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12/12/2009

Brown Bluff and Antarctic Sound

The day dawned bright and calm. Not that it ever gets really dark in summer in these latitudes! Minerva was steaming down Antarctic Sound, named after the ship of Otto Nordenskjöld's Swedish Antarctic Expedition of 1901-03. It is popularly known as 'Iceberg Alley' The sun was shining on huge icebergs that had floated up from the Weddell Sea and the icy mountains flanking the sound.

We started going ashore at Brown Bluff after breakfast at 0800. This site is rarely visited but it gives a landing on the tip of the Peninsula and is therefore a "mainland landing" on the continent of Antarctica. (Most of our landings will be on offshore islands, which are easier to reach by ship.) The Bluff is named after the rust-coloured, ice-capped, 2,225 ft (745 m) cliff. Gentoo and Adélie penguins were nesting and the prize sight of the morning was Adélie chicks only a few days old. They were still being covered by their attentive parents but some emerged to be fed from their parents' beaks. Flocks of Cape petrels were feeding, resting and preening just offshore. They were coming from the cliff which they share as a nesting place with pure-white snow petrels. The birds could be seen soaring along the cliffs and landing on their nesting ledges.

A Weddell seal came out of the sea and went to sleep on the rocks. As its coat dried, spots became obvious that gave the original name of Weddell's sea leopard. James Weddell was a Scottish sealer who explored the sea that also bears his name. A leopard seal, that is also spotted but has a large head, was seen chasing and eating penguins in the sea offshore.

After lunch, Minerva moved south into the entrance of the Weddell Sea and stopped near Active Sound where dense pack ice prevented further passage. As preparations were made for a zodiac cruise, officers on the bridge spotted a pod of killer whales. They were surfacing frequently and keeping near one place, which enabled Captain Moulds to bring the ship close to them for a very good view of the whales as they surfaced to breathe.

When the whales had disappeared, we took to the zodiacs for a cruise along the edge of the pack ice to look for penguins and seals. By dinner-time it was snowing hard as Minerva picked her way between the icebergs on her way back through Antarctic Sound. The weather was now a complete contrast to the sunshine of early morning. Conditions are very changeable in this past of Antarctica.
 

   

We awaken to stunning views of icebergs and Hope Bay

Our first stop is at the impressive Brown Bluff and its penguin rookeries

The Blue-eyed Shags are sporting their splendid breeding plumage

In Active Sound, Captain Moulds parks the Minerva in the fast ice

Hannukah is celebrated in the Cinema by our Jewish guests


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