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12/30/2008

Penguin Island and Arctowski Station, Antarctica

Our first day in Antarctica and we started with breaching humpback whales! Expedition Leader Lou Sanson had just made an announcement about when we would start the landing when then he said we would watch the breaching humpback whales for a minute. We all rushed out on deck as it was spectacular with a mother and calf pair just off the bow of the Minerva. One time the female leaped completely out of the water just off the ship’s bow. The calf would breach just after the mom and we watched both whales rolling around and breaching for over a half hour. What a way to start the morning!

Our first landing was at Penguin Island. This island is about a mile long and is off the southern end of King George Island, one of the South Shetland Islands. The name was fairly obvious to Captain Edward Bransfield in 1820 and we saw all three species of penguins during our landing this morning. We were greeted by many chinstrap penguins since this species has a nesting colony on the island. Yet we were also fortunate to see several Gentoo and Adélie penguins wandering along the beaches. Our first landing and we saw three different penguins!

We walked up to the edge of the chinstrap penguin breeding colony for a closer look. We saw adults with chicks of the year, including one very successful pair that had three chicks which is truly unusual. This was our only chance to visit a chinstrap colony and we savoured every moment.

After a quick lunch it was time to jump back into the zodiacs for our second landing of the day. This time we had a chance to visit the Polish research station Arctowski which is on King George Island. The year-round station was opened in 1977 and about 30 scientists plus support personnel live here during the summer. It is named after Henryk Arctowski, a Polish geologist on the Belgian Antarctic Expedition of 1897-1899.

We went into a small but bright yellow modular building which houses offices, the main dining area and a lounge. The Polish personnel welcomed us warmly and answered all our questions as best as they could. There was also a chance to purchase some small souvenirs and mail postcards.

Afterwards we wandered along the beach to see the edge of an Adélie penguin nesting site. Many photos were taken of these striking black and white birds as they commuted busily up to the colony after spending several days feeding at sea. What an amazing first day in Antarctica!

   

Guests walk along the beach among the skeletal remains of whales at Penguin Island.

A chinstrap penguin watches over the landing site at Penguin Island.

The Minerva visited Arctowski Station, a Polish Research station on King George Island.

The Adelie penguin colony at Arctowski station was a lively place where one could see Adelies and Chinstraps!

We had spectacular views of breaching Humpback whales as we arrived to Penguin Island in the morning


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