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01/23/2010

Duse Bay, Paulet Island

During the early morning hours, Captain John Moulds brought Minerva through Antarctic Sound and its spectacular collection of tabular icebergs. While we ordered our omelets and toast, the ship turned north into Duse Bay, named for one of the three men put ashore at Hope Bay to travel over land and ice to try and reach Nordenskjøld’s party at Snow Hill Island. There was a persistent wind coming from astern, and low clouds dominated the sky.

Soon we could just make out a massive expanse of white up ahead, and it became clear that we had reached the fast ice: sea ice attached to the Antarctic continent. It was a sight to behold, and no more quintessential an Antarctic scene could be imagined! Groups of Adelie penguins lounged on the ice edge, while a lone crabeater seal stood out against the bright white landscape further into the fast ice. Captain John Moulds pushed the bow of the ship right into the ice, its flat surface buckling under the force from the engines.

While the zodiacs were being lowered, Ornithologist Rich Pagen announced from the bridge that the Captain had spotted an emperor penguin lounging on an ice floe next to a group of Adelie penguins. The ice was not far off our port side, and was drifting towards the ship. Many of us dropped what we were doing to grab parkas and binoculars, so we could catch a glimpse of a species rarely seen by even the most seasoned Antarctic travelers.

We boarded the zodiacs for a windy tour around the ice. The scenery was surreal, and we maneuvered in and out of the floes watching Adelie penguins tobogganing across the ice. Some of us spotted a leopard seal and a crabeater seal resting not far from one another. The leopard seal’s spotted grey coat and massive serpentine head set it clearly apart from the dog-faced crabeater seal with its blonde coat. The zodiacs converged back on the Minerva and soon we were safely onboard, warming up with a hot cup of tea.

After a Recap and briefing with the Expedition team, we went out on the pool deck for a bowl of Thai soup, followed by lunch. We then headed up to the front of the Promenade deck to watch our approach to Paulet Island, the location of our outing for the afternoon.

Before we knew it, we were skirting across the wind chop by zodiac to the landing, where Expedition Leader Suzana Machado D’Oliveira Harker briefed us on our first landing here in Antarctica. Before we even stepped off the zodiac, we became well aware of what 100,000 pairs of nesting Adelie penguins means. The sound was deafening, the smell was ubiquitous and the traffic on the beach was like rush hour in most 21st century cities. We made our way up to the colony, where we watched half-grown chicks beg for food from their parents, and failed breeders still happily going through the motions of building nests, wooing mates, and even copulating.

We stood and admired the remains the hut used by Carl Anton Larson and his men, whose ship was crushed in the ice 40 km to the east, forcing them to overwinter here in 1903. The walls of the hut now serve as nesting platforms for a few pairs of Adelie penguins. Judging by the plump and healthy chicks perched on the walls, the extra height must serve to keep the snow from piling up and melt water from flooding their nests. Many of the other penguins in the colony were apparently not so lucky, as evidenced by the few chicks present.

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. By the time we climbed into bed, the Minerva was approaching the open water of the Bransfield Strait, en route to tomorrow’s stops in the South Shetland Islands.
 

   

Captain Moulds parked the ship in fast ice in Duse Bay for a true Antarctic experience.

While on a zodiac tour of Duse Bay, some guests saw a leopard seal on an ice floe.

The afternoon landing on Paulet Island afforded guests close up views of Adelie penguins as they came and went on the beach.

The remains of Captain Larsen's stone hut on Paulet Island is a reminder of how he and his 20 men over wintered there in the early 1900's.

The remains of Captain Larsen's stone hut on Paulet Island is a reminder of how he and his 20 men over wintered there in the early 1900's.


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