Antarctica Adventure with Mike Carter
By Gayle Hudson
At our September meeting, combining humor, history, geography, and an array of stunning photographs, Dr. Michael Carter of Lawrence Livermore Lab, took us to a continent few get the opportunity to visit and showed us the stark beauty of Antarctica. Escaping “work, the Trump inauguration, and spouses,” he and four friends traveled on a cruise ship to the continent this past winter, from January 14 to February 3, which was during the summer season in Antarctica.
Starting off his presentation, he asked us if we knew the difference between Lawrence Livermore Lab and Jurassic Park. Answer: one has high security and is filled with dinosaurs and the other one is a movie.
Mike’s adventure began with a flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then on to the tip of South America to Ushuaia, the gateway to Antarctica cruises. The first stop was the Falkland Islands (population 2,800), where Mike photographed Southern Rockhopper penguins. These penguins leave a couple of ‘supervisors’ in charge of the chicks when they hunt for food, then climb 150’ back up the cliffs to reach the chicks. While visitors have to stay 30’ away from the penguins, the birds are not afraid of people and come quite close. The Falklands were also the last time they saw the sun during their cruise.
The next stop on Mike’s adventure was South Georgia Island, with a population of 25. However, the population of penguins is 250,000 and there is also a large population of fur seals, which would waddle right up to the visitors. Mike pointed out the result of so many penguins is a lot of poop! If the color is red, the penguins are eating krill and if the color is brown, they are eating fish. Mike also photographed the King penguin (the second largest of the penguin species) with a beautiful, shimmery coat of grey, black, yellow and red plumage. In sharp contrast was a humorous photo of a King penguin chick, very puffy with brown plumage and a tiny head, which begged the question, “Does this coat make me look fat?”
Elephant Island, with a population of “less than zero” – no, we didn’t figure that one out – offered deep blue glaciers floating in an icy sea and a statue honoring Captain Luis Pardo Villalón, who rescued Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton’s Endurance crew in 1916. Chinstrap penguins and Weddell seals populate this island.
Mike then showed us the first glimpses of Antarctica, where they got to spend 90 minutes out of a 20-day cruise. The rugged conditions only allow for brief visits on the outermost peninsula, which were completely covered in penguins and dotted with red jackets the ship’s passengers wear when going ashore. Gentoo penguins populate this island, as well as Macaroni penguins, and their predator, the Leopard seal. Also photographed were Humpback whales bubble feeding.
A rough crossing through Drake Passage completed the trip, where the seas rose 30’ and rocked the huge ship. After many attempts during this leg of the trip, Mike captured a beautiful photo of a seagull in flight.
Mike described the wildlife as truly incredible, the photography opportunities unique, the food on the French cruise line excellent, and he can’t wait to go back.
Words cannot give credit to Mike’s beautiful photography, so please visit his Antarctica 2017 gallery.