Posts Tagged ‘wildlife’

Into Africa: Who Was Diego Cão?

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Elephants at a watering hole.    Photo: Leo Dos Remedios

Europeans have sought riches in the Congo for centuries. As we planned our Into Africa cruise, part 3 of our 4-part Grand African Voyage exploring this fascinating continent, we wondered which European first explored the famed Congo River. It turns out that the first European exploration dates back to the 15th century, led by a Portuguese explorer named Diego Cão.

Born around 1450 as an illegitimate son in Vila Real, Portugal, Cão was one of the most remarkable explorers from the Age of Discovery, and led two voyages sailing along the west coast of Africa. In the late summer of 1482, Cão reached the mouth and estuary of the Congo River, at what is now Shark Point, Angola, and marked it with a stone pillar known as a padrão – declaring the area sovereign to Portugal.

Today, the pillar still exists but has fallen to pieces. Yet, the people of Angola are very aware of Diego Cão, as he was responsible for Angola’s colonization, and continued close ties to Portugal.

If you had lived in the 15th Century, would you want to be an explorer?

Check out Africa in the 21st century from Namibia to Ghana on our Into Africa tour, as well as our other tours on the Grand African Voyage, departing in 2011!  

Denali, Alaska’s Big Five

Thursday, July 1st, 2010
A hungry grizzley bear having a snack. Photograph by Roman Kruywczak

A hungry grizzly bear having a snack. Photograph by Roman Kruywczak

The Athabaskan people recognized Mount Denali, the massive  peak looming over a 600 mile long mountain range, as the “High One.” But it’s the animals surrounding the mountain that many people travel from all over the world to see. There are 39 known mammals that live in the park, but many come to see what are known as the Big 5 – moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and the grizzly bear.

For those of us who love cuddly teddy bears there’s the question, “Are real grizzly bears the same way in real life?”

Definitely not.

The grizzly bear is actually one of the most solitary and aggressive of all the bears. Due to their large size, they are unable to climb trees like the smaller black bear, and instead must stand their ground. A small grizzly may weigh about 300 pounds, while bears living in coastal areas can weigh as much as 1,200 pounds. When bears are competing for food, they may become even more irritable.

But who is the most dangerous of all? The Mama Bear. 70% of human fatalities when encountering a grizzly are by a female grizzly protecting her young. Should you ever meet a grizzly bear, it would be best to respectfully keep your distance.

What wild animal sighting will you always remember? Tell us your story.

There’s still room on our Alaska’s Best: Denali and Kenai Fjords tour leaving this August. Maybe you’ll see all of the Big Five.

Antarctica

Monday, June 28th, 2010

One of the perks of working at the Smithsonian is the amazing people we meet on a daily basis. Michael Lang, the Study Leader for our Antarctica trip, definitely leads the pack. As the Smithsonian Scientific Diving Officer, he directs one of the nation’s largest civilian scientific diving programs. Lang’s fascinating job takes him all over the world, to waters both cold and warm. Here, he talks about dipping into the seas off Antarctica, into an underwater world few might ever experience.

Learn more about our adventure to Antarctica and explore the amazing views in person! Want to learn more about our world’s oceans? Check out the new Ocean Portal!
Are you a SCUBA diver? What was your best diving adventure?

Geysers on Earth… and Other Far Away Places

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
A  geyser erupts against a background of snow. Photograph by JR Douglass, National Park Service

A geyser erupts against a background of snow. Photo: JR Douglass, National Park Service

Yellowstone National Park is known around the world for its amazing geysers. Although geysers can also be found in Russia, Chile, New Zealand and Iceland,  Yellowstone is special because it has the largest concentration of geysers on the planet. With between 300-500 active geysers, as well as the renowned Old Faithful, Yellowstone is home to half of the world’s geysers. It’s a fairly rare phenomenon here on Earth.

But did you know there are geysers in our solar system too?

A geyser is a spring characterized by temporary releases of steam and water, which are ejected turbulently. Geysers on Earth eject water, but on some moons in our outer solar system, geysers release carbon dioxide or nitrogen. Space geysers are also easier to see because of low ambient pressure and  because their eruptions don’t include liquid, but rather dust and ice that are carried by the gas.Neptune’s moon Triton emits nitrogen from its geysers. When the nitrogen is released, it can eject the material almost 5 miles high and be carried by winds for almost 90 miles. Water vapor jets have also been observed on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. Closer to home are the carbon dioxide geysers near the south polar ice cap of Mars.

But it is nice to know you don’t have to go that far to see a geyser. And that’s one of the many beautiful things about Old Faithful.

Have you seen geysers in other places besides Yellowstone? Share Below.

Watch Old Faithful perform surrounded by snow on our Winter Wildlife in Yellowstone tour.

 

It’s Not Easy Being the First

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

No one can say this more than Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. Their transcontinental expedition was filled with unpredictability, natural dangers, and Native communities who were not ready to have anyone move into their territory. The story itself, without any embellishment, is dramatic with equally intriguing characters including Thomas Jefferson, a young Shoshone woman named Sacagawea, and a team of men known as the Corps of Discovery who faced a landscape that had never been navigated or mapped.

Why had it taken until 1804 to even start exploring the Pacific Northwest? It was a project that Jefferson had been pondering while living in France in the 1780s, knowing it could lead to huge opportunities for the very young United States of America. He also heard talk that King Louis the XVI of France was interested in exploring the region. While the royal had officially proposed a scientific expedition, Jefferson felt the French King had a political mission in mind.

Knowing the expedition was extremely dangerous, President Jefferson provided peace medals to the Corps to introduce themselves to the various tribes they met along the way. But on the trail, it was Sacagawea and her infant son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, who slept wrapped on a cradleboard, that reassured the tribes that the group meant no harm.

Although Lewis and Clark are best known for laying the groundwork for westward expansion and creating the first maps of the region, their observations were also useful to scientists researching the natural wildlife that the Corps of Discovery encountered. Even though they were never intended to be a scientific expedition, their work helps us preserve the indigenous species and natural landscape of the early 19th century.

Explore the natural landscape as the Corps of Discovery would have seen it on the In the Wake of Lewis and Clark: Aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion tour. 

Do you think Lewis and Clark have received enough credit for their contribution to American history? Share Below.