Antarctic Photography – an ebook Review

Posted on Jan 30, 2015 | Comments Off on Antarctic Photography – an ebook Review


During the 2014-15 Antarctic season David McGonigal led an Expedition for One Ocean Expeditions aboard the Akademik Ioffe that was sub chartered to Iconic Images/C4 for a Photographic Group led by Art Wolfe and Frans Lanting. An ebook has been produced from the voyage and it reveals Antarctic, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands in all their glory. It can be downloaded as a pdf at

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Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Posted on Dec 31, 2013 | Comments Off on Akademik Shokalskiy Antarctica Rescue Musings

Akademik Shokalskiy

SMH Photo: Andrew Peacock/www.footloosefoto


 Herbert Ponting – the Terra Nova

Antarctic rescue musings by David McGonigal

No I’m not stuck in the ice

Thanks for all the queries but fortunately I’m not stuck near Antarctica’s Commonwealth Bay on board the Akademik Shokalskiy, awaiting rescue or evacuation. Rather I’m sweltering in Sydney on New Year’s Eve. In my 100+ voyages to the Antarctic I’ve yet to be on a ship beset in ice (touching wood as I type). However, I’ve assisted in rescues and experienced much that the Southern Ocean can throw at you. So, since the Shokalskiy became stuck, I’ve been following the saga with great interest and here are a few observations. These are based on no more than the news reports everyone else has been seeing, too.

A summer of setbacks for Antarctic Science

Today (the morning of Tuesday 31 December) it looks like the decision has been made to take passengers and staff off the ship (by Chinese helicopter from the ice to the Aurora Australis), leaving just the Russian crew. That will take the drama out of the situation and allow the Chinese and Australian vessels to return to their resupply work for the summer science program  that runs on a very tight timetable during the short polar summer. This year looks set to be a setback for ongoing Antarctic science programs – by far the the biggest being that the US budget dispute was not resolved in time to allow US programs to run this summer and, more relevant for Australian science, my understanding is that the Aurora Australis left for the rescue attempt halfway through resupplying Casey Base.

Once there is just the 20 or so crew left on the Shokalskiy they simply wait until they can get free. That won’t be a problem for the crew – the ship normally carries months of extra provisions and Russian polar ships’ crews have done extended research in the past where they only returned home after more than a year at sea. The ship is their real home and I’ve worked with some who have been on the ship since it was built more than 20 years ago.

“Like an almond in toffee”

The Shokalskiy was built to ice-strengthened Russian specs in Finland in 1982. It’s Shuleykin-class so it’s quite small (1753 GRT) and sturdy. However, it’s getting quite old and several of the others in this class have been withdrawn from working in Antarctica. Ideally, the wind will change and the ice will scatter and the ship can escape. Or it will spend a while “like an almond in toffee” as one of Shackleton’s men put it. From what we hear, I don’t have much fear for its safety. The two main risks are that the ice will push it towards land or shoals or that an iceberg could collide with it. The sea ice that the ship is stuck in is moved mainly by the wind; icebergs, on the other hand, with their deep ‘keels’ are moved by ocean currents and sometime a large iceberg looks like an icebreaker plowing through sea ice.

I hope everyone has been impressed by the way the Chinese, French and Australian vessels rushed to the rescue?  That’s the seafarers’ code – to always aid a stricken vessel when it calls for assistance. However, once the people (and ship) are safe there’s the matter of who pays? This operation will have already directly cost millions of dollars (and many more in curtailed programs) so there will be a hefty bill. I’ve known rescuers to bill at exorbitant full commercial rates. Hopefully, insurance will cover it.

Down the line deeper questions will be asked. How and why did the ship get stuck? I have no idea but I bet there are rumours soon enough – and they will only be dispelled after a lengthy enquiry, if there is one.

Science, safety and tourism

For me, once the passengers, crew and ship are safe, the most worrying ramification will be the impact this has on Antarctic tourism. Antarctica is a continent run by the nations of the Antarctic Treaty “for peace and science”. There is provision for tourism and generally that operates in a safe and responsible way. Even so, many scientists regard tourism as a diversion and an unnecessary risk and some would like to see it limited or stopped. This incident will add to that pressure. Never mind that tourist ships often help scientific research programs and research bases, just as the science ships are helping a tourist ship right now. Antarctic tourists soon become and Antarctic advocates with an important role to play in promoting its preservation. The outcome of the next Antarctic Treaty meeting may be crucial to those of us who love Antarctica and love the opportunity to show it to travellers with a passion for the last great wilderness.


