The Cherry on the Cake – 25 March – Drake’s Passage

Monday 27 March 2017

It started to dawn on us when we woke up (pun definitely intended) that this was our final day of sightings on the good ship Plancius. After a busy day of balancing our regular surveys and creating the evening presentation, we were looking forward to a relaxing day of sightings and sight-seeing. Fuelled with a few litres of coffee, we noticed the light gradually increasing outside the windows of the viewing lounge, and what can only be described as a hoard of albatross awaiting the bird survey.

Black-browed albatross galore next the the ship (photo Sonja Heinrich)

And boy did Lars and Sonja pull out all the stops! Expecting the classic Drake Passage shenanigans, we were instead greeted with a beautiful, calm sunrise. Lars had apparently decided to treat us by demanding nothing but a fine summer’s day for the end of our trip. And as if that wasn’t enough, Sonja treated us to the big 3 of the final passage; Peale’s Dolphins, Sei Whales and Dusky Dolphins. A special delivery as a reward for all our hard work.

Peale’s dolphin next to Plancius (photo Naomi Tuhuteru)

All of which occurred in what seemed like a very short span of time. And whether you like it or not I’m going to tell you the story. As we drew closer to our special destination of Cape Horn, we were suddenly aware that we were being escorted by the first of our top three, the Peale’s dolphins. They were courteous enough to play with the boat and give us an impressive show before we were close enough to the shore to appreciate Cape Horn.

Plancius approaching Cape Horn (photo Sonja Heinrich)

Later, with Argentinian land in sight, and the challenging glare of the afternoon sun upon us, Hawkeye SK spotted what seemed to be multiple blows at almost 5km away. As we drew closer, much of our group had gathered on deck to join the fun of a new sighting. They were still too far away for us to ID, but the more land we could see, the more we realised that the characteristic whale blows weren’t just in one area, they stretched all along the upcoming coastline.

One of the many sei whale sightings (photo Alec Christie)

As we were still pressing our eyes into the binoculars (as if we were expecting that to help us see farther), SHAZAM! One popped up right next to the ship! And was kind enough to give us an unmistakeable look at the dorsal fin, confirming our hopes that these were indeed sei whales!

Sunset in the Beagle Channel (photo Sam Wilson)

We continued our journey hugging the coastline, watching South American fur seals and Magellanic penguins floating by soaking up the sun. Then just as the sun was beginning to set, it was time for Alec to take the Hawkeye mantle, spotting some tell-tale splashing far off on the horizon. This time we weren’t so lucky to see the group up close, but with some impressive camera work we agreed that they were our final big sighting of the trip, the Dusky dolphins.

Amazing night sky over Plancius (photo Alec Christie)

To top the day off, after dinner we all went outside to appreciate the first cloudless, and brilliantly starry night we have had in the southern hemisphere.  A perfect day to end a perfect expedition. But stay tuned, there’ll be plenty of shenanigans in the coming days from our journey home!

written by Sam Wilson


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