The Polar Project » Crossing 66˚

Iceberg just north of the Antarctic Circle

Day 31; February 22, 2009; Southern Ocean, Antarctic Circle
Average Daily Temperature: 33.88˚ F
Average Daily Wind Speed: 10.82 mph
Feels Like: 17.65˚ F

One doesn’t forget the first glimpse of an albatross. With wingspans up to ten feet, they are stunning in flight—ever graceful in the thick ocean wind. Albatross are known for their gliding, and hardly need flap their wings. By using the updraft of the wind off the ocean’s surface and the shape of their long elegant wings they can glide endlessly. I was quite fortunate to see five species today: the majestic wandering albatross, the sooty albatross, the light-mantled sooty albatross, the black-browed albatross and the grey-hooded albatross.

Sitting on up on the monkey deck with birder Dennis Weir, I learned a great many things about the albatross, as well as the many other birds that were emerging as we traversed the latitudes northward. It is quite amazing, these birds that live out here in the middle of the ocean, with only the restless sea to land on! Albatross can go periods of years wandering the sea before returning to the South Atlantic islands where they were born in order to mate.

Several times through the day we also saw Humpback Whales, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in pods, and often near the lone icebergs that still persisted along the horizon. I was thrilled to witness one in the distance leap completely out of the water, and caught glimpses of others waving their fins or tails above the water. These graceful marine mammals had migrated here with their young for the austral summer.

Although we are now far from their origin, the ice shelf, the icebergs endure the distance. The gray and misty day displayed their ghost-like silhouettes along the horizon. Their forms emerged and dissipated as if memories, yet in their fortitude they persevered despite the warming waters that now surround them. I cannot help but wonder at the their fate, and at the fate of Antarctica itself, as well as the Arctic, as ocean waters in general continue to increase in temperature and as Earth’s climate changes. How can we reconcile the loss of these lands and their unique phenomena? How can we bear their possible extinction by what may be our own hand? Can we make the changes necessary to save these environments, these pieces of our natural heritage?

Just after noon, we crossed latitude 66 degrees and 29 minutes, and I left the Antarctic Circle behind. I have spent 26 days in Antarctica, 22 on the continent and four in the Antarctic Ocean. I have been opened to a world that I will not soon relinquish to memory, wanting to carry this experience afresh with me in every moment until I go back. This journey has strengthened my intent with my project, and impassioned me with the courage to accomplish it.
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