David McGonigal is an expedition leader in Antarctica who has visited it on more than 100 occasions. He heads back at the end of January 2014. He, with co-author Dr Lynn Woodworth, is the author of “Antarctica – the Complete Story”, “The Blue Continent” and “Antarctica – Secrets of the Southern Continent”.

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America’s Antarctic Program in Jeopardy Through US government shutdown

Posted on Oct 9, 2013 | Comments Off on America’s Antarctic Program in Jeopardy Through US government shutdown

Antarctic marine sanctuaries : Adelie and emperor penguins, Bay of Whales, Ross Sea, Antarctica

National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that it is putting its three Antarctic scientific stations in deep freeze.

 The federal government shutdown is reaching all the way down to the South Pole.

The National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that it is putting its three Antarctic scientific stations in deep freeze just as scientists are starting to arrive for the start of a new research season.

The NSF runs three stations in Antarctica spending just under $400m a year there. It often takes weeks for some 1,200 researchers to get to the southern continent by boat or plane.

Scientists say October is when spring and summer research starts in Antarctica. A ship had been scheduled to arrive Wednesday with researchers, including those working on a long term study that has tracked penguins and other creatures since 1990.

A skeleton staff will remain for safety and property protection.

Associated Press in Washington

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iTT addresses the luxury in the experience

Posted on Sep 1, 2013 | Comments Off on iTT addresses the luxury in the experience


On Sunday September 1, Luxperience 2013 opened in Sydney, Australia’s Town Hall with a “Thought Leaders” evening. David McGonigal of iTravelTree was asked to present as the opening speaker –
his topic was “The Luxury in the Experience”.

Good evening. From Andrew’s introduction you may gather, I’ve been a travel writer/author and photographer for too many decades.

100 places to visit

In fact, a friend recently send me one of those Facebook quizzes on  “100 places to see before you die” –  and I had visited 90 – I’m either well travelled or ready to cark it.

My latest venture is a start-up called iTT. Basically, iTravelTree conducts a meta search of travel data filtered by your social preferences. So I’ve been giving a lot of thought to “luxury” lately – the trend I see in luxury is to collect exotic experiences not things or famous hotels.

If you had asked my mum, she probably would have defined travel luxury as a grand old hotel – like Sydney’s Australia Hotel.


I suspect Scandinavia may agree with her. While flying on SAS last month I read in the in-flight mag: “Marstrand has something that no new luxury resort can buy: dignity and soul”.

It was both a sweeping generalization and wrong. Marstrand may do it well but so do many new resorts. Brilliant architecture, environmental sensitivity and empathy with local residents lie at the heart of dignity and soul. Some go further:

D on ele

© David McGonigal

The Anantara Golden Triangle gives you a chance to be part of a care centre for mistreated Asiatic elephants. More on that later.

My last 18 months have been special as my wife Sandra, stepped down from running Rupert Murdoch’s Australian magazine division early last year and, after a lifetime of being tied to an office has finally had a chance to travel. We’ve been referring to it as her executive gap year. Seeing our industry through her eyes is enlightening. Fittings and service are a given – and only noted in their absence – but special moments like hugging a baby orang utan or being taught to cook Tiramisu by the head chef of the Villa San Michele are prized.


* This is Milan’s Galleria Hotel – self proclaimed 7-stars

First can I say how I hate the attempt to add more stars – Dubai’s Burj al Arab started it and the Galleria has taken it further. I think the trend is in reverse: high degree of comfort is no longer limited to 5-star properties. Some 4-star resorts now offer a standard that would have been 5-star a decade ago. And why is it new hotels that think they might be 6 or 7 star: what about grand, established hotels like Monaco’s Hotel de Paris that could probably lay a better claim?

