Antarctica

Published on March 23rd, 2017 | by Nick Dall

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Antarctica wildlife highlights: penguins, whales, seals…

Prepare to be charmed by endearing Adélie penguins, wowed by muscular orcas and won over by enigmatic leopard seals.

Antarctica isn’t just the coldest, driest and emptiest continent, it’s also home to the most pristine and untouched ecosystem on the planet. You’ll be amazed by the sheer abundance and diversity of life down South. Read on to find out more about the a few of the standouts…

Penguins

Gentoo, Adélie and Chinstrap penguins are the three remaining members of the Pygoscelis genus and you will likely encounter them all on your cruise. Gentoos are the largest and most numerous of the three, and they’re also the fastest swimmers of all penguins…Attaining speeds of 22mph puts them in the same echelon as Usain Bolt! They’re distinguished by their white ‘bonnets’ and red beaks.

Adélies are the most penguin-like of all penguins, so much so that they are almost caricatures of themselves. Named after the wife of French explorer Dumont D’Urville, these small penguins are purely black and white and have characteristic angular heads, white eye-rings and tiny bills. The best place to see Adélies is Petermann Island. Chinstraps get their name from the thin line which circles from behind one eye under the chin to behind the other eye, much like a strap on a helmet. Although they’re about the same size as Adélies, they seem to prefer warmer waters and their mating habits are a lot more aggressive. One of the biggest colonies is on Deception Island.

In addition to Pygoscelis penguins you’ll definitely come across scores of faintly absurd and very amusing Macaroni penguins, with their unmistakable orange combovers. One Antarctic species that you won’t get to see is the Emperor penguin – Antarctica is a huge place, and these waddling giants live further South and more inland than the tourist cruises can go.

Whales

Whales can be seen throughout the Antarctic summer (December to March), but February and March are definitely the best months. Most visitors get very excited about the prospect of spying a gargantuan Blue whale, but although Antarctica is most definitely their home range, their solitary habits and propensity to dive extremely deep under water mean they are seldom spotted. Fortunately, other species are more obliging. Humpback whales travel in pods and are known for their astonishing acrobatics and oversized flippers. Sightings of these huge whales (they measure between 39 and 52ft in length and weigh about 79,000lb on average) are virtually guaranteed on your Antarctic cruise.

Much smaller (they’re about 25ft long) but no less entertaining are the playful Minke whales which often come up to boats see what’s going on and regularly leap right out of the water. Because of their small size they were generally overlooked by commercial whalers, and have made it into the 21st century relatively unscathed – they are now the most numerous of all baleen whales.

The Orca or Killer whale needs no introduction, but you may not be aware that Antarctica is home to a staggering 70% of the global population! Strictly speaking they’re dolphins – but try telling that to anyone who has seen their massive dorsal fins scything through ink black Antarctic waters in pursuit of a hapless seal or Minke whale. While whales can be encountered at any point during your voyage, two of the best spots are the Lemaire Channel and Wilhelmina Bay – often referred to as ‘Whale-mina Bay’!

Seals

Antarctica is home to six of the world’s 17 seal species and 70% of the global seal population. In the Antarctic food chain, enormous, penguin-gobbling Leopard seals are second only to Orcas. Weighing in at 1000lb and attaining lengths of 13ft, leopard seals have had a bad rap ever since one attacked a member of Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition a century ago, but they really play a vital role in the ecosystem by keeping penguin and seal populations under control.

With a population of more than 30 million, Crabeater seals account for more than half of the world’s seal population. Despite the name, the major component of this seal’s diet is krill. Many Crabeaters sport dramatic scars as reminders of unsuccessful attacks by Orcas and Leopard seals. In a similar bracket is the undeniably cute and frequently sighted Wedell seal which, interestingly, will always choose to lie on snow or ice – even when warmer rock or solid ground is available.

