Nothing Beets This

Sunday 15 January 2023

Day 11 – 12 January 2023

Our Antarctica adventure is officially coming to an end as today we finished our last leg of the Drake Passage. We woke up in the morning to find the ship in calmer seas having made it over halfway overnight. Survey effort was strong in the morning but alas, no whales or dolphins… yet.

As we glimpsed land on the horizon, we began to be surrounded by many birds, including wandering, royal and black-browed albatrosses where the size difference was clearly visible, and the extraordinary size of wandering and royal albatrosses could be admired. Clusters of birds were becoming a common occurrence, with the largest being 300, comprised of Manx, Great and Sooty shearwaters. Coupled with sightings of lots of albatross, today was definitely a birders dream!

A Royal albatross seen interacting with two Black-browed albatrosses, where size differences between the species can be seen (photo by Alex)

In the afternoon, we entered the Beagle Channel on the approach to Ushuaia port and Sonja gave a talk to the passengers about the scientific research that the St Andrews team were conducting onboard and the uses for the data we have collected. However, with the appearance of dolphins at the bow, we all made a mad dash out of the lecture to try and catch a glimpse of dolphins ploughing through the waves. Luckily, we were treated to a plethora of dolphin sightings, with Peale’s and Dusky dolphins both seen bow-riding and porpoising around the ship. Commonly confused species due to the similar colour pattern, our team was able to tell them apart by looking at photos with focus on the dolphins’ faces. These dolphin sightings truly were the icing on the cake of a phenomenal trip to Antarctica and an amazing way to end our last day of data collection.

Trying to get glimpses of the dolphins on the bow which is hidden from view required new observation approaches (photo by Sonja, left) and Dusky dolphins leaping high showing off all the species’ characteristics (photo by Alex, right)

We finally stopped surveying as the vessel reached the pilot station where the pilot boarded the ship and time for dinner approached. At dinner, the vegetarians were once again treated to beetroot – this time disguised as a wellington, concluding the running joke of vegetarians eating beets and nothing else.

Watching the pilot boat dropping off the pilot for the journey through the Beagle Channel (photo by Sonja) and the infamous Beetroot Wellington (photo by Alex)

Our last group meeting was a lovely chance to reminisce about the best bits of the trip and we were treated to Oscar’s movie -slide show of all the best photos and videos taken by the Hurtigruten photography team. Notable highlights include a leopard seal yawning, humpback whales right next to ship and the penguin highways.

St Andrews student team in their bespoke Antarctic hoodies on deck in the Beagle Channel (photo by Sonja)

Once docked and after packing our bags, there was a sea shanty send off by the expedition team, culminating in ‘Leave her Johnny’, which our team joined in with much enthusiasm. A final evening of drinks at the top deck and Ceilidh dancing was an excellent way to bring Scottish joy to the harbour of Ushuaia. A wonderfully beautiful end to an amazing trip!

We’re officially back in Ushuaia! (photo by Sonja)

Written by Alex

Alex back in the Antarctic (Neko Harbour)


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