Gentoo Penguin
Continued from Page 1
Monday 29 January (cont.)
….Smith Island was in the distance. In the sunlight the island looked pristine, covered in snow and with some light wispy cloud hanging on the mountains.
….Three Gentoo Penguins were seen porpoising ((this aids dynamics and maintains speed) - we would be seeing lots more of this species soon.
….The sun appeared during late afternoon. In the Antarctic and particularly in these conditions it was easy to get sunburnt. We needed to wear our parkas on deck but now sunblock was needed also.
…. Fantastic scenery lay ahead of us. Sunlight was reflecting off the snow giving various shades of changing colours.
….We were given another briefing, and again all passengers had to attend, on visitor guidelines to the Antarctic. It was very important for everyone to understand what can and can't be done whilst here. This was also the chance to explain how to dress for Antarctic conditions and how to embark/disembark the zodiacs.
….A call went out that Humpback Whales could be seen. There were blows wherever we looked in the 360° from the boat. I counted eight up at the surface at one time, but there was obviously more.
….The bridge announced that more Humpback Whales were ahead. We went to the foreward decks and yet again whales were all around us. The Captain shut engines so as to coast amongst a group of three Humpbacks that were so intent on feeding they took no notice of the ship. Just off the bow we had the privilege of watching these mighty leviathans turning on their sides with mouths wide-open as they fed at the water surface. Krill could be seen jumping, and the surrounding water was a light pink from the colour of these crustaceans. The ventral grooves of these whales could be seen expanding as gallons of water, and krill, were taken into their mouths. It was simply spectacular.
Tuesday 30 January
….This morning there was an early departure by zodiacs to Useful Island in the Gerlache Strait. Morning calls were at 0515 and this was the first occasion to get fully kitted for the Antarctic. Our group went ashore together. In front of us lay a truly Antarctic vista; snow covered mountains, a flat calm sea, blue sky. The air was fresh and there was bright reflection from the snow and ice.
….We cruised by an Antarctic Shag colony and made landing at the edge of a Gentoo Penguin colony. The first experience was the smell! A lot of penguins produce a lot of guano! Most chicks in the colony were now a few months old. All about was the constant coming and going of adults who were then being pestered by chicks wanting to be fed.
….Occasionally skuas would pass overhead looking for any opportunity of a quick meal, maybe a late egg left exposed, or a small chick unattended. Here and there ones and twos of Chinstrap Penguins could be seen also.
….stunning and beautiful Paradise Bay. Here we boarded the zodiacs to visit the Almiranty Brown Antarctic Station operated by Argentina. The base, a mixed collection of metal huts and storage rooms, was unoccupied (except for the Gentoo Penguins and attendant Snowy Sheathbills).
….zodiac tour of Paradise Bay. Antarctic Shags and Antarctic Terns had colonies along the cliff face. We found we were able to approach closely two Cape Petrels, which swam within touching distance of us, yet they took no notice. The bay had some bizarre ice formations floating in it, and 'blue ice' could be seen within one wall of a glacier in the distance. These structures can be very unstable as they move constantly and therefore were approached with some caution, being viewed from a respectable distance.
….we entered the Lemaire Channel – this was an incredibly scenic channel with mountains and sheer faces to both sides. We were so lucky that the sun was shining. I have visited this area before but have never been lucky enough to see the channel at its best, like today.
….A Leopard Seal was seen on an ice floe as the Explorer slowly navigated through the channel. Mountains to both sides of us and ice that could be heard grinding against the hull of the ship. Quite a number of Crabeater Seals were also seen (entirely the wrong name for this species as it feeds solely on krill).
….We anchored off Petermann Island and went ashore on the zodiacs. A colony of Adelie Penguins was here - this species, together with the Emperor, is truly and solely Antarctic. We were now at the most southerly point on our journey (South 65 10).
Wednesday 31 January
….we approached Deception Island. This is a flooded active volcano. The plan was to land at Baillie Head where there is a huge Chinstrap colony. The estimate is 500,000 pairs and this is one of the largest, if not the largest, in Antarctica. From the ship the sight was most impressive as penguin numbers - small black dots - could be seen stretching high into the mountains.
….We sailed actually into the caldera of the volcano, entering through a narrow channel, only 500ft wide, called Neptune's Bellows.
….At Pendulum Cove those passengers hardy enough could go ashore for the Antarctic swim! The crew had dug a large pit where the water was then heated by the fumaroles of the volcano.
….our next island, Livingstone Island. Here we landed at Hannah Point to be greeted by large numbers of Gentoo and Chinstrap Penguins. There was light snow in the air and the colony area was very muddy from the combination of rain, sleet, snow, guano (of course) and the coming and going of adults being pestered for food from young birds. Added to this were the smell and the noise!
….A lone Macaroni Penguin was found. All alone in amongst the Chinstraps this young bird had collected the pebbles for its nest and was calling trying to attract a mate but he had both his timing and locality all wrong.
….We thought the smell 'noticeable/distinct' from the penguins but that didn't prepare most for the next smell. It was as if a strong ‘farmyard’ odour suddenly wafted over the hill and there lying on the next beach were scattered groups of Southern Elephant Seals. Large lumps of blubber - occasionally big round eyes opened and big mouths yawned. Their habitual runny noses being this seal's method of excreting salt.
….At the periphery of the colony were the scavengers, Southern Giant Petrels and Brown Skuas, awaiting a chance for a meal.
Thursday 1 February
…. A tannoy announcement at 0630 tells us that an Orca pod is near the boat. There were at least fifteen Killer Whales that we saw within such spectacular scenery of ice floes and distant 'bergs. Each blow could be seen as a fine spray as it lifted in the clear air.
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