Category Archives: Articles

Pourquoi Pas Island, Antarctica

Pourquoi Pas was the name of the ship of the French explorer Charcot. Scott called him the “Polar Gentleman.”

The is a large moraine here and we found Antarctic Fur Seals, a Weddell Seal and Adelie Penguins.

The beach at Pourquoi Pas island

Weddell Seal

The face of a Weddell Seal is said to resemble that of a cat.

the moraine

male Fur Seals

Moulting Adelie Penguins

the moult takes about three weeks

the penguins are unable to go to sea to feed during this time.

They lose 50% of their weight.

Pourquoi Pas Island

February 26, 2017

Miles Hearn


Hannah Point, South Shetlands, Antarctica

Hannah Point is named after the British sealer Hannah which was wrecked near here on Christmas Day in 1820. It has large Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguin colonies, Southern Elephant Seals, Giant Petrels and Kelp Gulls.

Hannah Point

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo Penguin with Chinstrap Penguin

Moulting Chinstrap Penguins near rocks loaded with lichen.

Chinstrap feeding chick

Moulting Chinstrap Penguin


Kelp Gull

Kelp Gull chick

Feathers from moulting penguins

Giant Petrel chick

Giant petrel chick

Elephant Seals

Hannah Point

February 20, 2017

Miles Hearn


Entrance to Deception Island, South Shetlands, Antarctica

Deception Island’s collapsed volcanic cone provides one of the safest natural harbours in the world, despite periodic eruptions. To enter ships must navigate a tricky 230 meter-wide break in the volcano’s walls which has been nicknamed “Neptune’s Bellows.” At the center of the passageway is a rock called “Ravn Rock” by French explorer Charcot. This lies unseen 2.5 meters under the surface of the water and ships must take care to avoid it.

I took photos as we entered the island.

Deception Island from a distance

Rock formation called “The Needles.” This is just outside the island.

Collapsed cathedral crag called “Neptune’s Window” seen from the sea.



Turning into the island

View of the cliffs

February 20, 2017

Miles Hearn

KIller Whales in the Gerlache Strait, Antarctica

Once I was giving a lecture on whales when the Captain suddenly announced “Killer Whales on starboard side.” Never have I seen a theater clear so rapidly!

Everyone loves these creatures except, of course, the seals which they feed on.

Killer Whales (also called Orcas) travel in groups or “pods.”

The Killer Whales near the Antarctic Peninsula belong to the “Type B” category and they prey mainly on seals.

Males have a taller, straighter dorsal fin.

Killer Whales breathe frequently but can stay under water for up to 17 minutes.

They can reach depths of about 260 meters.

In addition to seals, they will take fish, squid, penguins and other seabirds.

Pods contain adults of both genders but the oldest female is usually dominant.

Killer Whales breed about once in every 5 years.

It takes about one year to 18 months for a calf to reach adulthood.

Some pods can number up to 100 individuals.

February 19, 2017

Miles Hearn

LIfe at Sea: Antarctica 2017


                                                                         Life at Sea


Here is a little description of what it is to be a cruise ship naturalist during a 10 day Antarctic cruise.

Ushuaia, near the southern tip of South America is a long way from Toronto. I left home at noon on January 2 for the approximately 3 hour flight to Atlanta. This was followed by a 6 hour wait and then a 9 pm flight to Buenos Aires. 10 hours later the plane arrived and I took a taxi to a downtown hotel. It is full summer here and I ate supper and sat in an outdoor café with a naturalist friend for many hours. Finally off to bed only to rise at 1:30 am for another taxi to the airport and a 4:30 am flight to Ushuaia.

On arrival at Le Boreal (this is a little surreal as it was Le Boreal that came close to disaster with an engine room fire last year; one of the more frightening moments of my life), the team of 11 naturalists meets and we are assigned cabins (I got a single though I will be sharing for the next cruise). Uniforms, boots and radios are given out and we have a few hours to get some rest before passengers arrive at 4 pm.

As Ponant is a French company, all but 2 of the naturalists (who are German; one of them works as an actress in Germany when she is not at sea) speak French and English. I am definitely the oldest but there are others in their 50’s and 60’s. The youngest is 28. Several have spent entire years on remote Antarctic islands doing research on penguins, seabirds, ice fish, glaciers and a host of other things. My symphony orchestra background is unusual to be sure, but Bernd, from Germany, has a PHD in religion and is a church organist and choir master in Germany. We have had many interesting talks.

On the first night we wear our best suits and there is a “Meet the Captain” presentation in the theater. There were 203 passengers on the first cruise which included:

2 Austrians, 35 Australians, 9 Belgians, 1 Chinese, 1 Chilean, 5 Germans, 2 Estonians, 3 Spanish, 99 French, 1 British, 2 Hungarians (1 is a big hockey fan!), 2 Italians, 19 Tawainese (I accompanied several of these groups on Zodiak cruises and they are obsessed with taking “selfies.” When we spot a seal, they take a photo with themselves in the foreground.) and  22 Americans (one couple has recently moved to Boston so that they can immerse themselves into the life of their 19 month old grandchild). Our passengers for the next 2 cruises are entirely Chinese. In February, 2 cruises are entirely Australian.