Reaching lengths of 20ft and weights of 8000lb, the Southern elephant seal is the world’s largest species of seal. It’s also the largest member of the order Carnivora…An adult male can be as much as seven times heavier than a Polar bear, its largest terrestrial rival in the order! Elephant seals can hold their breath for 20 minutes and feed primarily on squid and fish.

Humans

It may seem strange to add home sapiens to this incredible lineup of fascinating Antarctic species, but without the continent’s semi-permanent population of around 4,000 scientists we would know far less about Antarctica’s animals, weather and ice conditions. The museum at Port Lockroy paints a vivid picture of the challenges faced by previous generations of Antarctic explorers, and its functioning Post Office allows you to send that once-in-a-lifetime postcard!

This blog has only scratched the surface of the wildlife wonder that is Antarctica. And there’s been absolutely no mention of the albatrosses, skuas, petrels and shags that roam the Southern skies. Watch this space, or book a cruise to experience it for yourself.

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About the Author

Nick is a nomadic freelance writer with a particular passion for Latin America. He has lived in Argentina and Bolivia and traveled just about everywhere else. He gets excited about wine, language, literature, trout and cheese.



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    *Versión en español abajo*

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    In parallel with sharing the historical, ecological and cultural marvels, we aim to place the Qhapaq Ñan alongside the great long distance walking trails on the planet . The 2000 miles path from Cuenca, Ecuador to Cusco, Peru can become a vein of economic activity through tourism. A feat that will require persistence and common vision from local and national governments alongside private industry. The Pacific Crest Trail going from Mexico to Canada along the spine of the Sierra Nevada’s and Cascade ranges was a vision began in 1932 by Clinton C. Clark, which took 60 years to be considered complete and with a network of “trail angels” overseeing its maintenance.

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    ________________

    Qhapaq Ñan – Día 8

    Culminamos con la expedición de 320 kilómetros desde Jauja a Antioquia en solo siete días, dos días menos de lo planeado. El progreso en el manejo y control de nuestras llamas en esta caminata significó poder dedicar unas horas extras al día explorando en lugar de re-ordenar la carga o tener otros retrasos que se producen con un equipo menos entrenado. Durante siete días caminamos en promedio alrededor de 40 kilómetros por día, distancia que equivale a la caminata de cuatro días en el tradicional camino inca desde el Valle Sagrado hacia Machu Picchu – 41 kilómetros en total.
    Si buscamos un punto de comparación podemos decir que caminar estos 40 kilómetros cada día por el Pacific Crest Trail desde Sierra Nevada hasta los andes Cascade en Estados Unidos es la misma distancia que caminaremos por día en la expedición que realizaremos por el Qhapaq Ñan en nuestro gran proyecto durante cuatro meses en Abril del próximo año,

    No solo queremos compartir las maravillas históricas, ecológicas y culturales del Qhapaq Ñan, si no también queremos establecer a este gran camino inca a la par de grandes caminos de larga distancia en el mundo . El tramo de 3,200 kilómetros de Cuenca, Ecuador hacia Cusco, Perú puede convertirse en una principal actividad económica a través del turismo. Una hazaña que requerirá persistencia y trabajo de la mano de los gobiernos locales y nacionales junto con la industria privada. El Pacific Crest Trail que va de México a Canadá a lo largo de las cordilleras de Sierra Nevada y Cascade fue una visión que Clinton C. Clark tuvo en 1932, la misma que tomó 60 años para ser considerada completa y con una red de trabajo de personales responsables que se encargan del mantenimiento de la misma.

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    Se convertirá en uno de los grandes senderos de larga distancia en el mundo, y esperamos que nuestras exploraciones e historias a lo largo del camino sirvan para las generaciones de caminantes que vienen después de nosotros.