And, anyway, many of us would forego the front door being opened (or yet another chandelier) in exchange for free high-speed internet or the chance to make a cup of coffee and tea in the privacy of our room.

So what makes a property or travel experience truly special? There are three possibilities:

  1. The destination itself is enough
  2. The travel experience itself is enough
  3. The experience maximizes the location

1.       In some rare cases, the place itself is enough.

Simply being there is a luxury. And here I’m talking about discerning, experienced travellers. For the first timer in London, a dodgy hotel in Kensington might seem like paradise – it isn’t.

What’s a destination where the privilege is simply to be there?


  • Bhutan Paro Festival © David McGonigal

I was fortunate enough to go to Bhutan some 15 years ago. The food was terrible, the accommodation basic and the roads were shocking. But the richness of the culture – and its lack of cultural pollution from modern pop culture – left all of us, all very experienced Himalayan travellers, saying that we had found Paradise. And, then and now it wasn’t cheap.

But what’s the impossible dream? As a boy, I always thought I’d go to the moon but never thought I’d visit Antarctica.

Breaking Ice South of the Antarctic Circle DSC0727

  • Antarctica © David McGonigal

I now work in Antarctica as an expedition leader – I’ve been there more than 100 times and feel privileged every time. Passengers will pay the fare for a basic cabin on a Russian icebreaker that would give them five star accommodation for the same duration anywhere in Europe: $60,000 for two weeks.

The luxury to travel to Bhutan or into polar ice is at least as special as 5-star luxury.


Space remains the ultimate travel destination and it looks like I won’t make it there. Space travel is coming but affordability might be a problem. Mike McDowell popularized Antarctica as a travel destination – and his Space Adventures have arranged all 8 people who have paid (a lot) to go into space.

Virgin Galactica

Virgin Galactica says it’ll have first flight on Christmas Day this year. Cost for 2.5 hr flight to 360,000 ft is $250,000. Not bad value for 110 km up.

This is the category where indulgence doesn’t correlate with luxury. There are people prepared to pay $1/4M to throw up in a capsule a long way from home.

2 What about creating the unusual? Manufacturing the whole experience from scratch?


In the non-luxury market, it’s hard to go past Disneyland then DisneyWorld as places that create their own need. While you’d go to London or Paris regardless, would you go to Anaheim or Orlando without Walt’s worlds?


© David McGonigal

Closer to home – both in terms of location and audience – we have David Walsh’s MONA that has brought a whole new travel group to Hobart. When a gallery is talked more about in tourism stats than in the Arts pages you know it’s significant. Amazing and confronting, too.


Creating something from nothing is hard. Yet that’s what Dubai has done – taken a small fishing village and turn it into the world’s hub of luxury hotels and shopping.

us on eles

© David McGonigal

I go back to the Anantara because it epitomizes the luxury in the experience. And it drew us to a place we wouldn’t have visited. We signed up for a three day mahout course – and we were allocated our own elephants for the duration. Having your own elephant is absolute luxury – coming to understand the likes and dislikes of this giant gentle creature was very special. We still dream of elephants.


*Oasis of the Seas

The modern cruise industry has done it, too – created a huge growing industry out of nothing. Of course there were cruises before but ships were mainly a form of transport not entertainment.

Fat DuckFat Duck © David McGonigal

Then we have the modern phenomenon of food tourism. Perhaps it has always existed in a small way. nearly always directed towards France.

But now Noma has as much drawing power as the Little Mermaid, El Bulli rivals Sagrada Familia and The Fat Duck has put Bray UK on the map. Even in my suburb of Balmain, many hear the name and think Adriano Zumbo’s macarons.

When you are creating something from nothing, you are limited only by your imagination. Here luxury can be indulgence and the experience.

3      Finally we have the experience that works to enhance the location – the most common scenario


  • Cipriani Hotel © David McGonigal

Every company that delivers a travel product needs to be thinking “what next?” There was a time when just having been to the rim of the Grand Canyon was enough. Then people said “what next?” So now we can raft through it, hike to the bottom or walk out on a glass platform. Likewise, Sydney Harbour Bridgeclimb changed the bridge (and Sydney) from a static setting to an experience.

