA and stable isotope analysis," he explained.

 

 

Rockhopper penguin feather - image credit: Featherfolio Rockhopper penguin feather - image credit: Featherfolio

 

Feather printing is a standard technique in his research and works in the same way as human forensics. Hart said, "What we're doing is getting large numbers of samples. Penguins shed feathers every year, so the samples are lying around everywhere. By analyzing these, we can see which colonies interbreed, how they move geographically over time, etc."

He and his team have also scoured museums the world over, looking for samples from the heroic years of exploration. "We've been finding feather samples from those expeditions by Shackleton, Robert Falcon Scott and others, then comparing them to today," he explained. This has vastly increased their depth and breadth of knowledge on how penguins have been affected by climate and human factors over a greater period of time.

 

New Penguin Watch Site Invites 'Citizen Scientists' to Help Track & Identify Penguins

Another important task for Dr. Hart in his field work is the installation of cameras around Antarctica, and exchanging cameras that are already in place. His team has been tracking and monitoring penguin populations across the seventh continent for several years already.

Now, with the launch of their 'Penguin Watch' website, polar-passionate people around the world can help participate in their important research.

 

 

http://www.penguinwatch.org/ http://www.penguinwatch.org/

Penguin Lifelines has approximately 60 cameras set up on the Antarctic Peninsula and outlying South Atlantic islands. An Australian group has an additional 40 cameras in different areas. "The increase in data we've been able to collect is phenomenal," Hart told Quark. "We now monitor more sites together (with the Australian group) than all of the rest of the Antarctic treaty countries together."

With that increase in monitoring comes a mass of data that Penguin Lifelines needs help in evaluating. Their 60 cameras collect still images over the course of the year; penguins must be identified and counted in those pictures.

The new Penguin Watch website enables members of the public to view and tag the images collected by the Penguin Lifelines group.

Participants can visit the website and tag adult penguins, chicks and eggs in each image. "This helps us identify and count the penguins," explained Hart, "but it also teaches our computer systems how to recognize penguins in still images for future use."

The project also has one live webstreaming camera currently in testing.

 

Protecting Our Penguin Population

Dr. Hart is looking forward to visiting the Scotia Arc, from the tip of South America to the Antarctic Peninsula, as well as the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. "All of these islands are teeming with wildlife," he said.

Indeed, penguin encounters are one of the once-in-a-lifetime experiences that make Antarctic expeditions so incredibly unique.

http://www.penguinwatch.org/

"We're tracking Gentoos, Chinstraps, Kings and Macaronis," Hart said. "As you get further South, you encounter more Adelie penguins, as well."

One of the things he's most excited about this year, he said, is visiting the South Sandwich Islands with Quark. "They have the biggest penguin colonies on earth and are almost never visited," Hart explained. "I've been there twice – we took a yacht and went around and counted penguins and got samples, but that was about 5 years ago. We'll be leaving cameras there as well and collecting the two we had left."

We're ecstatic to have Dr. Hart join us once again on Quark Expeditions cruises (last year, he joined us as an Expert-in-Residence). The important work he and his team do helps to further our collective knowledge of how penguin colonies live and grow – and the challenges and risks they face. It is through this understanding that people and organizations from around the world can help protect our penguin population for generations to come.

To participate in this exciting research project as a "citizen scientist," visit the Penguin Watch website and get started!

To learn more about the expeditions Dr. Hart will travel with this coming season, see our Antarctic Explorer and Scotia Arc expeditions.

 

 

 

 

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5 Spectacular South Atlantic & Antarctic Bucket List Beaches

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5 Spectacular South Atlantic and Antarctic Bucket List Beaches

Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands aren't widely known as beach destinations. Yet for the adventurous traveler yearning for something a little different, these not-so-hot spots could be just the ticket! Here are five chilly beaches that need to be added to your bucket list:

 

 

Deception Island beach with Quark Passengers and a penguin The black sand beach on deception Island

Deception Island

Black sand stretches as far as the eye can see on this popular cruise ship landing site. At one time, Deception Island held a whaling station and remnants of old whaling boats can still be found there today.

The island itself is crater-like – part of an active volcano – and is actually quite warm in certain areas, as a result. Hiking along the edge of the crater makes for absolutely breathtaking views. It's a popular spot for brave tourists to take a polar plunge, running into the icy waters directly from the beach! Several colonies of chinstrap penguins live on Deception Island, as well as fur seals.

 

 

Cuverville Island penguins Cuverville is home to the largest Gentoo penguin colony on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Cuverville Island

Penguins are the stars of Cuverville; the island is home to the largest Gentoo penguin colony on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Covered in ice and edged by rocky beaches under mossy cliffs, Cuverville Island has been designated an 'Important Bird Area' by Birdlife International. Antarctic Skuas, Southern Giant Petrels and Imperial Shags all call this beach island home.

 

 

 

Saunders Island beach with penguins A beach that rivals a Caribbean paradise

Saunders Island (Falklands)

Part of the Falkland Islands, Saunders Island is a spectacularly beautiful spot with a beach that rivals a Caribbean paradise. The island is a series of peninsulas linked together by stretches of land known as necks.

With white sand and crystal blue water, Saunders Island is the perfect place to sit and observe the thousands of breeding pairs of Rockhopper and Gentoo penguins, albatrosses and more who call the island home.

 

 

Photo credit: Susan Pairau King penguin juveniles and adults cover St. Andrew's Bay

St. Andrew’s Bay (South Georgia)

Photos of this South Georgia destination display throngs of black, white and brown specks peppered throughout the scenery. These are thousands of juvenile and adult King penguins, as far as the eye can see. The island is home to a colony of over 110,000 breeding pairs.

It is also one of the largest elephant seal breeding beaches, with over 6000 cows at peak time. Often, reindeer can be seen grazing in the hills. It's a wildlife photographer’s dream!

 

 

Quark passengers at Neko Harbour with penguins Spectacular views at Neko Harbour

Neko Harbour

Climb up to a high peak and overlook the pristine blue and white ice, glass-like water and your fellow passengers below.

If you're lucky enough to witness an iceberg or glacier calving, the resulting waves washing up on the shore are spectacular. Two hundred and fifty breeding pairs of Gentoo penguins call Neko Harbour home and Weddell seals can often be seen laid out on the cobblestone beach.

 

Ready to take the bottom-of-the-world beach road less traveled? Head to www.quarkexpeditions.com to start planning your polar beach get away!

 

 

 

 

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