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    *Versión en español abajo*

    Qhapaq Ñan – Day 1

    The team departed this morning from Jauja with 12 llamas heading along a transversal Qhapaq Ñan towards Pachacamac, 200 miles west, near the

    In three days by foot west, we’ll arrive to the great Inca stairway in the shadows of the great Apu Pariacaca (mountain deity). The set of 1800 steps will be the entry to another three days on some of the most spectacular Qhapaq Ñan anywhere on the 25,000 mile network. Ten days from now, we should arrive to our finish point at Antioquia, where the Qhapaq Ñan starts to disappear closer to the coast. The terrain for most of our trek will float between 11,000 and 16,000 feet above sea level, perfect for the llamas with plenty of Ichu grass along the way.

    Our first day on the route covered 15 miles and with better behaved llamas and more efficient llameros (llama handlers). Our llameros, Flavio, Nicolas and Valentine are getting better at their craft. We also have two local llameros, Tito and Antonia, the latter being our first female llamero in 500 miles of Qhapaq Ñan we’ve trekked thus far and adds an interesting dose of female energy into the group. She’s probably the most able llamero of the group and it’s her animals were working with while in the region. The majority female team at SA Expeditions might find this amusing that even on the Qhapaq Ñan I find myself collaborating with strong and talented women.

    Nick Stanziano
    Chief Explorer
    SA Expeditions
    ___________________
    Qhapaq Ñan – Día 1

    Desde Jauja, esta mañana el equipo inició la expedición junto a doce llamas a lo largo de una transversal del Qhapaq Ñan en dirección hacia Pachacamac, 320 kilómetros al oeste, cerca de la costa sur peruana en el Océano Pacifico.

    Hace 600 años, en la cima del reinado del Inca, Jauja fue un importante centro de administración que apoyó la expansión del imperio hacia el norte desde su capital, a 770 kilómetros al sur, en Cusco.

    Pachacamac, fue un importante centro religioso que se remonta a dos milenios e influyó en las siguientes culturas incas. Tiene sentido que el camino que une estos dos centros antiguos haya contado con tal planificación y grandeza. Es un ejemplo que se suma a la lista de obras extraordinarias a gran escala del imperio.
    Luego de tres días de caminata en dirección al oeste, estaremos llegando a la gran escalera Inca localizada en las sombras del gran Apu Pariacaca. El conjunto de mil ochocientos escalones será la entrada durante tres días a uno de los lugares más espectaculares de todos los 40,200 kilómetros que conforman el Qhapaq Ñan. En estos diez días de expedición llegaremos finalmente a Antioquia, más cerca a la costa donde el Qhapaq Ñan comienza a desaparecer. La mayor parte de nuestra caminata se realizará en alturas que van desde los 3,350 y 4,900 m.s.n.m, lo que es perfecto para las llamas ya que encontraremos abundante hierba de Ichu a lo largo del camino.

    En el primer día de ruta se ha cubierto 25 kilómetros. Las llamas se han comportado mejor y los encargados de ellas, los “llameros”, están realizando su trabajo de manera más eficiente. Flavio, Nicolás y Valentín están mejorando en su labor. A ellos se han sumado dos llameros locales, Tito y Antonia, siendo esta última la primera mujer en acompañarnos luego de 800 kilómetros de expediciones por el Qhapaq Ñan. Ella añade una interesante dosis de energía femenina al grupo y debo mencionar que, probablemente, es la cuidadora con más capacidad dentro del grupo.

    La mayor parte del equipo de SA Expeditions, conformado por mujeres, encontrara divertido que incluso en el Qhapaq Ñan me halle trabajando de la mano con mujeres fuertes y con mucho talento.

    Nick Stanziano
    Jefe Explorador
    SA Expeditions See more

    4 months ago

    SA Qhapaq Ñan

    Follow founder Nick Stanziano as he hikes 2,000 miles.

    Get ready for more Qhapaq Ñan!

    4 months ago

    Timeline Photos

    The Galapagos giant tortoise is the largest living species of tortoise, weighing up to 900 lbs. Galapagos tortoises are native to seven of the Galápagos Islands, the volcanic archipelago 620 miles See more

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