I experienced this first hand in Venice last year. Once it would have been enough to have Venice as my destination. And for luxury it’s hard to go past the legendary Hotel Cipriani. But then the Cipriani raised the stakes into the stratosphere – “come stay with us and kayak the canals of Venice.”

kayak Venice

© David McGonigal

This was luxury at all levels – the pampered indulgence of the hotel and the experiential indulgence of seeing Venice from my own kayak. I fondly remember the Cipriani – especially breakfast on Easter Sunday – but I’ll never forget paddling under the Rialto at sunset then turning to glide under the Bridge of Sighs.

It’s hard to up the arms race in hotel amenities. Better champagne – but when you get to Krug vs Dom, what’s next? Better beds? More service? If you want to stand out you have to think laterally and offer the unusual – as the Cipriani has done.

David Bowie

Luxury can simply be service. A great concierge is there to realize your dreams. A couple of weeks ago I was London for the day and wanted to see the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but it was sold out. So we contacted Red Carnation Hotels where we had stayed the last couple of times we’ve been in London and Egerton House Hotel provided a couple of passes that they were offering their guests. They have our loyalty.

Summer Palace

  • Summer palace, St Petersburg © David McGonigal

The ultimate luxury is not more brocade but rather “Access All Areas”. So a cruise that features a private dinner in one of Catherine the Great’s palaces has special appeal. Or a Danube cruise that includes rare tickets to Oberammergau Passion Play. In Sydney you’d hope a hotel has some Springsteen tickets in a drawer. Think big – come to LA and we’ll take you to the Academy Awards. Who would say “no”?

Hugh Jackman

“Access All People” is a luxury for the sociable. I spent a weekend at Gwinganna Health Retreat when Hugh Jackman was there (he’s a part owner) and that’s been good for a few stories afterwards. The lesson I learned was don’t try to hold eye contact with any woman when Hugh is heaving himself out of the pool behind you. I always thought the ultimate would have been on the Antarctic cruise that had the reclusive Neil Armstrong on board.


There’s also the wonderful experience when the environment and the property perfectly interlink. I first discovered this in South Africa where game parks like &Beyond’s are luxurious but have strong links to not just wildlife conservation but also the local community. Luxury for visitors is feeling part of the place not a casual observer.

Turtle Island

Things change. Many years ago I was asked to give Bernie Eccleston suggestions for a tropical Australian resort with no expense spared. I suggested he go to Fiji instead. Places like Turtle Island gave a better experience because you are immersed in local culture while being treated royally. Australia has evolved – today I’d say to Bernie – have a look at the website of Luxury Lodges of Oz.

Southern Ocean Lodge

  • Southern Ocean Lodge

We’ve come a long way from the days when Australian tourism culture was a reflection of Crocodile Dundee.

Bulgari Bali

It’s predicted that more hotels and resorts will align themselves with luxury brands – think the Armani Hotel in Dubai, the Missoni Hotel in Kuwait and the Bulgari resort in Bali. I hear even Vogue is considering moving into the area. Of course, the name gives instant cut-through but I think it’s lazy.

Doing the hard yards to find a way to offer a unique experience that provides your property with an authentic, memorable life moment that ties to its location will result in enduring success.

Easter island

  • Easter Island © David McGonigal

A recent report  by the Adventure Travel Association and George Washington University  defined adventure travel as any trip that includes at least

2 of

a)    physical activity,

b)   interaction with nature, and

c)     cultural learning or exchange

It valued the industry at $US263 billion pa, with 65 per cent annual growth since 2009. There’s certainly money in experiential travel.

But, if I can distill a lifetime of travel into a few words – For me luxury is not about limos or five-star fittings and glamorous furnishings, it’s about taking time to create a memory that’s held in my heart and stands out among all others. In our privileged world we can always buy ‘luxury’ things but access and experience stands out as the ultimate luxury!

Hindu devotees travel on a crowded passenger train in Goverdhan

Sadly, there are a lot of ordinary travel experiences being sold. Exceptional ones stand out – from the time you hear about them to the moment you do them. It doesn’t have to be grand –

Cafe Tartufi

© David McGonigal

I smile when I think of Café Tartufo in Florence where we had perfect truffle paste rolls and good red wine for lunch on a rainy day – it was the perfect Florentine experience.

