It’s a small world: one of this site’s readers, Paul Hughes, as well as his wife Corinne, were along with us on our first trip from Valparaiso to Antarctica and back to Punta Arenas. Paul, a Brit, sent me a summary of his experience on the Roald Amundsen’s first Antarctica trip, and left it up to me whether to post it. Although it’s a bit self aggrandizing me to post encomiums from others, that’s by no means all that Paul had to say, and I thought it would be useful and interesting to hear the take of a science-friendly reader who experienced the same voyage as I. Paul’s comments are indented below, with one comment from me. Thanks to Paul and Corinne for their company on the trip!
I’ve asked Paul to read the comments and, if he wishes, to answer any questions that readers might have.
Paul’s email salutation to me:
I’m glad you’re having a great second trip, and am managing to control my outbursts of jealousy! When WEIT readers discovered that I was on the same trip as you, some of them cheekily asked me to report on your performance. So here it is. It is up to you whether you wish to post it or not, of course.
And his report:
The largest land “predator” in Antarctica is Belgica antarctica, the Antarctic midge (2 – 6 mm long), but recently there have been repeated sightings of a cat in the region. Experts have identified it as a Ceiling Cat. This is a known individual, PCC(E), and has been seen well away from its usual North American habitat. Ceiling Cats seem to have a fascination with penguins, particularly chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarctica), but then again who in their right minds would not empathise with this behaviour!
Ceiling Cats are also renowned for their love of noms, so the MS Roald Amundsen is a natural habitat for them as the food is excellent. PCC(E) was often to be seen foraging in the Aune restaurant. My wife and I also ventured up to the “posh” Lindstrom restaurant. There is a 25 euro surcharge to dine there. The food was good, but rather nouvelle cuisine. For us, we preferred the more relaxed atmosphere, greater choice and larger portions to be found in the Aune [PCC(E) take note].
On a more serious note, the whole trip was AWESOME. Many travellers said that they simply ran out of superlatives to adequately describe the experience. I have been on many expeditions before, and I have stayed in 5-star hotels, but I have never before been on an expedition in a 5-star hotel! The whole wildlife experience was greatly enhanced by an excellent lecture programme and the opportunity to take part in citizen science projects.
Most people agreed that although all of the lectures were good, the best ones were delivered by PCC(E). As one reporter said to me, he not only learnt a lot but the narrative drive to the lectures, the excitement of the story-telling, was fascinating. The first lecture from PCC(E) was “The Fuegians, the Beagle, and Charles Darwin – how a collision of cultures influenced evolutionary biology.” I thought I knew this story well, but discovered so much more from the talk.
His second lecture was “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield – science and the Terra Nova expedition.” As a Brit I’ve been brought up with tales of Scott’s “heroic failure” to get to the South Pole first, but hadn’t realised how much important science was done on his expeditions. It has made me re-evaluate my attitude to the man. For example on the sled next to the tent in which the bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers were found were 35 pounds of Glossopteris fossils. PCC(E) elaborated expertly on continental drift and evolution at this point, much to the anger of two American creationists sitting in front of us. He also alluded to the fact that many Americans do not accept evolution. This was met with incredulity by many of my fellow British passengers, some of whom talked to our lecturer afterwards to find out more. PCC(E)’s last lecture wasn’t delivered, much to the chagrin of many of us, who felt that the Expedition team may have deferred to complaints from creationists and robbed us of another great story.
[JAC: I don’t really think this was the case; my own theory, which is mine, is that the talks coordinator just couldn’t find a slot to fit me in. Still, I really did want to give all three talks, as I want to earn my keep by working as well as having a great time. Further, each talk, with the background reading and slide-making, took a month to prepare. Finally, the audience on the ship is so appreciative and inquisitive that giving lectures helps me make friends and acquaintances. On this second voyage I did give my previously undelivered lecture—on adaptations of Antarctic animals—and with luck I’ll get to do the other two on this trip. Given the European interest in the phenomenon of American creationism, I’m also going to try to do a workshop on this topic.]
There were six Citizen Science projects to get involved in if you wished, and this was an important and fulfilling part of the trip for me. I was mainly involved with the bird survey and the clouds survey, whereas my wife Corinne spent time on the phytoplankton project. During my time on board we identified 22 species of birds. The penguins are amazing, but I also fell in love with the petrels and the albatrosses. The majestic soaring above the waves of the Black-browed Albatross (Thalassarce melanophris) and the mesmerising flocks of Cape Petrels (Daption capense) that sometimes surrounded the ship will live long in the memory. I have fallen in love with the Antarctic continent, and hope one day to return, but the trip has also made me even more determined to be an ambassador for this incredible place, and a campaigner for its continued preservation.