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Category Archives: Antarctic Sound
Contrasts and Carnage
Today we spent the day in the Antarctic Sound with a spectacular sunrise heralding a clear morning that seemed to erase the memory of the furious winds we were battling yesterday. The crisp brown rocks of Brown Bluff stood starkly on a field of white snow and glaciers and beckoned us to touch ground again finally after three days at sea with wind and waves preventing us from reaching any landings.
Once onshore, we were greeted by hordes of Adelie penguins with a good number of Gentoo penguins thrown in for good measure. After walking around the colony for a few minutes we were greeted with the sight of the first chicks of the season. Of course everyone love the cute chicks peeking out from the nests and receiving their regular dose of regurgitated krill from their parents …but even more exciting is the fact that we were seeing the next generation of leopard seal food!
Prowling around the beach were at least three leopard seals waiting for the chance to pounce on an unwary penguin. One study has shown that just two leopard seals can consume as many as 15.000 penguins over a 15 month period! At Brown bluff we saw these statistics heading toward fruition with at least two separate penguin kills observed – watching a seal thrashing a penguin on the surface to remove the delicate flesh from the unpalatable skin and feathers is not everyone’s cup of tea but it is certainly thrilling to watch the drama of life in Antarctica play out to the ultimate (and bloody) end. Even more surprising was the chance to watch a full grown leopard seal devour a young weddell seal that was about half the length of the predator. More carnage again but the feast was attended by clouds of cape petrels and Wilson’s storm petrels picking up the scraps – the ecological system here is all interconnected and while one feels compelled to barrack for the underdog, the penguins are certainly a serious part of the life cycle of all the other animals that make up the system.
A glorious morning onshore was followed by raising winds and swell that drove us out of any further landings, but after several hours on shore watching nature in its most raw form there were no complaints from anyone. It’s a land of contrasts and occasional carnage but one thing is certain – Antarctica never fails to deliver excitement!
Traces of Shackleton
After several days in South Georgia loosing ourselves amidst the vibrant wildlife that has to be seen to be believed we have had a couple of days at sea dodging heavy ice that has successfully fended off our attempts to land on the South Orkney Islands and kept us on a merry chase through rafts of ice until we finally manoeuvred our way to the bleak rocky shores of Elephant Island.
While on South Georgia we visited the grave of Earnest Shackleton and his right hand man Frank Wild who was interred next to the boss just days before we arrived at Grytviken. Strangely enough old Frank ended up falling off the face of the planet after being a central figure in the exploration of the Southern continent. In fact he ended up as a local barfly in South Africa and his ashes were recently discovered in an undistinguished grave …. When they were finally recognised whey were sent all the way to South Georgia so that Shackleton’s right hand man could finally rest beside the man who he always revered and who he had helped to make such a distinguished figure in the history of exploration.
Today we launched the zodiacs in heavy swell off the coast of Point Wild and visited the site where Shackleton’s crew spent over four months waiting for the “boss” to return and save them from their bleak predicament. Frank Wild was in charge of this desperate crew surviving on the few penguins that hadn’t fled in the wake of the advancing ice. To see this barren shore really places one in the midst of these poor beleaguered sailors.
For us it was merely a quick visit – to these men it was a small spit of land that stood between them and a cold hungry death. These men had a huge faith in their leader who had left them to sail on a seemingly impossible journey on a small wooden boat through the most dangerous seas in the world to seek securer for his stranded men. One can only imagine the anguish of these men went through but we know that their long months of hardship were rewarded by the site of the “boss” rowing back to them to relieve them from their drastic predicament.
In our case we head further south towards the Antarctic Sound after leaving Point Wild. The ease with which we move around the Antarctic region would have seemed incredible to these early explorers, but we cannot travel far without acknowledging these brave men who drew the first maps of this lost icy continent.
Just five minutes ago I was on the foredeck of the Akademic Ioffe watching two humpback whales slowly cross the bow of the ship against an incredible sunset with icebergs dancing on the horizon still catching the last rays of the sun. A spectacular evening in the Antarctic Sound. To turn back the clock to the other end of the day, we woke this morning drifting off Paulet Island which is home to between 60-100.000 pairs of Adelie Penguins. A bit of an uncertain figure since the penguins in this region have been declining lately, but regardless of a downward trajectory in the population, the beach and island is certainly a surging mass of penguins all busily going to and fro from the sea to feed their half grown chicks which add to the loud chorus of a penguin colony. Beside the penguins is a large colony of Blue Eye Shag which add their own distinctive brand of noise and also their own odour to assault the nose… this many birds in a small space certainly has its own distinctive aroma. The morning excursion was followed up by a zodiac cruise amidst icebergs where three species of seal where spotted as well as a lot more penguins and the elusive snow petrels wheeling amidst the towering bergs. But of course the highlight of the day was hamburgers for lunch. Not often we get hamburgers aboard…
Posted in Antarctic Sound, Patrick in Antarctica, Paulet Island Tagged Adelie Penguin, Antarctic Shag, Humpback Whale 2 Comments