Bora Bora

© David McGonigal

It was a highlight as much as snorkeling with stingrays in Bora Bora lagoon or

Mig 21

flying a Mig 21 jet fighter as a paying guest of the Slovakian Airforce.

It’s no coincidence that it’s 2013 and we are here at an event called Luxperience. We’re in a Golden Age of Travel and you are at the cutting edge of it. Thanks for the experiences you offer – and the wonders that are yet to come.

If you have special vision – please come and tell me about it. Meanwhile, please “like” iTravelTree on Facebook or bookmark the webpage to follow us as we develop.

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Fire damages Hapag-Lloyd HANSEATIC – Cruises cancelled

Posted on Jun 25, 2013 | Comments Off on Fire damages Hapag-Lloyd HANSEATIC – Cruises cancelled

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

source: seatrade insider

Hapag-Lloyd Kreuzfahrten canceled two more Hanseatic cruises following a fire that damaged the ship during its maintenance docking at Bremerhaven’s Bredo Werft earlier this month.

Hanseatic is now expected to resume service on Aug. 16.

Passengers will get a full refund and 10% off another sailing during the 2013-2014 season. Travel agent commissions are protected.

The July 14 sailing from Svalbard’s Longyearbyen and the Aug. 1 cruise from Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, were dropped. Earlier the company canceled the June 17 sailing from Bremerhaven and the July 4 cruise from Tromsø.

The June 9 fire damaged the ship’s engine compartment and a fire watchman from the yard and two Filipino crew members suffered smoke inhalation, requiring hospitalization.

The blaze broke out during welding work in one of Hanseatic‘s ballast tanks. It was quickly extinguished by local fire services but caused enough damage to significantly extend the shipyard overhaul.

Fire is an ever-present enemy of ships and one all-too-familiar to the historic German line.

In 1966, a fire aboard the 1929-built HANSEATIC gutted five decks while in port in New York. She was subsequently scrapped.

BREMEN was destroyed by an arsonist in Bremerhaven in 1941. No lives were lost in any of these fires.

The gutted BREMEN in Bremerhaven, 1941.
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SeaWorld Antarctica opens with trackless ride and up close penguins

Posted on Jun 2, 2013 | Comments Off on SeaWorld Antarctica opens with trackless ride and up close penguins

SeaWorld Antartica

Sarah SekulaNBC News contributor

May 30, 2013 at 8:46 AM ET

Besides the penguins, SeaWorld Antarctica features a unique trackless ride.

Meet Brian Morrow. He’s slightly obsessed with icebergs, wind patterns and cold-weather penguins. All for good reason, too. For the past three years, he’s been part of the creative team that conjured up SeaWorld Orlando’s latest attraction, Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin, which opened last week.

As the senior director of attraction development and design at SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, it’s his job to make this new “realm” feel like a tantalizing tundra, from the shimmering faux glaciers to the 2,500 handblown icicles made of Pyrex.

“We wanted to take guests somewhere that they might not go on their own,” he said. “And there is no greater adventure than a journey to the bottom of our planet.”

It’s an elaborate adventure, indeed, that includes a first-of-its-kind family thrill ride, an expansive penguin habitat, underwater viewing area, gift shop and restaurant. With a footprint of nearly 4-acres, it is the largest expansion project in the park’s history.

First up: the newfangled high-tech ride. But before hopping aboard, guests shuffle through rooms where the temperature gradually drops, preparing them for extreme temps at the end of the ride. Meanwhile, an animated pre-show introduces the star, a baby penguin named Puck. Then, guests choose their level of adventure: “wild” or “mild. ”

“The ride had a sensation of gliding over ice just as a penguin would,” said Lake Mary, Fla., resident Susie Guyers, who experienced the ride at a preview event. “We didn’t know which direction was next; it wasn’t a set path.” That’s all thanks to a trackless system, which allowed engineers to create 32 different ride scenarios.

Even cooler, though, is what comes next. The ride exits into a 30-degree penguin palace with varied levels of fake rocks, a swimming area and a 2-foot wall that serves as the only barrier between guests and birds. The 6,125-square-foot habitat is home to 245 Gentoo, Rockhopper, Adélie and King penguins, which were the main attraction for Guyer.

