We pass alongside the largest iceberg in the world, C-19
A resting Southern Fulmar nibbles at the iceberg
We meet the Emperor Penguin at home in its realm
Instead of Paulet, we go to the Danger Islands and cruise Heroine Island
Heroine Island is home to thousands and thousands of Adelie Penguins!
Le Boreal - January 14, 2012
Weddell Sea, Danger Islands
Temperature: 34° F
Wind speed: 10 knots
Cloud cover: 90%
From the 3:20am 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. Several hours later, in a line of pack ice off the port bow of the ship, two large black dots were spotted on a distant ice floe. Significantly larger than the many other black dots we'd seen up on bits of ice, all evidence was pointing to the fact that these might very well be emperor penguins, contrasting greatly in size to their more smaller and more abundant cousins, the Adélies.
Emperor penguins are a species that most of the staff, despite having come to Antarctica for decades, had only seen a handful of times before. If these distant penguins did indeed turn out to be emperors, this would certainly be one of the great highlights of the trip! Captain Patrick Marchesseau maneuvered the ship for a closer look, while Expedition Leader Larry made a slightly earlier-than-planned wake-up call, so we could get up and take a look for ourselves from the outer decks. The hope was that these "large black dots" would stay put while we ate a quick breakfast and lowered the zodiacs. And the hope was realized.
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 soon the emperor penguins came into view, resting comfortably on a large flat-topped piece of sea ice. Seeing these emperor penguins, our eighth penguin species for the trip, meant that we had now seen every species of penguin that regularly occurs in the area covered by this expedition. A "Penguin Grand Slam" of sorts, we had now just accomplished what not a single member of the Expedition Team, in their over 215 years of cumulative Antarctica experience, had ever accomplished!
As we sat quietly in the zodiacs surrounded by the pack ice, the surreal scenery of sea ice peppered with giant icebergs was only interrupted by the occasional flash of white from snow petrels careening in front of the zodiac. It was a sight to behold, and no more quintessential an Antarctic scene could be imagined!
Back onboard, many of us warmed up with a cup of tea, watching for seals and more emperor penguins on ice floes as the ship headed north to our planned afternoon destination, Paulet Island. We then joined Historian Bob Burton in The Theater for a short introduction to Roald Amundsen's South Polar Expedition (1910-12), followed by the screening of some original footage from his expedition. Just before lunch, we spent some quality time with a couple of humpback whales, which gave us excellent looks as they swam just beneath the bridge wings.
It soon became clear that a thick line of dense ice blocked our passage to Paulet Island, and so Expedition Leader Larry Hobbs, in the true spirit of expedition cruising, quickly came up with a fabulous alternative. We boarded zodiacs for a cruise around an enormous Adélie penguin colony on Heroína, an island in a small archipelago called the Danger Islands.
The entire snowfield on the island was stained pink from guano, and highways of penguins streamed across it, coming and going from the sea. Steep cliffs funneled the penguins down to a few key landing spots, where scores of them waited for the perfect wave with which to take to the sea. Every iceberg within a quarter mile of the island's shoreline was literally littered with penguins taking a respite from the water. With an estimated 300,000 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins on the island, it was a wildlife spectacle of incredible proportions!
Back on the ship, we gathered for Recap, where Ornithologist Patricia Silva told us about birds of the ice, and Marine Biologist Charley Wheatley spoke of the unique sea life that resides beneath the great ice shelves. Over dinner, the ship proceeded north around Joinville Island, where we encountered a group of 20 or more humpback whales. From there it was into the open water of the Bransfield Strait, en route to tomorrow's landings in the South Shetland Islands.