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Diving Antarctica! | JONATHAN BIRD'S BLUE WORLD

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Published on 01 Oct 2018 / In News & Politics

In this season 2 finale, Jonathan treks all the way to Antarctica to investigate life south of the polar circle. Along the way he dives in the majestic kelp forests of Patagonia, where crabs rule the sea floor. Once he arrives in Antarctica, his adventures continue. He swims with penguins, dives under an iceberg, meets a massive jellyfish 3 feet across, and has an incredible encounter with a Leopard seal, the apex predator of Antarctica. This program won a New England Emmy Award!


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My journey begins with several flights from my home in the United States to the southernmost city in the world—Ushuaia, Argentina at the tip of Tierra del Fuego.

My home away from home: the Aleksey Marychev, a 210 foot long Russian research vessel with an ice-strengthened hull.

On our way down the Beagle Channel to open water, we pass a small rock island covered in South American Sea Lions.

And then we pass the famous Beagle Channel Lighthouse.

After leaving the Beagle Channel, we will round Cape Horn into the Drake Passage and make our way more than 600 miles south until we reach the protection afforded by end of the Antarctic peninsula.

My first glimpse of the underwater terrain reveals mostly just some seaweed on the bottom, flowing gently in the current.

But a closer look reveals a community of bottom-dwelling invertebrates, including vast armies of limpets, snail-like animals with cone-shaped shells. They eat the algae on the rocks.

A bright red sea star hunts down limpets for lunch.
Nearby, Anemones wait for prey, their stinging tentacles armed and ready for an unwary fish.

A sea cucumber uses feathery, branching arms to grab plankton out of the water to eat.

It’s a Gentoo penguin, swimming around with the grace of a dolphin and the speed of a torpedo!

These birds might not be able to fly, but underwater they sure can swim. Their wings are adapted for providing underwater propulsion, and few animals in the ocean can swim with such grace and speed as a penguin.

A Gentoo Penguin is easy to identify because of its bright red beak.

Many of these Gentoos are barely more than chicks, waiting patiently for their downy baby feathers to fall off. These poofy feathers keep them warm when they are little, but they’re not good for swimming.

As the birds get older and their adult feathers grow in, they start gathering down by the ocean.

Soon, they take short hops into the freezing water to hunt in the shallows for krill and small invertebrates.
Penguins on the move porpoise in and out of the water like dolphins—but then they can hop right back up on land like no dolphin I’ve ever seen!

As I rise toward the surface at the end of my dive, I encounter a huge wall of ice. It’s an iceberg, that drifted into the bay.

The wall of the iceberg is covered in dimples, like the ones on a golf ball. This pattern forms as the iceberg melts. Thousands of tiny bubbles are released from the melting ice as well, making the water near the iceberg look like a fizzy drink!

The iceberg only rises a few feet above the surface, but its more than thirty feet deep.

When you see an iceberg floating by, there’s not that much above water sometimes, but that’s because 90% of an iceberg is underwater. If I flip it over, you can see just how much ice there is. That’s why icebergs are really dangerous to ships, because you can’t see the part that’s hidden underwater. Fun with ice!

I carry my camera down to the boat and we’re off. Today we’re hunting quietly for a very special animal.

And sure enough, we found them. Leopard seals sleeping on an iceberg. These animals which reach 12 feet long, are the apex predators of the Antarctic. There are no sharks in the waters of Antarctica, but these seals fill that niche in the food chain.

Soon, the Leopard seals wake from their nap and come over to investigate us.

They have been known to bite and deflate Zodiacs when they are being territorial.

The seal makes a few passes to check me out, but he seems a lot more curious than aggressive.

Divers are not very common down here. This Leopard seal has probably never seen a diver, or a video camera before.

Either he sees his reflection in the lens, or he’s looking for a career in show business. Either way, this animal sure doesn’t seem to mind my presence.

The leopard seal is so curious, that he stays around for more than an hour. I even have enough time to get my still camera and take a few pictures.

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