“We were so close we could have gotten splashed,” she said. “The penguins were really active; they were diving up out of the water and back in. It truly felt like we were no longer in Florida.”

Her only complaint was that the queue was not interactive.

Once you exit the habitat, Expedition Café is a few steps away. Here, it’s easy to imagine being a research scientist fueling up for the next big excursion. The menu includes American, Asian and Italian-inspired meals ($5.99 to $11.99) and regional and international beers.

Overall, Orlando is set to lure in crowds this summer.

“Antarctica will pull in a huge number of families,” said Duncan Dickson, who teaches theme-park management at the University of Central Florida. “Transformers 3-D [at Universal Orlando] will appeal more to the 16-34 demographic. But don’t discount Enchanted Tales with Belle and Be Our Guest [at Walt Disney World]. They will continue to draw as well.”

And it doesn’t end there. Universal Studios Florida will open a new Simpsons-themed area this summer and “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley” in 2014.

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Polar Travels: Why Did Penguins Stop Flying?

Posted on May 21, 2013 | 2 comments

Photograph by John Eastcott and Yva Momatiuk, National Geographic

Brian Handwerk

for National Geographic

Published May 20, 2013

Penguins lost the ability to fly eons ago, and scientists may have finally figured out why. A new study suggests that getting off the ground eventually just took too much effort for birds that were becoming expert swimmers.

Flight might make some aspects of penguins’ Antarctic life much easier. The grueling march of the emperor penguins, for example, might take only a few easy hours rather than many deadly days. Escaping predators like leopard seals at the water’s edge would also be easier if penguins could take flight-so scientists have often wondered why and how the birds lost that ability.

A popular theory of biomechanics suggests that the birds’ once-flight-adapted wings simply became more and more efficient for swimming and eventually lost their ability to get penguins off the ground.

More efficient diving, on the other hand, increased the opportunities to forage for food at depth. A modern emperor penguin can hold its breath for more than 20 minutes and quickly dive to 1,500 feet (450 meters) to feast. (Related: “First Human Contact With Large Emperor Penguin Colony.“)

The new study of energy costs in living birds that both fly and dive provides critical evidence to back up this theory.

“Clearly, form constrains function in wild animals, and movement in one medium creates tradeoffs with movement in a second medium,” study co-author Kyle Elliott, of the University of Manitoba, said in a statement.

“Bottom line is that good flippers don’t fly very well.” (Related: “Giant Prehistoric Penguins Revealed: Big But Skinny.”)

Sit, Swim, and Fly

The thick-billed murre or Brünnich’s guillemot (Uria lomvia) uses its wings for diving much like penguins, but it also flies. Scientists theorized that its physiology and energy use may closely resemble those of the last flying penguin ancestors.

Other swimming birds, pelagic cormorants (Phalacrocorax pelagicus), propel themselves through the water with their feet. Elliott and colleagues assert that these birds can be considered biomechanical models for the lifestyle energy use of an ancient penguin ancestor that was the last of its line to take flight.

The thorough technical and isotope analysis of how guillemots burn energy reveals why today’s penguins are grounded. Guillemots dive more efficiently than any other flying bird and are bested in diving only by penguins themselves, according to the study.

Flight, however, costs them more energy than any other known bird or vertebrate and has become difficult to maintain.

The team examined thick-billed murres at a colony in Nunavut, Canada, and pelagic cormorants at Middleton Island, Alaska. They injected the birds with stable isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen to serve as tracers to mark the physical costs of their activities. The team also fitted them with time-budget devices that track those activities—recording movements, speeds, and other data much like pedometers do.

“Basically the birds do only three things: sit, swim, and fly. So by measuring lots of birds and combining their time budgets with the total costs of living from the isotope measures, it is possible to calculate how much each component of the budget costs,” explained study co-author John Speakman, who leads theEnergetics Research Group at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

“The assumption is that [penguins] evolved from an auk-like ancestor,” Speakman continued.

