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02/21/2009

Paradise Bay, George’s Point

We could not have imagined a more striking change of scenery between last night’s open ocean sprinkled with freezing rain, and this morning’s ice covered mountains reflecting off the surface of a glassy Paradise Bay. A cool Antarctic breeze greeted us as we stepped onto the top of the gangway. Dressed in our many layers of clothing topped with a parka, this brisk air was a welcome respite from the warmth inside of the ship. Cruise Director Jannie Cloete assisted us down the gangway and onto a zodiac which was waiting for us below.

We landed at the Argentine Almirante Brown station, which is situated on the mainland of the Antarctic Peninsula in Paradise Bay. As our feet planted themselves firmly on the Antarctic continent itself, many of us realized that we had reached the milestone of having set foot on all seven continents. Up the stairs and past the bright orange buildings, we found ourselves face to face with a breeding colony of gentoo penguins. Sleeping seemed to be the most popular activity of the day. Chicks awaiting the return of their parents as well as adults in the midst of their annual catastrophic molt were dozing all around us. Some of us walked up the rise of the first small hill to get a view of Paradise Bay, which spread out below us in all directions.

Afterwards, we boarded the zodiacs for a tour of the bay, including a stop at a colony of blue-eyed shags, tending to their young perched on precipitous ledges high above us on a cliff face. Many of the chicks had just fledged and were gathered in a large group on the water. Bathing and diving occupied most of their time, and they seemed to do both with youthful enthusiasm. The cliffs all around the bay were stained with bright orange lichens. The rock outcroppings were interspersed with damp moss beds, their rich green color adding to the beauty of the surroundings. There must have been some recent glacial activity as there were patches of brash ice sweeping around the bay on the tide and currents. We also came across a large glacier stretching all the way down to the water, stunning blue icebergs, and a “bar boat” which supplied us with champagne to toast our continental landing.

Back on the Minerva, we watched as the Captain took the ship out into the Gerlache Strait. Large icebergs passed right by the ship’s railing, one with a group of gentoo penguins appropriately perched on it. Grilled burgers were served out on deck in addition to the usual lunch, and we bundled up to partake in a real Antarctic barbeque.

During the early afternoon, the Minerva arrived at George’s Point at Rongé Island, along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The scenery was incredible, small misty clouds draped across mountain peaks with glaciers tumbling down to the sea on all sides. Antarctic fur seals were scattered about the landing, mostly young males dispersing from their main breeding island, South Georgia. Once up on the point, we found ourselves in the company of molting gentoo and chinstrap penguins, as well as some families of gentoos still finishing up the season. Begging chicks chased parents, parents fed chicks, and patrolling south polar skuas watched the whole show from the air, looking for opportunities to get a feed in themselves. In the meantime, the skuas were quite happy knocking down and playing with the green and orange flags used by the staff to mark the trail.

Back on the ship, we gathered for an evening Recap. During dinner, we ate with one eye on our food and the other out the window focused on the spectacular scenery. Captain Giovanni Biasutti announced whales before we made it to dessert, so we rushed outside to get a look. A group of humpback whales was lunge feeding right next to the ship, taking in huge amounts of krill in their gaping mouths. The excitement went on well until dusk, and we finally pulled ourselves away to rest up for tomorrow’s adventure in the South Shetland Islands.
 

   

We're welcomed to Paradise Bay by a huge raft of fledgling and adult Blue-eyed Shags.

Following our continental landing, we cruise by zodiac through the icebergs.

The skuas are unpopular predators amongst the Gentoos at the Georges Point penguin rookery.

The Mayer family finds delight in observing the antics of the young Gentoo Penguins.

Like many locations in the Antarctic Peninsula, the rock faces are decorated with the crustose lichen, Caloplaca.


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