The first two days are at sea as the ship crosses the Drake Passage. This body of water can be mild (Drake Lake) as it was for this cruise or wild (Drake Shake) as it has been on a few others. (Pass the Gravol). Sometimes few passengers appear for breakfast on the first morning.

Speaking of breakfast, the food is very French and is an exquisite 6 stars in quality. Once or twice during each cruise I am invited to eat with passengers in the dining room and have a special Ponant white shirt for this purpose. During these meals we hear lots of interesting life stories. Naturalists eat all of our meals in the dining room or in the buffet at tables designated for us.

 I attended a dance show this afternoon. Each ship has 5 dancers (4 female and one male) and they perform 4 or 5 times during each cruise (each time a different show.) In addition they teach ballroom dancing to the passengers etc. The show I saw was a very modern spectacle of dances from all around the globe with great music and dozens of costume changes. The ship also has several pianists (including a classical virtuoso) and singers who entertain in the various lounges.

In Antarctica we lead 2 expeditions a day for 5 straight days. On the recent cruise, we walked about on land 6 times and did Zodiak cruises among icebergs etc 4 times. For Zodiak cruises, I comment on the natural world we are seeing and do it in French, or English or sometimes both.  The ears of the English-speakers always perk up when I say the French word “phoque” (seal).  At least once per cruise, our Zodiak is met by a special Zodiak which gives us each a glass of champagne. Another Ponant touch.

For the landings, the expedition leader assigns us each a position. It could be near a penguin colony so that we can answer questions, it could be near a “hauled out” elephant seal who is fast asleep on shore and awakes only for incredibly low-pitched burps, it could be to accompany passengers on a hike of an hour or so to the top of a glacier or a mountain, or it could be simply to help passengers in an area which has difficult footing. We exchange positions from time to time and are ashore for about 4 hours. During one cruise I helped a lady who kept falling into deep snow. On the end of the cruise, she told me that she had written a nice report about me in her cruise appraisal. As she left she remarked “Thank-you so much once again Dmitri.” (Dmitri is another tall naturalist.)

One of our landings was at a Chilean science station where T-shirts saying “I was in the Antarctica” were for sale for $40 US.

During each outing, I take 100’s of photos of the penguins etc and, later, choose the best dozen or so which I will put into posts on my website when I return home. Today I took photos as we passed by historic Cape Horn where over 10,000 sailors have lost their lives in stormy seas. Photos from South Georgia which we visited in November are already posted. The waters of the Beagle Channel were full of Sei Whales and Dusky Dolphins during our last few hours to Ushuaia.

Each naturalist gives a lecture during the cruise and I have been doing a lecture on seabirds (albatross etc) and penguins. I have taken many of the photos I show and have chosen music for some of the short videos. As a skua hunts for penguin eggs, the passengers hear music from the “St Matthew Passion” by Bach in the background. As the Snowy Sheathbill struts about, they hear “Walk Right In, Sit Right Down.”

As I write we have arrived at Ushuaia with beautiful mountains on both sides (some are still snow-capped). Tomorrow it all begins again until I return home on March 5.


With passengers


Port Lockroy, Antarctica

Port Lockroy was originally called Port La Croix and the name was anglicized by the British. Their former station has been turned into a museum / post office and is one of the most popular destinations in Antarctica. A staff of four women spend the Antarctic summer here maintaining the site, doing scientific and wildlife research, running the post office and store and boarding cruise ships to give short talks about Port Lockroy.


During each Antarctic season that I have been here, I buy T-shirts for the grandchildren.

Gentoo chicks. Research has shown that colonies that are frequently visited by tourists have a higher success rate for chicks than others. This is partly because the skuas are less interested.

There are many Snowy Sheathbills at Port Lockroy. These birds migrate north before fall. One landed on a ship and flew out in Rome.

View from Port Lockroy

February 17, 2017

Miles Hearn

Don Valley plants: mid-August

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum sal;icaria)

Boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum)

Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota)

Soapwort (Saponaria officinalis)

White Snakeroot (Ageratina altissima)

Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Flat-topped White Aster (Doellingeria umbellata)

Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)

Agrimony (Agrimonia)

Dog-strangling Vine (Vincetoxicum rossicum)

White Avens (Geum canadense)

Wild Red Raspberry (Rubus strigosus)

Great Burdock (Arctium lappa)

Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola)

Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Field Sow Thistle (Sonchus arvensis)

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

Narrow-leaved Cat-tail (Typha angustifolia)

Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare)

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

Phragmites (Phragmites australis)

Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron rydbergii)

White Cedar (Thuja occidentalis)

Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago)

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

European Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)

Crown Vetch (Securigera varia)

White Vervain (Verbena uticifolia)

Spindle Tree (Euonymus europaea)

Viper’s Bugloss (Echium vulgare)

Teasle (Dipsacus fullonum)

Gray Dogwood (Cornus foemina)

Pasture Thistle (Cirsium discolor)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Motherwort (Leonurus cardica)


Creeping Bellflower (Campanula rapunculoides)

Cabbage White Butterfly

Common Burdock (Arctium minus)

Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium maculatum)

Alternate-leaved Dogwood (Cornus alternifolia)

Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens capensis)

Scarlet Pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)


Miles Hearn