“This would involve a progressive reduction in wing size, which makes diving more efficient and flying less so. Penguin bones also thickened over the ages, as lighter bones that make it easier for birds to fly gave way to more dense bones, which may have helped make them less buoyant for diving.” But Speakman believes the wing changes were the primary adaptation.

Elegant Explanation

“These results make a lot of sense,” said University of Texas at Austin’s Julia Clarke, who studies bird evolution and how the flight stroke was co-opted for underwater diving.

“There have been different scenarios explored for the origin of penguins but little relevant data. These new findings from other diving birds like murres provide an elegant explanation of a key step in the wing-to-flipper transition.”

Katsufumi Sato, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Tokyo’s Ocean Research Institute and a National Geographic Society Emerging Explorer, added that the work indicates an important reason why penguins stopped flying and evolved larger body sizes—they needed an edge in the water.

“An interesting example is the little penguin, which is smaller than some Alcidae[a family that includes murres],” and weighs only about two pounds (one kilogram), said Sato. “[The] dive cost of the murre is similar to that of the little penguin, which means little penguins cannot survive against the murre, which can dive and fly.”

Bigger bodies boost dive efficiency and allow for longer dives, which may be why rapid evolution produced so many bigger-bodied penguins soon after the animals lost the ability to fly.

Penguins Grounded by Taste for Fish?

Comparing multiple species, in the way this study does, points to a compelling pattern, said Chris Thaxter, a seabird ecologist with the British Trust for Ornithology.

“When wings are used both above and below water, there may be an evolutionary tipping point beyond which flight is too costly and unsustainable.” Clarke, Sato, and Thaxter were not involved in the study, which was published in the May 20 edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Scientists don’t have fossils of flighted penguin ancestors, and the earliest known penguin dates to just after the Cretaceous-Tertiary boundary (58 to 60 million years ago).

“It is tempting to speculate that the evolution of penguins happened in that explosive radiation [of mammal species] that happened just after the K-T event,” when many species went extinct, Speakman said. “However, there is no direct evidence to support this, and it could have happened any time during the late Cretaceous.”

In nature such adaptations happen for good reason, typically related to survival and reproduction. So a convincing case might be made for why penguins would have given up flight while taking to the seas.

“What we do know is that in the radiation of the mammals after the K-T event, there suddenly [in geological terms] appear a whole load of mammals that would have been serious competitors for aquatic resources [like] cetaceans and pinnipeds,” Speakman said.

“So this new competitive environment may have placed a greater benefit on being more efficient swimmers and divers for aquatic seabirds. That push toward being more efficient in the aquatic environment may have been enough to tip them over the edge into flightlessness.”

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Orion Farewells Sarina Bratton

Posted on May 19, 2013 | Comments Off on Orion Farewells Sarina Bratton


Fittingly, it was on an Orion voyage along Australia’s Kimberley Coast that the crew of Orion had a chance to say farewell to the founder and guiding light of Orion Expedition Cruises: Sarina Bratton. Orion was very much the creation of Sarina’s and its remarkable rate of returning passengers showed how well she developed the niche of Luxury Expedition Cruising in Australia. Now Orion is part of National Geographic/Lindblad and it remains uncertain how much of the Orion – and Bratton – legacy will carry over to the US-based operation.

Here are some photographs of Sarina on Orion for her farewell voyage.

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Polar Legend Roald Amundsen’s home Uranienborg – hard-to-find treasure

Posted on May 17, 2013 | Comments Off on Polar Legend Roald Amundsen’s home Uranienborg – hard-to-find treasure

Amundsen's homeIt may have been difficult for Roald Amundsen to reach the South Pole but, unless you have planned your expedition well, it’s virtually impossible to find his home on a fiord south of Oslo. That’s rather strange because Uranienborg, Amundsen’s home from 1908 to 1928 is a national museum – and has been since 1935. But you won’t hear of it unless you ask. And note the directions well.

For the growing band of polar enthusiasts, Uranienborg is a place of pilgrimage. Most of us know that Roald Amundsen was the Norwegian explorer who beat Robert Falcon Scott to be first to the South Pole. But few are aware that he was the first to successfully navigate the Northwest Passage and probably the first to see the North Pole (from an airship – they didn’t land). He also sailed through the Northeast Passage along the top of Siberia. As the places he explored become more accessible, his feats seem even more extraordinary. Most were planned at Uranienborg.

