On Location: In Search of the Mediterranean Monk Seal

November 9, 2011

With the first rays of the sun bathing the landscape, we found ourselves nosing the Clipper Odyssey into one of the most secluded, breathtakingly beautiful bays on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. The dramatic limestone peaks of the Taurus range formed the backdrop for our exploration of the tiny village of Kas and its most famous historic edifice, the Hellenistic Theater of Antiphellus.

But this morning it was natural, rather than human, history on my mind, for this remote coastline is home to one of the world’s most elusive mammals, the Mediterranean monk seal. Once widely distributed from the Black Sea to the Atlantic coast of West Africa, this animal has undergone a catastrophic decline across its range, as a result of causes as diverse as direct persecution by fishermen for poaching fish from their nets and lines, to disturbance of their breeding beaches by coastal development. The remnant population, now estimated at under 500 individuals, is divided into two main areas: the deserted, Saharan coast of Mauritania, and the Aegean and eastern Mediterranean region of Greece and Turkey in which we now found ourselves. As I carefully scanned the quiet waters of the bay, I secretly hoped that we would be so lucky…

During the time of the ancient Greeks, the seals formed small colonies on rocky coasts, the males wooing their consorts with high-pitched, bird-like songs that gave rise to the myth of the sirens, luring sailors to their deaths. Nowadays, they use mostly inaccessible sea caves for pupping and we carefully scanned the nooks and crannies of the convoluted coast as we sailed into the bay. Suddenly, a head broke the surface of the inky water, and my heart stopped - but close inspection revealed the chunky head and hooked profile of a loggerhead turtle, a species that still nests in good numbers along these coasts. And sadly, that was as close as we ever came to seeing the rarest of all pinnipeds, despite careful searches around Kas and adjacent areas. We can only hope that the admirable effort of the Turkish government yields results in the ongoing protection of this charismatic creature.

On Location: Circumnavigating South Georgia

November 7, 2011

"The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of the wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of the ocean on a beach. I have heard them all, and of these three most elemental voices, that of the ocean is the most awesome, beautiful, and varied."

~ Henry Beston

 

I know not when Beston wrote this, nor do I know anything of his legacy; however, I admire his appreciation of the sounds of nature. A man who recognizes the significance of the voices of the wild and describes them as "awesome," is a man after my own heart. As I write this entry with no access to Google, I am certain that Mr. Beston had never experienced the sounds of a king penguin colony or a beach adorned with thousands of breeding and birthing southern elephant seals ... for had he witnessed this marvel of nature, he surely would have written that the most awesome sound is that of the cacophony of bull elephant seals, overflowing with testosterone, bellowing amidst a harem of females giving birth, juxtaposed with the pulsating sounds of the Southern Ocean breaking on a pebbled sub-Antarctic shore. If I could speak with Henry Beston today, I would argue that this is indeed the most awesome, beautiful, and varied sound in nature. 

The circumnavigation of South Georgia Island is complete, our fourth in the two decades since Zegrahm Expeditions was formed. The expedition is not over, but South Georgia lays in our wake. The Sea Spirt is headed WNW returning to the Falklands for another few days of adventure. The other night we enjoyed a celebration onboard in a turbulent sea, with much to celebrate: the circumnavigation, Halloween, and 21 years of adventure travel, not to mention the joy of sharing this expedition with three of my best friends: Shirley Metz, Peter Harrison, and Mike Messick.     

To share such an amazing place as South Georgia with exuberant travelers aboard a comfortable ship, and to walk in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton, is to experience life to its fullest. There is no way to put into words the nature of this experience, nor adequately describe the feeling shared by all onboard. Perhaps the closest term is that used by Henry Beston ... these days have been among the "most awesome" that anyone can imagine.

Bound for the Falkland Islands.

Fair Winds.

 
 
 

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Incomparable Mali

November 3, 2011

Being from South Africa, I never dreamed I would come to another part of the continent and be so blown away.  Within five minutes of landing, every one of my senses was hit, and for the next four days we journeyed through incredible markets and villages, having one of the most diverse cultural experiences ever.  

Visiting the Tuareg in their natural desert environment, sitting in a caravan tent eating a traditional mishui lamb lunch, and finally making it to infamous Timbuktu was just the start of our adventure in Mali.  Getting to see the largest mud mosque in the world, together with the huge Monday Market that surrounds the structure, made the town of Djenné another highlight.  Our visit to Dogon Country revealed the amazing architecture that blends into these towering rocky cliffs, similar to the Grand Canyon, with villages nestled at the base that run for over 200 miles. Once we were in the remote Dogon villages among the unique slender thatched mud huts, we experienced a culture that is hard to imagine, defined by diviners reading fox tracks and incredibly skilled dancers with an amazing variety of masks.

It’s been a truly remarkable experience, completely safe, and not to be missed. I hope you join us on our next trip to Mali, an extension of our Senegal to Spain expedition departing in April, 2012.

 
 
 

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Crossing the South Scotia Sea

October 31, 2011

The open ocean transit across the Scotia Sea from the Falklands is 700 nautical miles; as we crossed the waters, the Sea Spirit was escorted by hundreds of seabirds, including albatross, petrels, and prions among others. Our first two days at South Georgia have been blessed with great weather and abundant wildlife. The first landing at Elsehul was surreal—elephant seals with their new born pups; gentoo penguins that had just begun to nest; and light mantled sooty albatross were showing off their aerial courtship. At Prion Island we observed an adult male wandering albatross feeding its chick, and everyone had the chance to see one of the few land birds known to the island—the South Georgia Pipit.

This morning the ship was at anchor in Fortuna Bay; after a savory barbeque lunch on deck, some of us followed the footsteps of Shackleton, where in 1916 he completed the last leg of his harrowing travels over the island. The sky is blue and the glacier at the head of the embayment glistens in the morning sun. Tens of thousands of king penguins nest here and the cacophony of mating dances is awe inspiring.

The energy level onboard is high, the spirit of adventure and camaraderie exciting. A celebration of 21 years since the origin of Zegrahm Expeditions.

 
 
 

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Crossing the South Scotia Sea

October 31, 2011 | Tags: South Scotia Sea

The open ocean transit across the Scotia Sea from the Falklands is 700 nautical miles; as we crossed the waters, the Sea Spirit was escorted by hundreds of seabirds, including albatross, petrels, and prions among others. Our first two days at South Georgia have been blessed with great weather and abundant wildlife. The first landing at Elsehul was surreal—elephant seals with their new born pups; gentoo penguins that had just begun to nest; and light mantled sooty albatross were showing off their aerial courtship. At Prion Island we observed an adult male wandering albatross feeding its chick, and everyone had the chance to see one of the few land birds known to the island—the South Georgia Pipit.

This morning the ship was at anchor in Fortuna Bay; after a savory barbeque lunch on deck, some of us followed the footsteps of Shackleton, where in 1916 he completed the last leg of his harrowing travels over the island. The sky is blue and the glacier at the head of the embayment glistens in the morning sun. Tens of thousands of king penguins nest here and the cacophony of mating dances is awe inspiring.

The energy level onboard is high, the spirit of adventure and camaraderie exciting. A celebration of 21 years since the origin of Zegrahm Expeditions.