By John Nightingale, Ph.D., president and CEO of Vancouver Aquarium

As our group travels to the Antarctic Peninsula, we have sailed from Ushuaia at the tip of South America, to northeast to the Falkland Islands, and now we are going to South Georgia Island. It took a full day and two nights to get from Ushuaia to the Falkland Islands. Most of our explorers used the time to get their cabins organized, gear stowed, cameras and binoculars ready and boots and rain gear sorted.

The voyage was a bit rough with big ocean swells coming from behind us from the southern seas as we steamed for the Falkland Islands. That meant most of us had to also sort out our anti-seasick medications.

Typically, a day at sea involves breakfast at about 8 a.m., lunch at about 12:30 p.m., and dinner at 7:30 p.m. Our program is flexible, and adapts as circumstances shift, such as when we learn of new landings to explore, or major sightings of marine mammals. While we are at sea transiting between islands or the Antarctic Continent, there are presentations and lectures on all sorts of history and nature topics – these are not only enjoyable and informative, but help pass the time.

It is a two-and-a-half day sail from the Falklands to South Georgia. We did have some large swells, in the neighbourhood of 10 meters – large enough to cause a big ship like ours, called the Akedemik Ioffe, to roll as it moves forward at a speed of 10-12 knots. By now, many explorers have found their “sea legs.” By that, I mean they have become used to the roll of the sea. Medications for seasickness continue, but people are more and more comfortable with the boat’s motion. The Ioffe has a unique stabilization system to help reduce or dampen the roll. Compressed air is injected into a tube running across the boat below decks, where computer sensors move water back and forth to counter the roll.

The combination of long ocean swells coming north from the Southern Ocean, and winds up to 50 knots in the same direction, means that seas build considerably. The danger of being outside on the decks caused the One Ocean Expedition staff to one day keep everyone inside for part of a day for safety’s sake. However, the weather can and does change rapidly here in the open South Atlantic. One morning we were kept inside; by late afternoon on the same day, we were all outside on the aft (back) deck with cameras in hand watching the soaring Albatrosses and other sea birds.

It is very foggy at the moment, which means we are crossing the convergence – the area where the relatively warmer waters of the South Atlantic and the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica meet. This is a mixing zone where nutrient-rich cold waters meet warmer waters, resulting in an explosion of phytoplankton (plant plankton) and then in the zooplankton (animal plankton) that feeds on them.

This rich area also means lots of birds, whales, seals, and sea lions – all feeding on some part of the food chain anchored in the cold nutrient water that is upwelling in the convergence. The water temperature has dropped a degree in the past hour and now stands at 3.3 degrees C.  The air temperature has also dropped and stands at about 5 degrees C.

As I write this, we have been at sea for almost three days and we are approaching South Georgia Island. It’s an even harder place to get to than the Falkland Islands – and I have been hearing about how amazing it is for decades. Later today and the next three days should provide us all with an amazing experience.

John Nightingale, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium, is currently on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Antarctica with a group of explorers. He is providing regular updates during the journey.

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