Friday, 16 January 2009

Our first Icebergs and Gentoo Penguins 06/01/2009

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Day 10 January 6th 2009

The view which greets us outside of our cabin window when we wake up proves we are now in the South Shetland Islands.

Upon wakeup Port

The view on the Starboard side is much more dramatic

Upon wakeup Starboard

with large mountains and glaciers running down into the sea

Mountain and Glacier

There are numerous small icebergs (known as bergy bits) and lots of bits of ice (brash) floating on the surface and the blue colour of deoxygenated ice or in some cases, copper deposits is quite evident.

Small Iceberg

or in other cases, copper deposits in the rock over which the glacier has passed, is quite evident.

Glacier Carving

We also see our first wildlife but it is too far away in the water to be certain what we have seen (others say they were penguins). We are virtually the only people on deck and certainly the only people in night clothes, dressing gowns and wooly hats.

There are a number of whales in the vicinity, at the moment too far away for a good view (a diving whale's tail is in the centre of this picture).

Whale Diving

The schedule for today says we are on zodiacs going around the Neumayer Channel (the entrance is in the centre of the picture below)in the morning and using them to make a landing in Dorian Bay in the afternoon.

Neumayer Channel (1)

For the former, "The channel is named after the German Physicist Georg Von Neumayer who was active in organising Antarctic exploration in the late 1800s. It is a long channel (16 miles) separating Anvers Island from Wenker Island and Doumer Island in the Palmer Archipelago."

Neumayer Channel

For the latter, "Damoy Point lies past the northern entrance to Port Lockroy on the west side of Wiencke Island in the Palmer Archipelago. There are two huts at this location, a British hut and an Argentinean Refuge. The British hut was previously used as a transit station for personnel and supplies to be taken from the ship and flown south in early summer when sea ice blocks access to Rothera (Station R). It was used intermittently between 1973 and 1993 and cleaned up in 1996/7. A Gentoo penguin colony of approximately 1600 breeding pairs can be found nearby between Damoy Point and Dorian Bay."

We also know that we are rendezvousing with another ship so that the injured traveller (who is elderly and has broken something) can be transferred for quicker transit to the nearest hospital (over 1000 miles away). Apparently there are few ships in the area at the moment but they all help each other out when required under the general rules of the sea.

Zodiac Cruise around the Neumayer Channel

The Zodiacs are stored on the stern of the

Zodiac being lowered into the water

ship and are lowered in by crane. One zodiac is always kept in reserve in case someone breaks down. We take some while getting dressed (more about this later) and make absolutely no attempt to be first but the way luck has it, not only are we in the first zodiac to leave, but because we are last on it we are actually sitting at the front of the zodiac. After the "man overboard" safety drill and then the Captain overboard drill, we set off to see two Leopard Seals on a nearby berg.

The mother and calf do not know fear of humans and therefore

Mother and Calf Ioffe in Background

Mother Leopard Seal

are temporarily interested in us before going back to sleep in the surprisingly warm sun.

We are joined by a Gentoo Penguin which is

Gentoo Penguin (1)

determined to show off and again plays around the zodiac demonstrating its

Gentoo Penguin (2)

underwater swimming ability. Blue Eyed

Blue Eyed Shags

Shags are nesting nearby and again are really unimpressed with our presence.

Ice comes in various shapes, sizes and colours and in this area, the majority of it comes from glaciers which have "calved" dropping big bits into the sea.

The blue colour which some of them have is

Blue Iceberg

Blue Iceberg (2)

very surprising. Other icebergs are nearly transparent, these are called growlers and apparently are the most dangerous icebergs to hit because they are comprised of very old

Growler Ice

ice  (50,000 years is typical) from the bottom of a glacier which has had all of the air compressed out of it and is therefore very dense. Our zodiac collects a large chunk to

Growler ice for drinks

have in drinks that evening!

On glacier ends you can see the various layers of snowfall separated by avalanche debris and on others you can see where it is

Ice with layers

about to calve large chunks into the sea.

Glacier Carving

Some icebergs are enormous, and as they

Large Iceberg

melt they turn upside down leading to some very strange shapes. When you get close to a glacier you can hear it cracking and bubbling as it melts.

We go back to the Ioffe for lunch and to get

Ioffe with Zodiac

ready for the afternoon landing to see a penguin colony.

We got to the Gentoo colony using the

Gentoo Penguin Colony

Zodiacs (the penguins nest on the rocks shown in the above picture) and immediately found ourselves surrounded by thousands of Penguins exhibiting between them, all of the behaviours we had learnt about.


Mother and chick  Mother feeding chick
Singing Gentoo  Gentoo and Egg (3)

Gentoo and Egg (2)

Gentoo and Egg (1)

Mother and Chick (2)

living in the colony:


One on nest and two interested suitors

or simply being a penguin:

 Gentoo in snow

Gentoos are preyed upon by Skuas who are the vultures of the sea. They have vicious beaks and will eat anything. They are known for defending their territory and attack anything (including intrepid explorers) who invade their space.


They fly over penguin colonies looking for any unguarded

Skua threatening penguins

chicks or eggs and then swoop in for the kill.

Gentoo Egg eaten by Skua

It was also surprisingly warm and the five layers of clothing we had on were at least three too many. The penguins had absolutely no understanding of humans and just regarded us as something which occasionally appeared and got in their way in the colony.

We take 117 pictures.

After dinner that evening, we are told that the Ioffe is now going to make a dash south to get below the Antarctic Circle before the pack ice gets too heavy (apparently the previous boats which tried to get below the circle have got stuck in ice).

The reason for this is partly related to the fact that the few tour companies who travel here book landing sites for their groups so that they do not bump into each other and we are now out of sequence due to our diversion. It is probably also related to the fact that there would be a number of disappointed visitors if the boat did not get that far south (above 66 degrees).

So as we go to bed at 2350, it is still light outside and when it gets darkish, it will only be for a couple of hours. The Ioffe has made its way back out to sea and we are sailing south with the South Shetland Islands on the horizon on the port side - the Circle is scheduled for tomorrow morning if the pack ice does not get in the way.


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