Today is Adele Penguin Day!
Watching Adeles come to the water
Weddell Seals on ice
An Adele mob scene on the foreshore
Le Boreal - December 12, 2011
Erebus and Terror Gulf, Paulet Island
Temperature: 35° F
Wind speed: 15 knots
Cloud cover: 50%
From the 3am sunrise onward, hardy souls began to appear on the bridge and outer decks to take in the beautiful scene in the western reaches of the ice-choked Weddell Sea. The early morning 40 knot winds dropped off by breakfast, and soon, just off the east coast of Snow Hill Island, Le Boreal encountered the sea ice edge.
Expedition Leader Larry Hobbs and the Expedition Team lowered zodiacs for a tour through the ice. We layered up and, before we knew it, we were out in the thick of it. The zodiac drivers wove in and out of the ice, and we stopped to look at the magnificent shapes, colors and textures. The surreal scenery was interrupted by the occasional flash of white from flocks of snow petrels careening in front of the zodiac. They were likely nesting on the nearby rocky cliffs of a nearby island, coming out into the ice to feed.
But by far the stars of the morning were the small groups of emperor penguins, a species that most of the staff, despite having come to Antarctica for decades, had only seen a handful of times. Their abundance here off Snow Hill Island is undoubtedly due to the fact that the northernmost emperor penguin colony in the world is just at the south end of Snow Hill Island. Seeing them standing right next to Adelie penguins really impressed on us the massive size of emperor penguins, which can reach 4 ft in height and 100 pounds!
Back onboard, many of us warmed up with a cup of tea, we joined fellow passenger Thom Benson in The Theater for a presentation about weather. Thom, who had spent many years as a meteorologist, gave a fascinating presentation about the technologies used to monitor weather, as well as his own experiences with extreme weather.
In mid-afternoon, we arrived off of Paulet Island. Before we even stepped off the zodiac, we became well aware of what 100,000 pairs of nesting Adelie penguins means. A sometimes faint (sometimes not) smell of guano was in the air, and the penguin traffic on the beach was like rush hour in most 21st century cities. The feeling of Antarctic solitude was broken only by the courtship calls of penguins, and the click of cameras.
We stood and admired the remains the hut used by Carl Anton Larson and his men, whose ship (Antarctic) was crushed in the ice 40 km to the east, forcing them to overwinter here in 1903. Up past the ruins of Larson's hut, we came to a crater lake with penguins nesting on all slopes around it. Eggs and recently hatched chicks could be seen when the parent stood up for a stretch. Many of us spent time kneeling in the snow, watching this magnificent penguin colony unfold before our eyes.
Over dinner, the ship proceeded back north into Antarctic Sound, and we kept an eye out the windows so we wouldn't miss a single iceberg or the ever-changing light. By the time we climbed into bed, Le Boreal was approaching the open water of the Bransfield Strait, en route to tomorrow's stops in the South Shetland Islands.