Heading due south from Oslo, you will be following the eastern shore of Bunnefjord through a ribbon of suburbs and towns. At Kolbotn you veer towards the village of Svartskog and from there wind down the hill to the water’s edge, the end of the road, small statue and a nondescript gateway. A path leads to a house overlooking the fiord with a smaller residence alongside it. The small house is the home of the curator who waits for the visitors who rarely arrive. You are less than 20 km from Oslo but here by the water, the city seems very far away.

Despite several romances, Amundsen never married and his home reveals that he lived his life for his travels. The glass panels in the back door are covered by photographic plates of ships, Inuit people and snowy scenes that look as if they were taken within the past week. His very Spartan bedroom features reinforced ship’s portholes rather than windows, and maps abound. One of the most distinctive images of Amundsen is of him in a relaxed pose and wearing his bowler hat. The hat is still on top of his wardrobe.

Amundsen's home

The house is a museum with some restrictions on where visitors can and can’t go. So it’s impossible to pat the stuffed Adelie penguin in his office. But stored under the stairs as if it were put there when he returned, awaiting the next adventure is the sledge (explorers didn’t pull mere sleds) that he took to the South Pole. I asked – and was allowed to touch it. In terms of significance it’s rather like touching the lunar module that took Neil Armstrong to the moon.

On June 16 1928, Amundsen went looking for the missing Italian polar explorer Umberto Nobile. His aircraft took off from Tromso and he was never seen again. Amundsen and Nobile had flown the dirigible Norge over the North Pole in 1926 and later squabbled over who was responsible for the success of the expedition. Nevertheless, Amundsen helped search and it cost him his life. Nobile was subsequently found and rescued. Uranienborg was Amundsen’s departure point and the curator pointed out that the soap by the bath was the same cake that Amundsen had used to wash himself before he left to undertake the fatal flight. This was history coming to life. But it was hard to reconcile the overly cute gnomes motif in the bathroom with the man who used to sleep outside to toughen himself up for the poles.

Amundsen's home

Amundsen’s office was the planning centre for some of the world’s most remarkable explorations. It was at this desk that he wrote “The South Pole”, his account of the southern journey. Over the next 16 years, the large map of Antarctica above his office table must have given him great satisfaction.

The best analysis of Amundsen the explorer – and the most comprehensive demolition of RF Scott – is contained in Roland Huntford’s “The Last Place on Earth”. Amundsen is revealed to be a meticulous planner and well deserving of the high esteem he has been afforded. However, in many ways he wasn’t likeable. In the spare bedroom, the clothes and homework of the two young Inuit girls he adopted are still on display. He introduced them to western civilisation, educated them and then bundled them back to their village.

Down by the fiord gate the statue of Amundsen is striding out with a pole in his hand and a dog by his side. It’s a fitting image of a man who used his fitness and determination to open up several of the last undiscovered places on earth. Those who admire Amundsen will probably seek out Uranienborg and will be rewarded by the chance to view the house and its contents without any crowds. But the lack of promotion of the open house of a great explorer is just part of a long pattern of neglect. Somehow, Scott the heroic failure remains much better known than Roald Amundsen, the heroic success.

By David McGonigal


SAS flies to Oslo as part of the Star Alliance network.

Read: “My Life as an Explorer” by Roald Amundsen


Address: Roald Amundsensvei  192

NO-1420 Svartskog


Telephone: +47 64 93 99 90


Open: daily except Mondays from 11 to 4.

Amundsen's study

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Antarctica action shot: Guardian Eyewitness App

Posted on Mar 8, 2013 | Comments Off on Antarctica action shot: Guardian Eyewitness App

Photographer Paul Souders took this amazing Antarctica action shot on 19th February of a Leopard seal chasing a Gentoo penguin out of the freezing waters and onto the shore of Cuverville Island.  This photo and many more amazing images are available in the Guardian Eyewitness collection App which showcases the world’s most striking and beautiful photographs. available in Apple iTunes App store

Photographer Paul Souders Barcroft Media

Photographer Paul Souders Barcroft Media

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